Emergency Care Institute Patient Fact Sheet

Published on 6 Jul 2022 Printed on 10 Aug 2022


Abdominal pain

This fact sheet is for people who have presented to the emergency department with this condition.

This fact sheet provides general information. If you have specific concerns, speak to your healthcare professional for further information and advice.

What is abdominal pain?

Pain in the abdomen is common. Usually, it will not last long and can be due to a gut infection or a small upset; however, there are many other possible causes.

Causes

Abdominal pain can sometimes be difficult to diagnose. A doctor may have examined you and you may have had tests to investigate what is going on. Yet, it is not always completely clear what is causing the pain. In fact, there is no obvious cause for 30% of patients who have abdominal pain.

Your symptoms have been assessed and indicate that it is unlikely to be something serious that is causing your abdominal pain (for example, a condition requiring an operation). But it may be early in the course of your illness, or your illness might change. So, it is important to monitor how you feel and to seek help if you are concerned.

Home care

At home, care for yourself by:

  • resting – avoid activities that exacerbate the pain
  • returning to your normal food and fluid intake
  • ensuring there is someone around to keep an eye on you
  • avoiding travel, especially if it involves long travel times or remote locations
  • taking simple pain killers such as paracetamol, if you need them.

What to expect

Your pain may go away without significant treatment. Sometimes abdominal pain can stop, and you will never know the cause. Some patients may need treatment in hospital and could need an operation (surgery). In some cases, the cause only becomes obvious with time. Please see your GP or return to the emergency department if you:

  • continue to experience pain or your pain increases
  • experience new or persisting symptoms, such as ongoing vomiting
  • are not opening your bowels or passing wind
  • develop a high temperature
  • feel ‘lightheaded’ or dehydrated
  • feel weakened by your pain, cannot move or cannot stop writhing
  • pass blood through vomiting or via your stools
  • discover you are pregnant and have severe abdominal pain.

Seeking help

In a medical emergency call an ambulance – dial triple zero (000). If pain persists for more than 24 hours or if you have any other concerns, see your local doctor or healthcare professional. If this is not possible, return to the emergency department or urgent care centre.

For more information

Ask your GP or healthcare professional. You can also call healthdirect 24 hours a day on 1800 022 222 or visit healthdirect.gov.au.

Evidence informedBased on rapid evidence check of grey literature, and where there is no research, based on clinical expert consensus.
CollaborationDeveloped in collaboration with the Agency for Clinical Innovation (ACI) Emergency Care Institute members and the ACI's Surgical Services Taskforce. 
Currency Due for review: July 2027.
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