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Acute Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain (sometimes referred to as a stomachache) is common and can be minor. There are over 100 conditions that can cause abdominal pain; however, the main causes are infection, abnormal growths, inflammation, obstruction (blockage) and intestinal disorders.

While some of these conditions can be treated with medication or minor procedures, sudden, severe abdominal pain, known as acute abdomen, can be a medical emergency, requiring emergent and specific diagnosis and surgical treatment.

Characteristics of Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain may vary, based on a number of factors:

  • Quality – Sharp, dull, stabbing, cramping, burning
  • Duration – Brief, continuous, intermittent, varying in intensity
  • Triggering events – Food consumption, positioning or movement of the body, bowel movement, vomiting and other activities may intensify or relieve pain
  • Location – The location of the pain will often assist your doctor in diagnosing the cause of the pain
    • Abdominal pain on your upper left could suggest an enlarged spleen
    • Abdominal pain on your upper right could be hepatitis or gallbladder disease
    • Abdominal pain on your lower left could be an indicator of diverticulitis, ovarian cysts, ovarian torsion
    • Abdominal pain on your lower right abdominal pain might indicate appendicitis or right ovary problems
    • Upper abdominal pain could be caused by stomach ulcers, gastritis or pancreatitis
    • Lower abdominal pain could signify one of many conditions, including urinary tract infections or gynecologic problems, such as uterine fibroids or cancer
  • Referred – Abdominal pain may be caused by conditions affecting other parts of the body, such as heart attack, pneumonia, diseases of the pelvis or groin, rash from shingles, poisonings and spider bites

Causes of Acute Abdominal Pain

Some of the more likely conditions to cause acute abdominal pain are:

Diagnosing the Cause of Acute Abdominal Pain

Often a surgeon will be involved in the evaluation of severe abdominal pain. Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and medical history, and will perform a physical examination, including tapping or touching the abdominal area (called palpation), to determine what, if any, tests need to be performed. Your doctor will ask questions about the location and other characteristics of your abdominal pain and about additional symptoms you have along with the abdominal pain.

Treatments for Acute Abdominal Pain

Your doctor will prescribe a treatment regimen based on your individual diagnosis. Depending on the underlying condition, you doctor may prescribe medication, lifestyle changes or inpatient or outpatient procedures, including surgery.

General surgery is major surgery. The general surgeons affiliated with Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center specialize in performing surgeries for abdominal conditions, including appendicitis, hernia, kidney stones, gallbladder diseases, diverticulitis and many more.

Getting Help

Seek immediate emergency medical attention (call 9-1-1 or go to an Emergency Room) if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Sudden, severe pain
  • Signs of shock, including rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, sweating and confusion
  • Constant pain that doubles you over and/or pain that worsens with gentle touching or with bumping the bed
  • Swelling of the abdomen

For more information on treatment options for abdominal pain or to schedule an appointment, click here or call 713-222-CARE (2273).