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Overview of Gastrointestinal Emergencies

by Parswa Ansari, MD

Certain gastrointestinal disorders can be life threatening and require emergency treatment—surgery, in many cases.

Abdominal pain (see Acute Abdominal Pain), often severe, usually accompanies gastrointestinal emergencies. If a person is experiencing abdominal pain, a doctor must decide whether immediate surgery is needed to both identify and treat the problem or whether surgery can wait until diagnostic test results are available. Emergency surgery of the abdomen is often performed when the abdominal pain seems to result from an intestinal obstruction; a ruptured organ, such as the stomach, appendix, or intestine; or an abscess (a pus-filled pocket of infection).

Gastrointestinal bleeding (see Gastrointestinal Bleeding), which is typically painless, also can be life threatening. Doctors usually perform an endoscopy (an examination of internal structures using a flexible viewing tube) to find and treat the source of bleeding.