Introduction. The immediate aim should be to identify potentially resuscitative acute abdominal pain that requires prompt investigation or early surgical intervention. We aimed to evaluate whether serum cortisol levels differentiate surgical and non-surgical disease in patients with acute abdominal pain.

Materials and methods. In this prospective cross-sectional study, the primary end-point was defined as differences in serum cortisol levels between surgically and non-surgically treated patients with non-traumatic acute abdominal pain. The secondary end-point was to compare the cortisol levels with defined complete blood count (CBC) parameters in those groups.

Results. One hundred eleven patients with acute abdominal pain were included in the study. Three most frequent diagnoses were nonspecific abdominal pain, acute appendicitis and dyspeptic complaints. Thirty patients were hospitalized and 22 of them were operated. The median cortisol level was 23.13 µg/dl in surgically treated patients and 13.94 µg/dl in non-surgically treated patients (p<0.001). The area under the ROC curve using cortisol to detect surgical disease was 0.750 (95% CI, 0.659-0.827) and the accuracy of cortisol to detect surgical disease was not inferior to defined CBC parameters. A cortisol value of 17.98 µg/dl had a sensitivity of 67.4% and a specificity of 77.3% for surgical disease.

Conclusion. Operated patients had higher serum cortisol levels. High serum cortisol levels may indicate surgical disease at the early stage on admission in ED patients with acute abdominal pain and may be used as a marker in the prediction of acute surgical abdomen.

Key words: abdominal pain, cortisol, emergency department, surgery

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