Acute Abdomen > Acute Abdomen
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Acute abdominal pain is a common presenting complaint in adults and children seeking care in the emergency department.  The patient’s condition may range from benign to serious and precede a surgical emergency. It is often a challenge to identify those at risk early in their presentation as symptoms are often nonspecific due to the number of organs and vessels located in the abdomen. 

Acute abdomen is a general term, typically referring to abdominal pain that begins suddenly, over a short period of time, usually no more than seven days (Wisniewski, 2010). Patients with chronic gastrointestinal disease may also seek care with acute symptoms that reflect life-threatening complications of their underlying condition.

There are numerous possible causes for abdominal emergencies, this module will highlight selected conditions and discuss nursing care and general medical management of patients presenting to the emergency department with abdominal pain.


  • Discuss an appropriate focused abdominal assessment of a patient presenting with acute abdominal pain
  • Describe the possible causes/pathophysiology of acute abdominal pain
  • Discuss the diagnostic laboratory and imaging studies indicated for the investigation of acute abdominal pain
  • Identify the medical and nursing interventions appropriate for the management of acute abdominal pain in the emergency department


Ansari, P. (2017). Abdominal Pain:  Acute Abdomen and Surgical Gastroenterology: Merck Manual Professional.  Retrieved August 15, 2018 from:

Bryan, E.D. (2018). Abdominal Pain in Elderly Persons. eMedicine.  Retrieved August 15, 2018 from:

Cartwright, S.L., Knudson, M.P. (2008). Evaluation of Acute Abdominal Pain in adults. American Family Physician, 77(7), 971-978.

Emergency Nurses Association (2014). Trauma Nursing Core Course Provider Manual. Seventh Edition. Emergency Nurses Association

Howard, P.K., Steinmann, R.A. (2010). Sheehy’s Emergency Nursing: Principles and Practice. 6th ed. Mosby: St.Louis.

Moon, K. (2010). Imaging strategies for acute abdominal pain. American Family Physician, 81(2), 214-216.

Newton, E. & Mandavia, S. (2003). Surgical complications of selected gastrointestinal emergencies: pitfalls in management of the acute abdomen. Emergency Medicine Clinics of North America, 21, 873-907. doi: 10.1016/SO733-8627(03)00087-7

Reust, Carine, E., Williams, A. (2016). Acute abdominal pain in children. American Family Physician, 93(10), 830-837.

Urden, L., Stacy, K., Lough, M., (2014). Thelan’s Critical Care Nursing: Diagnosis
and management. 7th ed. Boston: Mosby.

Wisniewski, A. (2010). Acute abdomen: shaking down the suspects.  Nursing Made Incredibly Easy, January/February, pp. 43-52. Retrieved from


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