Acute Abdominal Pain

(Severe Stomach Ache; Abdominal Cramps)


Acute abdomen is sudden and severe pain in the belly. It can be a sign of a larger problem.

Abdominal Organs, Anterior View

AC00010_97870_1_abdominal organs.jpg
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


There are many causes for abdominal pain, such as:

Inflammation in the:

Health problems, such as:

Other problems such as:

  • Blockage in the small or large intestine
  • Lack of blood flow to the organs in the belly

In women:

In babies:

Risk Factors

The above problems raise the risk of a person having abdominal pain.


The symptoms a person has will depend on the cause. Common ones are:

  • Severe pain, swelling, or tenderness in the upper, middle, or lower part of the belly
  • Muscles in the belly that contract without control or are very tense
  • Fever


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You will be asked about your pain. A physical exam will be done. This will involve checking the pelvis and rectum.

Other tests may be:


Sometimes emergency treatment is needed.

The goal of treatment is to ease pain and treat what is causing it. Choices are:

  • Diet or lifestyle changes
  • Medicines, such as pain relievers
  • Surgery


Acute abdomen cannot always be prevented. It has many causes.


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: Accessed October 27, 2020.
Acute abdominal pain in adults—approach to the patient. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed October 27, 2020.
Cartwright S, Knudson M. Diagnostic imaging of acute abdominal pain in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2015;91(7):452-459.
Reust CE, Williams A. Acute Abdominal Pain in Children. Am Fam Physician. 2016 May 15;93(10):830-836.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD
Last Updated: 4/30/21

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