In an audit of 1190 emergency admissions with abdominal pain (1166 patients) in a general surgical unit, the diagnosis was non-specific abdominal pain (NSAP) in 415 (35 per cent), acute appendicitis in 200 (17 per cent) and intestinal obstruction in 176 (15 per cent). The largest number of admissions occurred in the age groups 10-29 years (31 per cent) and 60-79 years (29 per cent). Surgical operations were performed in 551 patients (47 per cent) and there was a 16 per cent incidence of unnecessary appendicectomy (22 per cent in the age group 20-29 years). Fifty-one deaths resulted in a 30-day hospital mortality rate of 4.4 per cent and a perioperative mortality rate of 8 per cent. The mortality rate increased significantly in patients aged greater than or equal to 60 years, and patients aged 80-89 years had a perioperative mortality rate of 20 per cent. The causes of perioperative death included laparotomy for inoperable disease (28 per cent), ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm (23 per cent), perforated peptic ulcer (16 per cent) and colonic resections (14 per cent). The perioperative mortality rates for ruptured aneurysm and perforated ulcer were 71 and 23 per cent respectively. The duration of inpatient stay increased significantly with the age of the patients, including those with NSAP. The results of the study indicate a need to review the methods of management of ruptured aortic aneurysm and perforated peptic ulcer, the methods of diagnosis of appendicitis, particularly in young females, and the factors that determine the duration of stay of patients suffering from NSAP.