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Watch Out for Gallstones and Six Other Abdominal Emergencies

Gallstones are a common condition that can get worse if not managed. Having gallstones in your gallbladder can cause a considerable amount of pain in your abdomen and lower back areas. When are abdominal pains bad enough to require a visit to the ER? Let’s start with gallstones and then add six other abdominal emergencies that warrant a trip to the emergency room.

What are Gallstones?

Gallstones are hard deposits that form in your gallbladder. They can form when there’s too much cholesterol or waste in your bile, or if your gallbladder doesn’t empty properly. Medication may aid in dissolving gallstones, but in more urgent scenarios, surgery may be needed.

What are the symptoms?

A gallbladder attack causes a sudden gnawing pain that gets worse. You may feel it in the upper right or center of your belly, your lower back, or between your shoulder blades. You might also vomit or feel nauseous. Other tell-tale signs include:

  • Jaundice
  • Tenderness when urinating
  • A sharp pain in the abdomen
  • Difficulty relieving yourself on the toilet

What Are the Treatments for Gallstones?

Surgical removal of the gallbladder is a frequent remedy. Gallstones are a common reason to go to the ER, because a person with this condition may require immediate removal of the gallbladder.

Other Abdominal Emergencies


Your appendix is a small fingerlike sack attached to the large intestine. Most people never know it’s there. But about 5-9 out of 100 people will experience inflammation that causes extreme pain and requires removal to avoid complications. Symptoms include:

  • Sudden pain in the abdomen like you have never experienced before (may wake you from sleep)
  • Pain near the belly button that moves lower to the right
  • Severe pain that makes it difficult to move around
  • Nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Swelling in the abdomen

Don’t delay if you experience this type of extreme abdominal pain. If the appendix bursts, infection can spread in the abdominal cavity. Appendicitis is an emergency that needs treatment by a medical professional.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is when part of your aorta balloons with blood and ends up running through your abdomen. Over time, the bulge in your aorta weakens until the force of normal blood pressure can cause it to rupture. This can lead to severe pain and massive internal bleeding. Symptoms include:

  • Persistent abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Low blood pressure

An abdominal aortic aneurysm is most often seen in males over age 60 who have one or more risk factors. The larger the aneurysm, the more likely it is to break open or tear. This can be life threatening and requires emergency care.

Ectopic pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg grows outside of the uterus. Almost all ectopic pregnancies—more than 90%—occur in a fallopian tube. As the pregnancy grows, it can cause the tube to rupture. A rupture can cause internal bleeding which can be a life-threatening emergency that needs immediate surgery.

Symptoms include:

  • Missed menstrual period
  • Tender breasts
  • Upset stomach
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Lower back pain
  • Pain in the abdomen or pelvis
  • Mild cramping on one side of the pelvis

Abnormal bleeding and pelvic pain should be brought to the attention of your obstetrician–gynecologist immediately. If you have sudden, severe pain; shoulder pain; or weakness, you should go to an emergency room.


Gastritis causes the inflammation of your stomach lining. The bacteria that causes Gastritis may also be found in patients suffering from ulcers. Other symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Diarrhea

Gastritis is an emergency if you have severe abdominal pain and vomiting. Symptoms include:

  • Paleness
  • A racing heartbeat
  • Dizziness and shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Vomiting blood
  • Bloody stool

Peptic ulcer

A peptic ulcer is an open sore or raw area found in the lining of your stomach or intestine. It causes the breakdown of your stomach lining. Symptoms of an ulcer include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain

An ulcer becomes an emergency when perforation takes place. A perforated ulcer is a condition in which an untreated ulcer has burned through the gastrointestinal tract, allowing gastric fluid to leak into the abdominal cavity. Symptoms of a perforated ulcer include:

  • Sudden, severe pain in the upper abdomen
  • Pain spreading to the back or shoulder
  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Bloating

Excessive Vomiting

Vomiting is your body’s way of letting you know that you’ve ingested something that doesn’t settle right in the stomach. If you suffer from recurrent vomiting, this may be caused by underlying medical conditions that need medical assessment. In some cases, vomiting can lead you to require emergency medical attention. You should immediately go to the doctor if you:

  • Vomit for more than one day
  • Suspect food poisoning
  • Have a severe headache accompanied by a stiff neck
  • Experience abdominal pain

It’s difficult to entirely avoid viruses that cause vomiting. However, you can reduce your chances of getting a virus by exercising good hygiene, like washing your hands regularly.

Don’t delay in an emergency. Get the care you need!

National Institutes of Health
Medical News Today
Science Daily
Medline Plus
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists