Acute Abdominal Pain
(Severe Stomach Ache; Abdominal Cramps)
Michael Jubinville, MPH
Acute abdomen is a medical term. It's used to describe sudden and severe pain in the belly. This kind of pain can signal a larger problem. Some may need care right away.
Abdominal Organs, Anterior View
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There are many reasons causes for abdominal pain such as:
Inflammation in the:
Health conditions such as:
Other problems such as:
- Blockage in the small or large intestine
- Lack of blood flow to the organs in the belly
Risk Factors TOP
Having any of the problems listed above will make the chances of pain in your belly higher.
The symptoms you have will depend on the cause. The most common are:
- Persistent, severe pain, swelling, or tenderness in the upper, middle, or lower part of the belly
- Guarding—involuntary contraction of the muscles in the belly
- Rigidity—when muscles in the belly are tense and board-like
You will be asked for details about your pain. You will also be asked about other problems you may be having. A health history will be taken. You will be asked about any medicines you’ve taken. A physical exam will be done. This will involve checking the pelvis and rectum. You may also have:
You may be given pain relievers. Talk to your doctor before you eat, drink, or take any medicine.
The cause of belly pain will need to be treated. Sometimes it's an emergency and surgery is needed right away.
Other methods may be with:
- Diet or lifestyle changes
Acute abdomen may not be preventable. It has many causes. If you're at high risk for problems, talk to your doctor.
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:
August 23, 2018.
Acute abdominal pain in adults—approach to the patient. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:
. Updated October 21, 2016. Accessed August 23, 2018.
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Diagnostic imaging of acute abdominal pain in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2015;91(7):452-459.
Cartwright S, Knudson M.
Evaluation of acute abdominal pain in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2008;77(7):971-978.
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Last reviewed May 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 8/23/2018