Acute Abdominal Pain

Overview

Definition

Acute abdomen is sudden and severe pain in the belly. It can be a sign of a larger problem.

Abdominal Organs, Anterior View
IMAGE
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Causes

There are many causes for abdominal pain, such as:

Inflammation in the:

  • Appendix
  • Gallbladder
  • Pancreas

Health problems, such as:

  • An infection or abscess
  • Diarrhea
  • Peptic ulcer
  • Diverticulitis
  • Ulcerative colitis or Crohn disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Hernia
  • Gallstones
  • Kidney stones
  • Ruptured or leaking abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • Cancer

Other problems such as:

  • Blockage in the small or large intestine
  • Lack of blood flow to the organs in the belly

In women:

  • Menstrual cramps
  • Endometriosis
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease—inflammation around the organs in the pelvis because of an infection
  • Miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy

In babies:

  • Intussusception—the intestines telescope causing a block
  • Volvulus—a twisting of the large intestine around itself
  • Hirschsprung disease

Risk Factors

The above problems raise the risk of a person having abdominal pain.

SymptomsandDiagnosis

Symptoms

The symptoms a person has will depend on the cause. Common ones are:

  • Severe pain, swelling, or tenderness in the upper, middle, or lower part of the belly
  • Muscles in the belly that contract without control or are very tense
  • Fever

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You will be asked about your pain. A physical exam will be done. This will involve checking the pelvis and rectum.

Other tests may be:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • X-rays
  • MRI scan
  • Exploratory laparotomy—surgery to look for problems inside the belly

Treatments

Treatment

Sometimes emergency treatment is needed.

The goal of treatment is to ease pain and treat what is causing it. Choices are:

  • Diet or lifestyle changes
  • Medicines, such as pain relievers
  • Surgery

Prevention

Acute abdomen cannot always be prevented. It has many causes.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

a (Severe Stomach Ache; Abdominal Cramps)

RESOURCES

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians https://familydoctor.org 

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases https://www.niddk.nih.gov 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Association of Gastroenterology https://www.cag-acg.org 

Canadian Digestive Health Foundation http://www.cdhf.ca 

References

Abdominal pain (stomach pain), short-term. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/symptom/abdominal-pain-stomach-pain-short-term. Accessed October 27, 2020.

Acute abdominal pain in adults—approach to the patient. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/approach-to/acute-abdominal-pain-in-adolescents-approach-to-the-patient. Accessed October 27, 2020.

Cartwright S, Knudson M. Diagnostic imaging of acute abdominal pain in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2015;91(7):452-459.

Reust CE, Williams A. Acute Abdominal Pain in Children. Am Fam Physician. 2016 May 15;93(10):830-836.