“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain”
– Joseph Campbell

Visceral Pain Syndromes




Chronic Pelvic Pain

Interstitial Cystitis (IC)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Loin Pain Hematuria Syndrome (LPHS)

Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic Prostatitis

Mast Cell Activation Disease (MCAD)


See also:

Leaky Gut

Neurobiology of Pain

Neuropathic (Nerve) Pain

Central Sensitization

Treating Visceral Pain:


Medications for Pain – Overview


NSAIDs (Non-Steroid Anti-Inflammatory Drugs)

Gabapentin (Neurontin) & Pregabalin (Lyrica)


CAM Medications for Pain


Integrating the Management of Visceral Pain:

Integrative & Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

CAM Medications for Pain

Nutrition and Pain


Mindful Intervention

Cognitive Behavior Training (CBT)

Meditation & Mindful Exercises



Physical Intervention

Physical Therapy

Personal Training

Yoga & Tai Chi

Conditions That May Coexist with Visceral Pain Syndromes:

Fibromyalgia – Overview


Chronic cough

Temporal Mandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders

Definitions and Terms Related to Pain


Key to Links:

Grey text – handout

Red text – another page on this website

Blue text – journal publication




Visceral Pain Syndromes

Some common conditions associated with chronic visceral pain include endometriosis, interstitial cystitis, chronic pancreatitis, chronic prostatitis, chronic pelvic pain, gastroparesis, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis.


Understanding Visceral Pain

The pain associated with internal organs and tissues is referred to as “visceral” pain. It tends to be diffuse, intermittent, and difficult to localize. It is often perceived in a different location than where the problem originates ( “referred pain” ). For example, the pain associated with a heart attack is often perceived down the left (or right) arm. An obstruction of the distal esophagus by food can cause pain in the neck and the pain of a gallstone may be perceived in the shoulder while the pain of a kidney stone can refer to the flank, abdomen or groin.


Visceral pain is usually perceived as dull, aching or cramping although it may be burning or sharp and stabbing. As a result of mechanical variables such as stretching, symptoms may included feeling bloated, distended or uncomfortably full. Nausea and vomiting may accompany visceral pain.


While all pain experience is subject to modification by an associated emotional response, visceral pain is known to have a significantly stronger degree of emotional response. This fact may make the perception of visceral pain to be more severe and/or more disruptive to quality of life.

Hypersensitivity to Pain and Central Sensitization

Development of chronic visceral pain is thought to result from changes that begin with hypersensitivity of the primary sensory neurons that innervate the GI tract, which is then maintained or magnified by changes in the central nervous system. This heightened response to visceral sensations, leads to an increase in pain perception. The changes associated with central sensitivity lead to a spread of symptoms beyond the specific organs involved in the primary condition.



Hyperalgesia is an exaggerated, increased painful response to a stimulus which is normally painful. Hyperalgesia often accompanies visceral pain syndromes and can be a consequence of central sensitization.

Central Sensitization

Central Sensitization is a process of hyper-responsiveness to sensory stimuli which is a result of chronic pain-induced changes in the spinal cord and brain. It can be an important contributing process to many chronic pain experiences, including the visceral pain syndromes.

For more information: Assessment and Management of Central Sensitization

Psychosocial Aspects

The neurobiological interplay between pain, emotion and psychological stress and depression is complex but pronounced in visceral pain syndromes, more so than in somatic (musculoskeletal) pain syndromes. Visceral pain syndromes have a relatively high association with anxiety and depression and these conditions impact the severity of perceived pain. Adequate management of psychological conditions is a key element to controlling visceral pain.

Treating Visceral Pain

While the management of conditions associated with visceral pain is generally deferred to the appropriate specialist and is beyond the scope of this web site, there are common denominators relative to the management of the visceral pain in these conditions.



NSAIDs (Non-Steroid Anti-inflammatory Drugs)

While some visceral pain may respond well to NSAIDs, especially menstrual pain, NSAIDs are usually ineffective or counter-productive in gastrointestinal disorders such as inflammatory bowel diseaes and interstitial cystitis, causing increased pain and relapse.



When bowel pain results from spasm, the use of hyoscine (hyoscyamine) can be very effective. However,potential side effects, include bowel obstruction in an already partially obstructed gut or worsening dysmotility in a gut that is already prone to motility problems secondary to inflammation.


Neuromodulators – Gabapentinoids

Visceral pain conditions may respond to neuropathic pain agents such as gabapentin (Neurontin), pregabalin (Lyrica). There are likely multiple mechanisms by which these agents work, but one likely mechanism is a reduction in the hypersensitivity to pain and central sensitization of visceral pain.

See Gabapentin and Lytica



Tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline (Elavil), desipramine and doxepin have shown effectiveness for visceral pain, but one should start with low doses to avoid side effects of drowsiness and dry mouth. Duloxetine (Cymbalta) may also be effective for visceral pain and is better tolerated than the tricyclic antidepressants. In visceral pain syndromes accompanied by anxiety and/or depression, visceral pain has also been shown to respond to SSRIs such as fluoxetine (Prozac) and citalopram (Celexa).


Nerve blocks

Celiac plexus nerve blocks can be effective treatment for pain associated with chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer and have been used for many years. The use of nerve blocks for the management of intractable abdominal pain are offered by interventional pain management specialists.


Integrative Management – Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Treatment

CAM treatments with evidence for effectiveness in the visceral pain of IBS include the use of the essential oil of peppermint (Menta piperita). Multiple studies have supported the safety and effectiveness of peppermint oil for reducing pain and other symptoms of IBS. Curcumin has also been suggested due to its anti-inflammatory benefits thought to be beneficial in Leaky Gut, but definitive evidence is lacking.


Because visceral pain syndromes, even more than somatic (musculoskeletal) pain syndromes,  are strongly affected by stress and psychological distress or dysfunction, an integrative approach that incorporates means of improving coping skills and reducing stress is a key element to successful pain management. Several approaches have been shown to be effective.

See Using the Mind


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches people to recognize the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The goal of CBT is to train an individual to examine his or her negative cognitions (thought patterns), understand how they may impact his or her behavior and emotions, and ultimately work to change maladaptive or detrimental thought patterns. Typical CBT counseling interventions are brief, lasting from 4 to 12 individual or group sessions. A downloadable introductory course in CBT is also available.

See Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)



Hypnotherapy, or the use of medical hypnosis, includes techniques that can be easily learned and very effective in reducing stress and it’s impact on pain and other symptoms related to visceral pain syndromes.

See Hypnotherapy


Stress Management

Stress management is particularly important in the management of most visceral pain syndromes.

See Mindful Exercises and Meditation



Diet Considerations

Diet clearly plays a role in the management of most visceral pain syndromes, particularly IBS, Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis, but also in Interstitial Cystitis. The specifics of dietary management of these individual conditions is deferred to sections focusing on the individual diagnoses but of interest are the emerging concepts of the gut microbiome and of “leaky gut syndrome.”


The Gut Microbiome

The term “microbiome” was originally used to refer to the collection of the genomes (genetic materials) of the microbes in a particular ecosystem, in this case the gut. The term “microbiota” was originally used to refer to the actual organisms. These terms are now used somewhat synonymously, although not correctly. The intestines, or gut, contains trillions of microbes, mostly bacteria, and the balance of different species is believed to influence the health of an individual as well as to impact the integrity of the lining of the gut.



Probiotics are live microorganisms that are used as non-digestible food ingredients that enhance the growth of certain strains of bacteria in the colon. Probiotics are thought to suppress inflammation in the gut, reduce impaired permeability of the intestines (see “Leaky Gut,” below) or reduce visceral hypersensitivity by balancing the composition of bacteria in the intestines. They may lead to improvement of symptoms of IBS. In one study, the use of the probiotic “Bifidobacterium infant
is” improved global IBS symptoms by more than 20%. Another study showed that after a four week-treatment of IBS patients with “Lactobacillus acidophilus,” another probiotic found in yogurt, abdominal pain and discomfort were reduced by more than 20%. However, in another recent randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, in which IBS patients received a probiotic mixture of Lactobacillus paracasei ssp paracasei F19, Lactobacillus acidophilus La5 and Bifidobacterium Bb12 over six months, no differences in GI symptoms were noticed. There are a number of conflicting studies regarding the benefits of use of probiotics though they do appear to be well tolerated.


Leaky Gut

When this integrity is compromised, the permeability of the gut is altered which allows substances to penetrate the lining of the gut and enter the blood stream, a condition referred to as “leaky gut.”  The “inappropriate” entry of these substances is thought to possibly trigger the immune system in ways that contribute to the symptoms of IBS, Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis as well as many psychiatric conditions.


The healthy balance of microorganisms in the gut is related to many factors, including diet. This is an emerging field of study with far more questions than answers. There is early evidence for the role of prebiotics and probiotics in the management of visceral pain syndromes but it is still too early to make definitive recommendations based on current research.

See Leaky Gut.”




Visceral Pain Overviews

  1. visceral-sensation-pain-2009


Visceral Pain – Endometriosis


Visceral Pain Inflammatory Bowel Diseases

  1. pain-management-in-patients-with-inflammatory-bowel-disease-insights-for-the-clinician-2012
  2. efficacy-of-duloxetine-add-on-in-treatment-of-inflammatory-bowel-disease-patients-2015


Visceral Pain Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

  1. abdominal-pain-in-irritable-bowel-syndrome-a-review-of-putative-psychological-neural-and-neuro-immune-mechanisms-pubmed-ncbi
  2. potential-causes-and-present-pharmacotherapy-of-irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs-an-overview-2015
  3. alpha-2-delta-%ce%b12%ce%b4-ligands-gabapentin-and-pregabalin-what-is-the-evidence-for-potential-use-of-these-ligands-in-irritable-bowel-syndrome-2011
  4. irritable-bowel-syndrome-and-visceral-hypersensitivity%e2%80%88-risk-factors-and-pathophysiological-mechanisms-pubmed-ncbi
  5. the-role-of-visceral-hypersensitivity-in-irritable-bowel-syndrome-pharmacological-targets-and-novel-treatments-2016
  6. herbal-medicines-for-the-management-of-irritable-bowel-syndrome-a-comprehensive-review-2012
  7. Relationships between psychological state, abuse, somatization and visceral pain sensitivity in irritable bowel syndrome – 2017


Visceral Pain – Interstitial Cystitis

  1. Interstitial Cystitis
  2. Interstitial-cystitis – CAM
  3. Interstitial Cystitis – Diet, CAM & Supplements  – Summary handout


Visceral Pain – Microbiome

  1. The gut microbiota as a key regulator of visceral pain – 2017.pdf
  2. Man and the Microbiome- A New Theory of Everything? – PubMed 2019
  3. Dise
    ntangling What We Know About Microbes and Mental Health – 2019
  4. The Evolving Role of Gut Microbiota in the Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome – An Overview of the Current Knowledge – 2020
  5. Gut microbiota regulates neuropathic pain – potential mechanisms and therapeutic strategy – 2020
  6. Stress and the Microbiota–Gut–Brain Axis in Visceral Pain – Relevance to Irritable Bowel Syndrome – 2015
  7. Visceral pain – gut microbiota, a new hope? – 2019
  8. The Role of the Gastrointestinal Microbiota in Visceral Pain – PubMed 2017

Visceral Pain – Pancreatitis

See: Pancreatitis

Emphasis on Education


Accurate Clinic promotes patient education as the foundation of it’s medical care. In Dr. Ehlenberger’s integrative approach to patient care, including conventional and complementary and alternative medical (CAM) treatments, he may encourage or provide advice about the use of supplements. However, the specifics of choice of supplement, dosing and duration of treatment should be individualized through discussion with Dr. Ehlenberger. The following information and reference articles are presented to provide the reader with some of the latest research to facilitate evidence-based, informed decisions regarding the use of conventional as well as CAM treatments.


For medical-legal reasons, access to these links is limited to patients enrolled in an Accurate Clinic medical program.


Should you wish more information regarding any of the subjects listed – or not listed –  here, please contact Dr. Ehlenberger. He has literally thousands of published articles to share on hundreds of topics associated with pain management, weight loss, nutrition, addiction recovery and emergency medicine. It would take years for you to read them, as it did him.


For more information, please contact Accurate Clinic.


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