Abdominal pain is discomfort or pain felt in the area between the chest and pelvis.
It can range from mild to severe, and can be acute (sudden and severe) or chronic (long-lasting).
Abdominal pain can have many causes, including digestive problems (such as indigestion, gas, constipation, or inflammatory bowel disease), abdominal injuries, or medical conditions affecting the abdominal organs (such as the liver, appendix, or ovaries).
There are many potential causes of abdominal pain, including:
Gastrointestinal problems: such as indigestion, gastroenteritis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), peptic ulcer disease, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Reproductive issues: such as menstrual cramps, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, or uterine fibroids.
Urinary tract problems: such as bladder infection, kidney stones, or urinary tract infection (UTI).
Liver or gallbladder issues: such as gallstones, hepatitis, or cirrhosis.
Pancreatitis: inflammation of the pancreas.
Intestinal obstruction: a blockage of the small or large intestine.
Appendicitis: inflammation of the appendix.
Hernias: a protrusion of tissue or an organ through the muscle or connective tissue that holds it in place.
Food poisoning or food intolerance.
Symptoms of Abdominal Pain
Dull, aching pain
Sharp, stabbing pain
Gnawing or burning pain
Diarrhea or constipation
Loss of appetite
Fever (in some cases)
ER Evaluation of Abdominal Pain
In the emergency room, evaluation of abdominal pain typically involves a thorough medical history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests.
The following are the common steps taken to evaluate abdominal pain in an emergency room:
Medical history: The healthcare provider will ask questions about the symptoms, including when they started, how often they occur, and what makes them better or worse.
Physical examination: The provider will examine the abdomen for signs of swelling, tenderness, or discomfort and may also check the pulse, blood pressure, and temperature.
Diagnostic tests: The provider may order blood tests, urine tests, imaging studies such as an X-ray, CT scan, or ultrasound, or other tests to help determine the cause of the abdominal pain.
Stool test: A stool sample may be collected for testing if the provider suspects digestive problems, such as infectious diarrhea.
Additional tests: Depending on the individual case and the provider’s suspicion, other tests may be ordered, such as a lower gastrointestinal (GI) series or a CT angiography.
Treatment of Abdominal Pain
The treatment for abdominal pain in the emergency room depends on the underlying cause of the pain.
Some common treatments for abdominal pain in the emergency room include:
Pain relief: Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may be used to relieve mild to moderate pain.
Antacids: If the abdominal pain is due to heartburn or indigestion, antacids may be prescribed to neutralize stomach acid and relieve symptoms.
Antibiotics: If the cause of the abdominal pain is an infection, antibiotics may be prescribed to treat the infection.
Intravenous (IV) fluids: If the individual is dehydrated, IV fluids may be given to restore fluid balance.
Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to treat a serious underlying condition, such as appendicitis
Referral to a specialist: If the cause of the abdominal pain is unclear, or if additional tests or treatments are needed, the individual may be referred to a specialist, such as a gastroenterologist or surgeon, for further evaluation and treatment.
It is important to keep in mind that the treatment for abdominal pain may vary depending on the underlying cause, the severity of the symptoms, and the individual’s overall health.
Dr. Samar Yusuf, DO, FACEP is an Emergency Medicine Specialist in Houston, TX and has over 12 years of experience in the medical field. He graduated from The University of Texas, Austin School of Medicine. He is currently the Medical Director of SignatureCare Emergency Cener in Montrose, Houston, TX