Abdominal Pain and the Emergency Room

Published date: June 25, 2012 | Modified date: October 15, 2019

A 10 year survey of U.S. hospitals found that millions of people visit the emergency room each year for abdominal pain. Why is this interesting?  If you were one of them, then you might be able to relate.

What is also interesting is that most of them didn’t leave the ER with any more clarity about their problem than before they went in. This may sound strange, because the ER is the place to go if you have a severe injury or a sudden downturn in your health.

It’s important to  get yourself examined if you have severe pain of any type, including abdominal pain. But if you have gone to the doctor or the emergency room for severe abdominal pain and have subsequently left the doctors office or ER without any answer for why you are in pain, you may be surprised to learn that you are in very good company.

A very large, 10 year survey of U.S. hospitals performed by the National Center for Health Statistics found that 7 million people visit the emergency room each year for abdominal pain. In fact, abdominal pain is the NUMBER ONE NON-TRAUMA REASON FOR WHICH PEOPLE VISIT THE EMERGENCY ROOM.

And of the millions of people who go to the emergency room every year for abdominal pain, the majority of them (83%) walk away WITHOUT a serious (appendicitis, gallstones, kidney disease, etc) diagnosis. Which means that most of these patients walk away still suffering with the same pain they went in with. And if you have had this experience, you probably think you were the exception – that rare person whose problem couldn’t be identified. But the opposite is true – you are the norm – the 83%!

If you’re one of these people, what you’ve learned are the things that you don’t have. Emergency medical providers routinely check patients with abdominal pain for such things as appendicitis, gallstones, pancreatitis, bowel obstruction, internal bleeding, kidney problems and pregnancy. And most are found to have …none of the above. Nothing that could be identified…except of course the pain. The pain is acutely identified by the patient. But the cause of the pain? That is a complete mystery to the emergency care experts.

One reason emergency room doctors are not able to diagnose most abdominal pain is because ERs are set up to save your life. When your abdominal pain is related to a potentially life threatening issue, then the ER will likely find the problem. They are trained experts at both finding the problem(s) that could kill you quickly, and using either drugs or surgery to save your life. This is extremely valuable if that is what you need, and compared to 50 years ago, modern medicine is truly a miracle.

But what if it FEELS like the pain is life threatening, but isn’t? It’s still “quality of life” threatening. In that case the ER is poorly equipped to find and treat the problem. And it doesn’t matter if you go to your local hospital or the Mayo Clinic. The outcome will usually be the same.

These kind of patients often end up at the IBS Treatment Center. And we’re truly happy to see them. They have been to fine, well-respected hospitals with unbearable abdominal pain and have been sent home with the diagnosis of “abdominal pain.”  These patients have IBS, and it’s often a form of IBS that we like to call IBS-P. It’s a designation that we came up with because we see it so often.

Our specialty is in evaluating and diagnosing causes of digestive problems that can lead to severe pain but aren’t the life threatening things that hospitals specialize in diagnosing. There are many issues that can cause this type of problem, and diagnosing them is a unique specialty.

If you or a loved one can relate to any of this and have experienced abdominal pain that has stumped your doctor, call us now. Don’t continue to suffer in silence. You can get your life back and stop having unpredictable abdominal pain!