Acute abdomen

Definition of “Acute abdomen”

The medical term for persistent, severe abdominal pain, of sudden onset, that is usually associated with spasm of the abdominal muscles, vomiting, and fever.

Causes of acute abdomen

The most common cause of an acute abdomen is peritonitis (inflammation of the membrane that lines the abdomen); underlying causes include appendicitis, abdominal injury, or perforation of an internal organ as a result of disorders such as diverticular disease (the presence of small, protruding pouches in the intestinal wall) or peptic ulcer.


Acute abdomen commonly begins as a vague pain in the centre of the abdomen that gradually localizes to a particular region of the body, depending on the condition. For example, pain is felt on the right side of the body in appendicitis.

Diagnosis and treatment of acute abdomen

An acute abdomen requires urgent medical investigation usually comprising detailed questioning about the condition, a physical examination, laboratory tests, and imaging procedures such as ultrasound scanning. The investigation may also involve a laparoscopy (internal examination using a rigid or flexible viewing tube) or a laparotomy (surgical exploration of the abdomen). Treatment depends on the underlying cause.

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