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Acute Abdominal Pain


What do I need to know about acute abdominal pain?

Acute abdominal pain usually starts suddenly and gets worse quickly.

What are minor causes of acute abdominal pain?

  • An allergic reaction to food, or food poisoning
  • Stress
  • Acid reflux
  • Constipation
  • Monthly period pain in females

What are serious causes of acute abdominal pain?

  • Inflammation or rupture of your appendix
  • Swelling or an infection in your abdomen or organ
  • A blockage in your bowels
  • An ulcer or a tear in your esophagus, stomach, or intestines
  • Bleeding in your abdomen or an organ
  • Stones in your kidney or gallbladder
  • Diseases of the fallopian tubes or ovaries
  • An ectopic pregnancy

How is the cause of acute abdominal pain diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your signs and symptoms. Tell the provider when your symptoms started and about any recent travel or surgery. Also tell him what makes the pain better or worse, and what treatments you have tried. The provider will examine you. Based on what your provider finds from the exam, and your symptoms, you may need other tests. Examples include blood or urine tests, an ultrasound, a CT scan, or an endoscopy.

How is acute abdominal pain treated?

Treatment may depend on the cause of your abdominal pain. You may need any of the following:

  • Medicines may be given to decrease pain, treat an infection, and manage your symptoms, such as constipation.
  • Surgery may be needed to treat a serious cause of abdominal pain. Examples include surgery to treat appendicitis or a blockage in your bowels.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Apply heat on your abdomen for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed. Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms.
  • Make changes to the food you eat as directed. Do not eat foods that cause abdominal pain or other symptoms. Eat small meals more often.
    • Eat more high-fiber foods if you are constipated. High-fiber foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods, and legumes.
    • Do not eat foods that cause gas if you have bloating. Examples include broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower. Do not drink soda or carbonated drinks, because these may also cause gas.
    • Do not eat foods or drinks that contain sorbitol or fructose if you have diarrhea and bloating. Some examples are fruit juices, candy, jelly, and sugar-free gum.
    • Do not eat high-fat foods, such as fried foods, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and desserts.
    • Limit or do not drink caffeine. Caffeine may make symptoms, such as heart burn or nausea, worse.
    • Drink plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration from diarrhea or vomiting. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Manage your stress. Stress may cause abdominal pain. Your healthcare provider may recommend relaxation techniques and deep breathing exercises to help decrease your stress. Your healthcare provider may recommend you talk to someone about your stress or anxiety, such as a counselor or a trusted friend. Get plenty of sleep and exercise regularly.
  • Limit or do not drink alcohol. Alcohol can make your abdominal pain worse. Ask your healthcare provider if it is safe for you to drink alcohol. Also ask how much is safe for you to drink.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes can damage your esophagus and stomach. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You vomit blood or cannot stop vomiting.
  • You have blood in your bowel movement or it looks like tar.
  • You have bleeding from your rectum.
  • Your abdomen is larger than usual, more painful, and hard.
  • You have severe pain in your abdomen.
  • You stop passing gas and having bowel movements.
  • You feel weak, dizzy, or faint.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have new signs and symptoms.
  • Your symptoms do not get better with treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

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 healthcare providers 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.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.