“Acute abdomen” is the medical term used for pain in the abdomen that usually comes on suddenly and is so severe that one may have to go to the hospital. As opposed to common abdominal pain, which can be caused by minor issues such as constipation or gas, acute abdominal pain can signal a variety of more serious conditions, some of which require immediate medical care and/or surgery. Therefore, if you suspect you have this condition, contact your doctor immediately.
Abdominal Organs, Anterior View
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There are a number of possible causes of acute abdomen. These include:
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for acute abdomen include the following:
The symptoms of acute abdomen have a variety of causes. If you experience any one of them, see your physician.
Your doctor will ask you for details about your pain, such as the exact location and duration, and about any additional symptoms you may be experiencing, such as bowel or urinary symptoms. He or she will also take your medical history, including any drugs or medications you’ve taken, and perform a physical exam, including rectal and pelvic examinations.
Additionally, one or more of the following tests may be necessary to make a diagnosis:
For symptom relief, mild analgesics may be prescribed to reduce pain, however many doctors forgo prescribing painkillers since details of the pain can be useful in determining its cause. Do not take any medication such as Tylenol or ibuprofen, and do not eat or drink until you have spoken with your doctor.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Depending on the underlying condition causing your acute abdomen, treatment options may include:
American Academy of Family Physicians
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC)
Canadian Association of Gastroenterology (CAG)
Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
Abdominal pain, short-term. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/527.xml. Accessed November 18, 2006.
Acute abdomen and surgical gastroenterology. The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library website. Available at http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec02/ch011/ch011b.html . Accessed November 30, 2006.
Acute abdominal pain in children. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/20030601/2321.html . Accessed November 24, 2006.
Digestive diseases A-Z list. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) website. Available at http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/a-z.asp. Accessed November 24, 2006.
Oxford Reference: Concise Medical Dictionary . 3rd ed. Oxford University Press: Market House Books; 1990.
Zeller JL. Acute abdominal pain.
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http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/296/14/1800 . Accessed November 19, 2006.
Last reviewed October 2012 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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