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Abdominal Pain

For children under 12, see chart 48

Mild abdominal pain is often due to a stomach or bowel upset that will clear up without treatment. However, severe or persistent abdominal pain, especially if it is accompanied by other symptoms, may indicate a more serious problem that your doctor should investigate.

  • Have you had more than one episode of pain?

    • Single continuous episode

      How severe is the pain?

      • Severe

        Are any danger signs present?

        • Danger signs
          • Possible cause Severe abdominal pain may be an indication of a serious abdominal condition, such as appendicitis.

            Medical help EMERGENCY! Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance.

        • No danger signs

          Do you have diarrhoea?

          • Diarrhoea
            • Possible cause Your pain may be the result of gastroenteritis.

              Self-help Maintain fluid intake (see Preventing dehydration). Consult your doctor if you are no better in 2 days or if other symptoms develop.

          • No diarrhoea

            What kind of pain have you been experiencing?

            • Pain that starts in the back and may move to the groin
              • Possible cause You may have kidney stones, especially if you have been vomiting.

                Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately!

            • Pain in the centre of the upper abdomen

              Do any of the following apply?

            • Pain in the upper right abdomen that may spread to the back
              • Possible cause Gallstones are a possibility, especially if you have vomited.

                Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours.

            • Pain mainly below the waist

              Do you have either of the following symptoms?

              • Pain on passing urine
                • Possible cause You may have a urinary tract infection (see Pyelonephritis, and Cystitis).

                  Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours.

              • Passing urine more often than usual
                • Possible cause You may have a urinary tract infection (see Pyelonephritis, and Cystitis).

                  Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours.

              • Neither

                Are you female or male?

                • Female
                • Male
                  • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your abdominal pain from this chart, see your doctor within 24 hours.

            • None of the above
              • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your abdominal pain from this chart, see your doctor within 24 hours.

      • Mild or moderate

        Do you have diarrhoea?

        • Diarrhoea
          • Possible cause Your pain may be the result of gastroenteritis.

            Self-help Maintain fluid intake (see Preventing dehydration). Consult your doctor if you are no better in 2 days or if other symptoms develop.

        • No diarrhoea

          What kind of pain have you been experiencing?

          • Pain that starts in the back and may move to the groin
            • Possible cause You may have kidney stones, especially if you have been vomiting.

              Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately!

          • Pain in the centre of the upper abdomen

            Do any of the following apply?

          • Pain in the upper right abdomen that may spread to the back
            • Possible cause Gallstones are a possibility, especially if you have vomited.

              Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours.

          • Pain mainly below the waist

            Do you have either of the following symptoms?

            • Pain on passing urine
              • Possible cause You may have a urinary tract infection (see Pyelonephritis, and Cystitis).

                Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours.

            • Passing urine more often than usual
              • Possible cause You may have a urinary tract infection (see Pyelonephritis, and Cystitis).

                Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours.

            • Neither

              Are you female or male?

              • Female
              • Male
                • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your abdominal pain from this chart, see your doctor within 24 hours.

          • None of the above
            • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your abdominal pain from this chart, see your doctor within 24 hours.

    • Recurrent episodes

Dial 999/112 and ask for an ambulance if you have severe abdominal pain that lasts for longer than 4 hours and is associated with any of the following additional symptoms:

  • Vomiting.
  • Fever.
  • Swollen or tender abdomen.
  • Feeling faint, drowsy, or confused.
  • Blood in the urine or faeces.
  • Swelling in the groin or scrotum.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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