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Sudden or severe abdominal pain

Symptoms of severe or sudden abdominal pain could be due to:


Symptoms and indications: Symptoms of Appendicitis include abdominal pain that often begins over the umbilicus and then moves to the right ileac fossa. The pain is severe and worse with movement e.g. coughing or deep breathing etc. There may also be nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and fever. Eventually, there is abdominal swelling and tenderness. A person with symptoms of appendicitis should seek immediate medical attention, as it is an emergency condition.

Treatment: Usually appendicitis occurs in the acute form, requiring hospital treatment or appendicectomy (surgical removal of the appendix). The condition is normally completely cured with prompt surgery but is dangerous if left untreated.

Persons most commonly affected: All age groups and both sexes, but it is rare in young children under the age of two. It is most common in young people up to the age of 25.


Symptoms and indications: Cramping, spasmodic waves of pain. Usually the symptoms last for a fairly brief period. Infantile Colic characteristically causes the baby to cry loudly for several hours, especially in the evening, and the legs may be drawn up in pain. Colic is a painful but usually short-lived. A doctor should be consulted if the symptoms continue for a long time. Infantile colic can be alarming and parents often need reassurance that there is nothing seriously wrong with their baby. However, this condition does not require medical intervention.

Treatment: Involves finding the most comfortable position to relieve the pain and resting until the symptoms subside. A hot-water bottle is also helpful.

Persons most commonly affected: Adults and children of all ages and both sexes. Infantile colic affects babies between the ages of about two weeks and four months.

Diverticular disease - Diverticulitis

Symptoms and indications: There are usually no symptoms of diverticulosis. However, there may be pain in the left side of the lower abdomen and disturbed bowel habit, caused by muscle spasms in the colon. The symptoms of diverticulitis are intermittent cramping in the abdomen, often becoming severe pain. There is often fever and nausea and there may be tenderness of the affected area.

Treatment: A high-fibre diet. X-rays of the colon are usually taken to ensure that the symptoms are not caused by cancer of the colon. If the diverticulae are infected, treatment with an antibiotic is required. If a diverticula has ruptured, surgery to mend the colon is required.

Persons most commonly affected: Adults of both sexes, becoming more common with increasing age.


Symptoms and indications: In many cases, gallstones may be present for years without causing any symptoms. However, when symptoms do occur they include severe pain of a colic type, particularly on the upper right-hand side of the abdomen. The pain may also be felt in the upper part of the back. There may be nausea, vomiting and indigestion. If the stones pass into the common bile duct, the resulting obstruction can cause Jaundice. A person having symptoms of gallstones should seek medical advice.

Treatment: Gallstones: particularly small ones, may be treated with ultrasound waves to break them up, or drugs may be prescribed to dissolve them. Surgical treatment to remove the gall bladder may be required and this is carried out either by conventional methods or by making small incisions and using fibreoptic instruments.

Persons most commonly affected: Adults of both sexes but twice as common in women as in men. They are more common with increasing age, hence more prevalent in middle-aged and older people.



Symptoms and indications: Pain in the abdomen, which usually becomes severe. There is shivering, chills and high fever, and the skin is hot. The abdomen swells and the muscles become rigid. Breathing is shallow and rapid, blood pressure falls and heartbeat rate rises. The symptoms may lead to shock and collapse and can prove rapidly fatal. A person with symptoms of peritonitis needs immediate emergency medical treatment in hospital.

Treatment: The underlying cause of the peritonitis must be identified and treated and this may involve surgery. Antibiotics are required to fight infection, and fluids and nourishment are given intravenously. Recovery is likely, providing treatment begins at an early stage.

Persons most commonly affected: All age groups and both sexes.


Ectopic Pregnancy

Symptoms and indications: If a period is two to three weeks overdue, sudden severe pain in the abdomen. Sometimes, there is less severe pain and bleeding from the vagina. If no action is taken at this stage, there may finally be collapse from bleeding into the abdomen.

Treatment: Immediate admission to hospital for surgery to remove the affected tube. If the blood loss has been large, a blood transfusion will be necessary.

Persons most commonly affected: Women during pregnancy.



Symptoms and indications: Severe pain and shock when a hole forms in a hollow organ, tissue or tube (stomach, eardrum for example). In particular, it is a serious development of an ulcer in the stomach or bowels because on perforation the intestine contents, with bacteria, enter the peritoneal cavity causing Peritonitis (see above)

Treatment: The underlying cause of the peritonitis (resulting from the perforation) must be identified and treated and this may involve surgery. Antibiotics are required to fight infection, and fluids and nourishment are given intravenously. Recovery is likely, providing treatment begins at an early stage.

Persons most commonly affected: All age groups and both sexes.


Intestinal obstruction and Intussusception

Symptoms and indications: Abdominal swelling and constipation, severe cramping pain that comes and goes, and characteristic vomiting. At first the vomit is normal but later it contains bile and is green, and later still resembles faeces (faecal vomiting). Symptoms of intussusception are similar, but a child passes a jelly-like blood -stained mucus. A person with these symptoms requires immediate, prompt medical treatment as a delay may be dangerous or even fatal. Nothing should be taken by mouth.

Treatment: Involves admittance to hospital and (usually) surgery to remove the cause of the obstruction or barium enema (intussusception). Recovery is usually good and complete in the case of intussusception, provided that the child receives prompt and early attention. Surgery to correct intestinal obstruction is also normally successful, especially when diagnosis and treatment begins early. However, a cure depends upon the underlying cause of the condition

Persons most commonly affected: All age groups and both sexes. Intussusception is more common in young children.

Duodenal Ulcer

Symptoms and indications: A burning, gnawing pain below the ribs. It may wake the sufferer in the early hours. There is usually pain one to two hours after meals, which continues until the next meal and is only relieved by milk, antacids (medicines that reduce the acidity of the stomach) and food.

Treatment: Stopping smoking, antacids, barium meal. possibly surgery.

Persons most commonly affected: Adults and both sexes, but especially those of blood group O, or those with a family history of duodenal ulcers.


Stomach Ulcer (gastric and Peptic Ulcer)

Symptoms and indications: Symptoms may be quite vague or more definite and vary in their severity. They include pain felt either at the front or in the back, which may be more severe before a meal. Also, there may be nausea and a feeling of bloatedness after meals. Sometimes, instead of pain there is discomfort felt as a feeling of emptiness or hunger or of an aching nature. A person with symptoms of gastric unlcer should seek medical advice.

Treatment: Diagnostic techniques include endoscopy, analysis of gastric secretions and X-ray studies using barium. Treatment is by means of a number of different drugs including antacids, carbenoxolone and histamine and others. Most gastric ulcers respond fairly well to treatment, although there is a tendency for healing and relapse to occur. A person should eat a light diet and irritant foods or drinks should be avoided. These include spicy foods containing pepper, fatty foods, coffee and alcohol. The person should avoid smoking and stress.

Persons most commonly affected: Adults of both sexes in middle or older age, especially men.


Other problems that could cause Symptoms of severe or sudden abdominal pain could be: Cholecystitis, Colitis, Crohn's disease, Ileitis, Liver abscess, Ovarioan cyst (ruptured), Pancreas cancer, Pancreatitis, Porphyria and others.






Our service is only to provide guidance and is not designed to replace your doctor. Please seek medical advice from your own doctor if you have any doubts about your illness.


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