Analgesia in patients with acute abdominal pain

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Jul 18:(3):CD005660. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD005660.pub2.


Background: For decades, analgesia for patients with acute abdominal pain was withheld until a definitive diagnosis was established for fear of masking the symptoms, changing physical findings or ultimately delaying diagnosis and treatment of a surgical condition. This non-evidence-based approach has been challenged by recent studies demonstrating that the use of analgesia in the initial evaluation of patients with acute abdominal pain leads to significant pain reduction without affecting diagnostic accuracy. However, early administration of analgesia to such patients can greatly reduce their pain and does not interfere with a diagnosis, which may even be facilitated due to the severity of physical symptoms being reduced.

Objectives: To determine if the currently available evidence supports the use of opioid analgesia in patient management with acute abdominal pain; and to assess changes in a patient comfort while awaiting definitive diagnosis and final treatment decisions.

Search strategy: Trials were identified by searching the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library, issue 4, 2006), MEDLINE (1966 to 2006) and EMBASE (1980 to 2006). Randomized controlled trial filter for MEDLINE and EMBASE search. Trials will also be identified by "related articles". The searches were not limited by language or publication status.

Selection criteria: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that include adult patients with acute abdominal pain, without gender restriction, comparing any opioid analgesia regime to no analgesia administered prior to any intervention regardless of outcomes.

Data collection and analysis: Two authors looked independently at the titles and abstracts of reports. Potentially relevant studies selected by at least one reviewer were retrieved in full text versions for potential inclusion. Allocation concealment was important to avoid bias and was graded using the Cochrane approach. The data from studies included was reviewed qualitatively and quantitatively using the Cochrane Collaborations methodology and statistical software RevMan Analysis 1.0.5. In the case of homogeneity or non- worrying heterogeneity, a random effects model was used. Sensitivity analysis was performed based on quality assessment.

Main results: Six studies fulfilled the inclusion criteria. Improvement with use of opioid analgesia was verified in variables patient comfort, reduction of pain, changes in physical examination.

Authors' conclusions: The review provide some evidence to support the notion that the use of opioid analgesics in patients with acute abdominal pain is helpful in terms of patient comfort and does not retard decisions to treat.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain / diagnosis*
  • Abdominal Pain / drug therapy*
  • Acute Disease
  • Analgesia / methods*
  • Analgesics, Opioid*
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Analgesics, Opioid