Abdominal Pain (Acute)

a patient education video by Dr. Carlo Oller – emergency physician about the ‘Acute Abdomen’.

What is an acute abdomen?

— Doctors use the term “acute abdomen” to describe an episode of belly pain that starts suddenly and lasts for a few hours or longer. Doctors use the word “acute” when something starts suddenly. The “abdomen,” or belly, is the part of the body between the chest and the genital area. When people have an acute abdomen, their pain is so severe that they have a hard time moving or breathing and it makes them want to go to the hospital or see their doctor or nurse right away. A true acute abdomen is a medical emergency. The pain symptoms are different for different people. The pain can feel sharp or crampy. People can feel the pain all over their belly, or only in one part. Some people feel better if they curl into a ball, while others need to lie flat and completely still. People often feel sick to their stomach and retch or vomit. Of course, not everyone with pain in the belly has an acute abdomen. When pain is less severe, it can be due to something like a virus or a stomach inflammation (called “gastritis”).

What causes an acute abdomen?

— An acute abdomen can have different causes. Most of the time, an acute abdomen happens when there’s a serious problem with one or more organs in the abdomen. Organs in the abdomen can be part of the digestive, urinary, or female reproductive systems. Conditions that affect organs in the chest or genital area can also cause an acute abdomen. Even though these organs aren’t in the belly, people might still have pain in their belly. Common causes of an acute abdomen in adults include: ●Appendicitis – Appendicitis is the term for when the appendix (a long, thin pouch that hangs down from the large intestine) gets infected and inflamed. ●Diverticulitis – Diverticulitis is an infection that develops in small pouches that can form in the intestine. This is common in older people. ●Gallstones – Gallstones are small stones that form inside an organ called the gallbladder, which stores bile, a fluid that helps the body break down fat. ●Abscess – An abscess is a collection of pus in the intestine. ●Bowel perforation – This is a hole in the bowel wall. ●Perforated ulcer – This is a hole in the wall of the stomach or intestine. ●Pancreatitis – This is the term for when the pancreas gets inflamed. ●Ruptured cyst in the ovary – Cysts in the ovary are fluid-filled sacs that can form in some women. They sometimes rupture, which means that they break open and spill out. ●Ectopic pregnancy – An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that develops outside the uterus.

Should I see a doctor or nurse?

— Yes. If you have symptoms of acute abdomen, see your doctor or nurse or go to the hospital right away. If you have a true acute abdomen, it is important that treatment begin without delay.

Will I need tests?

— Probably. The doctor or nurse will ask about your symptoms, including where your pain is and what it feels like. He or she will ask about your current and past medical conditions, and do an exam. Your doctor might do repeat exams over time to follow your symptoms. Your doctor will decide which tests you should have based on your symptoms and individual situation. The tests might include: ●Blood tests ●Urine tests ●X-rays ●An ultrasound, CT scan, or other imaging test – Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of the body. How is an acute abdomen treated?

— Treatment depends on what’s causing the pain. It might include one or more of the following: ●Fluids given by IV ●Pain medicines ●Antibiotic medicines to treat an infection ●Other medicines to treat other medical conditions ●Surgery