Acute Abdomen

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. Acute abdominal pain can signal a variety of more serious conditions, some of which require immediate medical care and/or surgery. Abdominal Organs, Anterior ViewCopyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Causes

    There are a number of possible causes of acute abdomen. These may include:


    • Viral
      gastroenteritis—stomach flu
    • Intestinal obstruction
    • Hernia
    • Appendicitis—inflammation of the appendix
    • Pancreatitis—inflammation of the pancreas
    • Diverticulitis—inflammation of small pouches that form in the large intestine

    • Cholecystitis—inflammation of the gallbladder, with or without
      gallstones
    • Cholangitis—inflammation of the bile duct caused by a gallstone or a bacterial infection
    • Gastritis—inflammation of the stomach lining, such as from drinking too much alcohol or prolonged use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
    • Kidney, bladder, or
      urinary tract infection
    • Kidney stones
    • Ulcerative colitis
      or
      Crohn’s disease—inflammatory diseases of the intestines
    • Sickle cell crisis
    • Diabetic ketoacidosis—dangerously high levels of acids in the blood

    • Ruptured or leaking
      abdominal aortic aneurysm—abnormally large blood vessels in the abdomen
    • Ischemia—inadequate, or blocked, blood supply to one of the abdominal organs

    • Infectious
      diarrhea
      /abdominal abscess
    • Irritable bowel syndrome
      (IBS)
    • Heartburn
      or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
    • Peptic ulcer
    • Heart attack
    • Cancer
    • Pneumonia

    • In women:

      • Menstrual cramps
      • Endometriosis
      • Uterine fibroids
      • Ovarian cysts
      • Pelvic inflammatory disease—inflammation around the ovaries, uterus, and fallopian tubes
      • Miscarriage
        or
        ectopic pregnancy

    • In infants:

      • Intussusception
        —the telescoping of one portion of the intestine into another, causing obstruction of the bowel and blockage of its blood flow
      • Volvulus—a twisting of the colon around itself
      • Hirschsprung's disease—also known as congenital megacolon
      • Other congenital defects of the digestive tract

  • Definition


    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. Acute
    abdominal pain can signal a variety of more serious conditions, some of which require immediate medical care and/or surgery.

    Abdominal Organs, Anterior View
    IMAGE
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Diagnosis

    You will be asked for details about your pain, such as the exact location and duration. You will also be asked about any additional symptoms you may be having such as bowel or urinary symptoms. A medical history will be taken. You will be asked about any drugs or medications you’ve taken. A physical exam will be done, including rectal and pelvic examinations.

    Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:

    • Blood tests
    • Urine analysis

    Your bodily structures may need to be viewed. This can be done with:

    • Ultrasound
    • CT scan
    • MRI scan
    • KUB (kidney, ureter, and bladder) x-rays
    • Barium x-rays
    • Angiography
    • Endoscopy

    Surgery may be done to visually examine the abdomen.

  • Prevention

    Depending on the underlying condition causing acute abdomen, prevention measures will vary. Talk with your doctor about preventing conditions that cause acute abdomen.

  • Risk Factors

    Factors that increase your risk of acute abdomen will depend on the cause.

  • Symptoms

    The symptoms of acute abdomen have a variety of causes. If you experience any one of them, see your physician.

    • Persistent, severe pain, swelling, and/or tenderness in the upper, middle, or lower abdomen
    • Guarding—involuntary contraction of the abdominal muscles
    • Rigidity—when abdominal muscles are tense and board-like
    • Fever

  • Treatment

    You may be given pain relievers. However, many doctors may delay prescribing pain relievers, since details of the pain can help find 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:

    • Medications
    • Diet or lifestyle changes
    • Advanced medical treatment such as surgery—may be required for the majority of severe abdominal pains that last for at least six hours in previously healthy patients