Although a symptom rather than a diagnosis, abdominal pain is the commonest reason why people present to the emergency surgical team. There are,
of course, many different causes of abdominal pain and it is the job of the emergency surgical team to identify the cause and come up with a treatment
plan for the individual. This could involve medications, surgery or simply management of the pain in the knowledge that it will improve in time.
How will I find out what the cause is?
The cause for most cases of acute abdominal pain can be found and treated. There will be clues from the story of where the pain is, how it started,
associated symptoms such as sickness or related bowel symptoms and so forth. Once this history is taken, further tests designed to confirm or refute
the suspected cause or causes are undertaken which often will involve a combination of blood tests and scans or X-rays. If the cause remains elusive, or
if further information is needed then additional tests such as endoscopies, additional scans or even a laparoscopy (diagnostic key-hole examination of
the inside of the abdomen done under general anaesthetic) may be employed. Opinions may also be sought from other specialists in the hospital, such
as gynaecologists or gastroenterologists, depending on the suspected cause of the pain.
What if the cause can’t be found?
Unfortunately, there is a small minority of people for whom, despite a battery of tests, the cause for their pain cannot be found. The priority in these
cases in the acute setting is to rule out serious or significant conditions requiring immediate treatment, and once this is done to manage the pain and
any related symptoms to allow people to get home. In many such cases the pain will settle of its own accord and not return. In the rare cases where the
pain does not improve or where it returns, further tests in the outpatient setting will be required as a further attempt to isolate the cause so that it can
be treated, which may well involve a number of individuals from different specialties within the multi-disciplinary team.