Acute abdominal pain in pediatric patients has been a challenge for providers because of the nonspecific nature of symptoms and difficulty in the assessment and physical examination in children. Although most children with acute abdominal pain have self-limited benign conditions, pain may be a manifestation of an urgent surgical or medical condition where the biggest challenge is making a timely diagnosis so that appropriate treatment can be initiated without any diagnostic delays that increase morbidity. This is weighed against the need to decrease radiation exposure and avoid unnecessary operations. Across all age groups, there are numerous conditions that present with abdominal pain ranging from a very simple viral illness to a life-threatening surgical condition. It is proposed that the history, physical examination, laboratory tests, and imaging studies should initially be directed at differentiating surgical versus nonsurgical conditions both categorized as urgent versus nonurgent. The features of the history including patient's age, physical examination focused toward serious conditions, and appropriate tests are highlighted in the context of making these differentiations. Initial testing and management is also discussed with an emphasis on making use of surgeon and radiologist consultation and the need for adequate follow-up and reevaluation of the patient.
Keywords: acute abdominal pain; surgical abdomen; ultrasound.