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(Severe Stomach Ache; Abdominal Cramps)

Definition

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

Abdominal Organs, Anterior View
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Causes

There are many causes for abdominal pain, such as:

Inflammation in the:

Health problems, such as:

Other problems such as:

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

In women:

In babies:

Risk Factors

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

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:

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.

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.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD
  • Review Date: 09/2020
  • Update Date: 10/27/2020