Acute abdominal pain in the elderly

Ching Chih Chang, Sun Sang Wang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Abdominal pain is a common occurrence in the elderly patients and poses a difficult challenge for the emergency physician. Previous studies demonstrated that among the elderly patients presenting to the emergency department with abdominal pain, at least 50% were hospitalized and 30-40% eventually had surgery for the underlying condition. Reasons for the difficult diagnosis of acute abdomen in the elderly are multifactorial, and hence the diagnostic accuracy is lower and the mortality far higher in them than in the younger patients. High suspicion, widely differential diagnosis, and more aggressive use of imaging modalities are critical for these patients. In the geriatric population, biliary tract disease accounts for nearly 25% of cases of acute abdominal pain, followed by nonspecific pain, malignancy, bowel obstruction, complicated peptic ulcer disease, and incarcerated hernia. Acute appendicitis, pancreatitis, and diverticulitis are uncommon but important causes of acute abdomen in the elderly. Abdominal vascular diseases, including abdominal aortic aneurysm and mesenteric ischemia, are a rare but lethal condition in acute abdomen. Management of the elderly patients with acute abdomen should focus on keeping the vital signs, adequate hydration, and early administration of analgesics and antibiotics. Consultations with radiologists and surgeons are crucial in the management of difficult cases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-82
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal of Gerontology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2007


  • Acute abdominal pain
  • Elderly


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