Acute Abdominal Pain

What do I need to know about acute abdominal pain?

Acute abdominal pain starts suddenly, gets worse quickly, and lasts up to 3 days.

What causes acute abdominal pain?

The cause of your acute abdominal pain may not be known. The pain may be caused by any of the following:

  • An abscess or infection in your liver or other organs

  • A blockage in your bowels, an ulcer, or a tear in your esophagus or spleen

  • Diseases of the blood or blood vessels

  • Injury, treatment, or surgery

  • Swelling or stones in your kidney or gallbladder

  • Diseases of the fallopian tubes or ovaries, or monthly period pain

What signs and symptoms may be related to acute abdominal pain?

Your stomach muscles may be tight, or your stomach may be tender and swollen. Other common signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Diarrhea or constipation

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Fever, loss of appetite, or weight loss

  • Blood in your bowel movement, or blood coming from your rectum

  • Blood coming from your vagina that is not your monthly period

  • A lump in your stomach or pelvic area

  • Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes

How is acute abdominal pain diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask about your signs and symptoms. He will ask when you last had abdominal pain and how it started. He will ask how bad it is and how long it lasts. Tell him about the foods you eat, and if the pain happens before, during, or after meals. Tell him if you find it hard to eat, or have recently lost weight without trying. He may ask if you are vomiting blood, or if you have dark bowel movements. Tell him if you have had gallstones or other diseases or surgeries. If you are female, tell him about changes to your monthly period, or if you know or think you might be pregnant.

How is acute abdominal pain treated?

  • Medicines:

    • Acetaminophen: This medicine is used to decrease pain and fever. Ask your caregiver how much to take. Take as directed. Too much acetaminophen can harm your liver. Talk to your caregiver before you take more than one medicine that contains acetaminophen.

    • NSAIDs: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medicine decreases swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available without a doctor's order. Ask your caregiver which medicine is right for you, and how much to take. Take as directed. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems if not taken correctly.

    • Pain medicine: You may be given a prescription medicine to decrease severe pain if other pain medicines do not work. Take the medicine as directed. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine.

  • Endoscopy: This procedure uses a scope to see the inside of your digestive tract. A scope is made of a long, bendable tube with a light and camera on the end. Your caregiver can use endoscopy to find and treat the bleeding in your abdomen.

  • Nasogastric (NG) tube: An NG tube is put into your nose, and passes down your throat until it reaches your stomach. Food and medicine may be given through an NG tube if you cannot take anything by mouth. The tube may instead be attached to suction if caregivers need to keep your stomach empty.

How can I manage my symptoms?

Ask your caregiver if you need to change what you eat. He may tell you to avoid foods that can cause gas and pain. Some examples are cabbage, grapes, and milk. Pain medicine may make it hard for you to have a bowel movement. Foods high in fiber can make it easier. Some examples are beans, vegetables, and high-fiber cereals.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You have new or worse signs and symptoms.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You are sweating and have cool, clammy, pale skin.

  • You feel dizzy or like you are going to faint.

  • You have dark bowel movements, or you vomit blood.

  • You have a hard abdomen, or you are not able to pass gas.

  • You have severe pain in your abdomen that does not go away after you take medicine.

  • You have a very fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, and fast, shallow breathing.

  • You are thirsty and cold, your eyes and mouth feel dry, and you urinate little or nothing.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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