Show Summary Details
Page of

The acute abdomen 

The acute abdomen
The acute abdomen

Simon J.A. Buczacki

, and R. Justin Davies

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD MEDICINE ONLINE ( © Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Medicine Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 02 March 2021

The term ‘acute abdomen’ describes abdominal pain of rapid onset requiring urgent surgical assessment. No firm pathological diagnosis is made in many patients initially presenting in this way, but those that do, require rapid diagnosis and treatment to avoid potentially life-threatening complications. Patients may present directly to medical specialties with an acute abdomen, or abdominal pain may occur in patients already residing on medical wards. These patients are often old and their acute abdomen is likely to present on a background of other comorbidities. Understanding the interaction between risk factors and underlying pathological diagnosis is key to preventing misdiagnosis in such cases. Although not eliminating the need for a sound focused history and examination, spiral CT scanning allows rapid diagnosis of most causes. However, management of the diagnosed acute abdomen in medical patients can be extremely difficult, and there is no substitute for an experienced physician working together with a thoughtful surgeon supported by anaesthetists and intensivists. The key question is often ‘Does this patient need an operation?’, a decision which depends on many factors. It may be necessary to proceed straight to surgery without any supportive imaging in very sick patients who may be bleeding or who are profoundly septic.

Access to the complete content on Oxford Medicine Online requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts for each book and chapter without a subscription.

Please subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.

For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.