Appropriate pain therapy prior to diagnosis in patients with acute abdominal pain remains controversial. Several recent studies have demonstrated that pain therapy does not negatively influence either the diagnosis or subsequent treatment of these patients; however, current practice patterns continue to favour withholding pain medication prior to diagnosis and surgical treatment decision. A systematic review of PubMed, Web-of-Science and The-Cochrane-Library from 1929 to 2011 was carried out using the key words of 'acute', 'abdomen', 'pain', 'emergency' as well as different pain drugs in use, revealed 84 papers. The results of the literature review were incorporated into six sections to describe management of acute abdominal pain: (1) Physiology of Pain; (2) Common Aetiologies of Abdominal Pain; (3) Pre-diagnostic Analgesia; (4) Pain Therapy for Acute Abdominal Pain; (5) Analgesia for Acute Abdominal Pain in Special Patient Populations; and (6) Ethical and Medico-legal Considerations in Current Analgesia Practices. A comprehensive algorithm for analgesia for acute abdominal pain in the general adult population was developed. A review of the literature of common aetiologies and management of acute abdominal pain in the general adult population and special patient populations seen in the emergency room revealed that intravenous administration of paracetamol, dipyrone or piritramide are currently the analgesics of choice in this clinical setting. Combinations of non-opioids and opioids should be administered in patients with moderate, severe or extreme pain, adjusting the treatment on the basis of repeated pain assessment, which improves overall pain management.