Acute Abdominal Pain
(Severe Stomach Ache; Abdominal Cramps)
Acute abdomen is sudden and severe pain in the belly. It can be a sign of a larger problem.
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There are many causes for abdominal pain, such as:
Inflammation in the:
Health problems, such as:
- An infection or abscess
- Peptic ulcer
- Ulcerative colitis or Crohn disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Kidney stones
- Ruptured or leaking abdominal aortic aneurysm
Other problems such as:
- Blockage in the small or large intestine
- Lack of blood flow to the organs in the belly
- Menstrual cramps
- Uterine fibroids
- Ovarian cysts
- Pelvic inflammatory disease—inflammation around the organs in the pelvis because of an infection
- Miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy
The above problems raise the risk of a person having abdominal pain.
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
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:
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
Acute abdomen cannot always be prevented. It has many causes.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Canadian Association of Gastroenterology
Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
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.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD Last Updated: 4/30/21