Epidemiology and outcomes of acute abdominal pain in a large urban Emergency Department: retrospective analysis of 5,340 cases

Ann Transl Med. 2016 Oct;4(19):362. doi: 10.21037/atm.2016.09.10.


Background: Acute abdominal pain (AAP) accounts for 7-10% of all Emergency Department (ED) visits. Nevertheless, the epidemiology of AAP in the ED is scarcely known. The aim of this study was to investigate the epidemiology and the outcomes of AAP in an adult population admitted to an urban ED.

Methods: We made a retrospective analysis of all records of ED visits for AAP during the year 2014. All the patients with repeated ED admissions for AAP within 5 and 30 days were scrutinized. Five thousand three hundred and forty cases of AAP were analyzed.

Results: The mean age was 49 years. The most frequent causes were nonspecific abdominal pain (NSAP) (31.46%), and renal colic (31.18%). Biliary colic/cholecystitis, and diverticulitis were more prevalent in patients aged >65 years (13.17% vs. 5.95%, and 7.28% vs. 2.47%, respectively). Appendicitis (i.e., 4.54% vs. 1.47%) and renal colic (34.48% vs. 20.84%) were more frequent in patients aged <65 years. NSAP was the most common cause in both age classes. Renal colic was the most frequent cause of ED admission in men, whereas NSAP was more prevalent in women. Urinary tract infection was higher in women. Overall, 885 patients (16.57%) were hospitalized. Four hundred and eighty-five patients had repeated ED visits throughout the study period. Among these, 302 patients (6.46%) were readmitted within 30 days, whereas 187 patients (3.82%) were readmitted within 5 days. Renal colic was the first cause for ED readmission, followed by NSAP. In 13 cases readmitted to the ED within 5 days, and in 16 cases readmitted between 5-30 days the diagnosis was changed.

Conclusions: Our study showed that AAP represented 5.76% of total ED visits. Two conditions (i.e., NSAP and renal colic) represented >60% of all causes. A large use of active clinical observations during ED stay (52% of our patients) lead to a negligible percentage of changing diagnosis at the second visit.

Keywords: Abdominal pain; Emergency Department (ED); appendicitis; epidemiology; nonspecific abdominal pain; renal colic; surgery.