Abdominal Pain in the Elderly

When elderly people experience abdominal pain, it is sometimes difficult for doctors to determine the exact cause of the pain. “Usually, we look for trademark symptoms such as fever or high white blood cell count to decide if a patient needs surgery,” says Michael R. Freeman, MD, gastroenterologist at Saint Francis Medical Center. “Those symptoms are not always present in older people due to certain medications and sometimes because the body’s immune system becomes more tolerant as we grow older.”

Freeman-Michael_MG_0104As a result, doctors order more frequent computed tomography (CT) scans when an older person first begins experiencing abdominal pain. Some of the most common diagnoses include:

  • Gallbladder problems – The incidence of gallstones increases with age
  • Gallstone pancreatitis
  • Perforated appendix – “This is becoming much more common,” says Freeman. “It may be that more people still have their appendices these days.”
  • Peptic ulcer disease

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