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Chapter 17
Abdominal examination is performed:
As part of the comprehensive physical examination
When patient has signs or symptoms of an abdominal disease process
Abdomen (Cont.)
It involves the core examination skills in a particular sequence:
Physical Examination Preview
Inspect the abdomen for the following:
Skin characteristics
Venous return patterns
Surface motion
Inspect abdominal muscles as patient raises head to detect presence of the following:
Separation of muscles
Abdomen (Cont.)
Auscultate with stethoscope diaphragm for the following:
Bowel sounds
Auscultate with bell of stethoscope for the following:
Bruits over aorta and renal and femoral arteries
Abdomen (Cont.)
Percuss the abdomen for the following:
Tone in all four quadrants (or nine regions)
Liver borders to estimate span
Splenic dullness in left midaxillary line
Gastric air bubble
Abdomen (Cont.)
Lightly palpate in all quadrants or regions for the following:
Muscular resistance
Abdomen (Cont.)
Deeply palpate for the following:
Bulges and masses around the umbilicus and umbilical ring
Liver border in right costal margin
Gallbladder below liver margin at lateral border of the rectus muscle
Spleen in left costal margin
Right and left kidneys
Aortic pulsation in midline
Other masses
Abdomen (Cont.)
With patient sitting, percuss the left and right costovertebral angles for kidney tenderness.
Anatomy and Physiology
Anatomy and Physiology
Houses multiple major organs
The peritoneum, a serous membrane, lines the cavity and forms a protective cover for many of
the abdominal structures.
Double folds of the peritoneum around the stomach constitute the greater and lesser
The mesentery, a fan-shaped fold of the peritoneum, covers most of the small intestine and
anchors it to the posterior abdominal wall.
Alimentary Tract
A 27-foot tube from mouth to anus
Esophagus: 10 inches long
Small intestine: 21 feet long
Large intestine (colon): 4.5 to 5 feet long
Alimentary Tract (Cont.)
Ingest and digest food
Absorb nutrients, electrolytes, and water
Excrete wastes
Peristalsis moves food along tract under autonomic nervous system control
Anatomic Structures of the Abdominal Cavity
Anatomic Structures of the Abdominal Cavity
A 10-inch collapsible tube
Connects pharynx to stomach
Posterior to the trachea
Through the mediastinal cavity
Travels through the diaphragm
Enters the stomach at the cardiac orifice
Flask-shaped, lies transversely
In upper abdomen below diaphragm
Three sections
Secretes HCl and enzymes to break down fats and proteins
Little absorption takes place in the stomach
Small Intestine
Connects stomach to large intestine
Three sections coiled in abdominal cavity
Duodenum: 12 inches
Openings for bile and pancreatic ducts
Jejunum: 8 feet
Ileum: 12 feet
Ileocecal valve between the ileum and large intestine prevents backflow
Small Intestine (Cont.)
Completes digestion through action of pancreatic enzymes, bile, and other enzymes
Nutrients absorbed through the mucosa
Surface area enormously increased by circular folds and villi
Large Intestine
Connects small intestine to anus
Four sections
Cecum: vermiform appendix extends from base
Ascending colon
Transverse colon
Descending colon
Sigmoid colon
Rectum and anal canal
Large Intestine (Cont.)
Water absorption
Lubrication of contents from large quantities of alkaline mucus that neutralize acids
formed by intestinal bacteria
Putrefaction: live bacteria decompose undigested food, unabsorbed amino acids, cell
debris, and dead bacteria
Four lobes in right upper quadrant
Major functions
Metabolize fats and carbohydrates
Convert amino acids to glucose
Synthesize fats from carbohydrates and proteins
Store vitamins and iron
Detoxify harmful substances
Produce antibodies and blood coagulants
Synthesize bile
Convert waste from fat to water-soluble
Pear-shaped, saclike organ about 4 inches long recessed in liver
Gallbladder concentrates and stores bile (made up of cholesterol, bile salts, and
Bile is released into cystic duct (and common bile duct) and maintains alkaline pH of
small intestine to permit emulsification of fats for absorption.
Located behind and beneath stomach
Produces digestive juices
Endocrine function produces hormones to regulate body’s level of glucose
Insulin (the major anabolic hormone of body)
Located in left upper quadrant below kidney
White pulp (lymphoid tissue)
Filters blood
Produces lymphocytes and monocytes
Red pulp
Allows for storage and release of blood
Kidneys, Ureters, and Bladder
Kidneys, ureters, and bladder
Kidneys located bilaterally in retroperitoneum and connected to bladder via ureters
Rid body of water-soluble waste
Produces (endocrine) renin, erythropoietin, and biologically active vitamin D
Synthesizes prostaglandins
Musculature and Connective Tissues
Form and protect the abdominal cavity
Rectus abdominis
Internal and external obliques
Linea alba (contains umbilicus)
Inguinal ligament (Poupart ligament)
Descending aorta
Iliac arteries (2), formed from division at about the umbilicus
Splenic artery
Renal arteries
Pancreatic buds, liver, and gallbladder all begin to form during week 4 of gestation.
Intestine already exists as a single tube.
Meconium, an end product of fetal metabolism, is produced at about 17 weeks.
By 36 to 38 weeks of gestation, the gastrointestinal tract is capable of adapting to extrauterine
Infants (Cont.)
Elasticity, musculature, and control mechanisms continue to develop, reaching adult levels of
function at 2 to 3 years of age.
Liver is very large at birth.
Metabolic and glycogen storage organ
Remains the heaviest organ in the body
Pancreatic islet cells are developed by 12 weeks of gestation and begin producing insulin.
Infants (Cont.)
Spleen is active in blood formation during fetal development and the first year of life.
Afterward, the spleen aids in the destruction of blood cells and functions as a lymphatic
organ for immunologic response.
Infants (Cont.)
Pregnant Women
Abdominal wall muscles stretch and lose tone.
Organs are displaced and affect functions:
Heartburn results from alkaline reflux from duodenal contents into stomach.
Gallstones may result from gallbladder changes that produce cholesterol crystals.
Urinary stasis and urgency may occur.
Constipation or flatus is more common.
Hemorrhoids may result from increased venous pressure.
Pregnant Women (Cont.)
Linea nigra in the third trimester of pregnancy
Older Adults
Functional abilities of GI tract are affected.
Motility slows.
Secretion and absorption may slow.
Changes may impair digestive ability and may result in food intolerances in the older
The liver loses some ability to metabolize certain drugs.
There may be an increase of biliary lipids resulting in the formation of gallstones.
The pancreas has no significant physiologic changes.
Review of Related History
History of Present Illness
Abdominal pain
Onset and duration
Associated symptoms
Relationship factors
Stool characteristics
Urine characteristics
Medications: high doses of aspirin, steroids, NSAIDs
History of Present Illness (Cont.)
Relationship to: amount, type, and timing of food intake
Onset of symptoms
Symptom relieved by antacids, rest, activity
Medications: antacids
History of Present Illness (Cont.)
Associated with vomiting
Particular stimuli (odors, activities, time of day, food intake)
Date of last menstrual period
Medications: antiemetics
History of Present Illness (Cont.)
Character: nature, color, quantity, duration, frequency
Relationship to: meals, appetite, diarrhea or constipation
Medications: antiemetics
History of Present Illness (Cont.)
Associated symptoms
Relationship to: food intake, stressors
Travel history
Medications: laxatives, stool softeners, antidiarrheals
History of Present Illness (Cont.)
Medications: laxatives, stool softeners, iron, diuretics
History of Present Illness (Cont.)
Fecal incontinence
Associated symptoms
Related factors
Medications: laxatives, stool softeners, iron, diuretics
History of Present Illness (Cont.)
Onset and duration
Color of stools and urine
Associated with abdominal pain, chills, fever
Exposure to hepatitis, use of club/recreational drugs, high-risk sexual activity
Medications: high doses of acetaminophen, antiepileptics
History of Present Illness (Cont.)
Distal urethra
Associated fever or other systemic signs of illness
Increased frequency of sexual intercourse
Amount of daily fluid intake
History of Present Illness (Cont.)
Urinary frequency
Change in pattern or volume
Associated with dysuria or other urinary characteristics: urgency, hematuria,
incontinence, nocturia
Change in urinary stream; dribbling
Medications: diuretics
History of Present Illness (Cont.)
Urinary incontinence
Character, amount, frequency
Associated with: urgency, previous surgery, coughing, sneezing, walking up stairs,
nocturia, menopause
Medications: diuretics
History of Present Illness (Cont.)
Character, color, timing
Associated symptoms: flank or costovertebral pain
Alternate possibilities: ingestion of foods containing red vegetable dyes (may cause red
urinary pigment); ingestion of laxatives containing phenolphthalein
Medications: aspirin, NSAIDs, anticoagulants, diuretics, antibiotics
Past Medical History
Gastrointestinal disorders
Hepatitis or cirrhosis of liver
Abdominal or urinary tract surgery or injury
Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
Major illnesses
Blood transfusions
Immunization status (hepatitis A and B)
Colorectal or related cancers
Family History
Colorectal cancer and familial colorectal cancer syndromes
Gallbladder disease
Kidney disease
Malabsorption syndrome
Hirschsprung disease, aganglionic megacolon
Familial Mediterranean fever (periodic peritonitis)
Personal and Social History
LMP (first day of last menstrual period)
Alcohol intake: frequency, type, and usual amounts
Stressful life events, physical and psychologic changes
Exposure to infectious diseases
Travel history
Use of recreational or intravenous drugs
Tobacco use
Gestational age and birth weight
Passage of first meconium stool within 24 hours
Vomiting, frequency, projectile
Diarrhea, colic, failure to gain weight, weight loss, or steatorrhea (malabsorption syndrome)
Apparent enlargement of abdomen (with or without pain), constipation, or diarrhea
Toilet training methods; diet; soiling; diarrhea; abdominal distention; pica; size, shape,
consistency, and time of last stool; rectal bleeding; painful passage of stool
Abdominal pain
Splinting of abdominal movement, resists movement, keeps knees flexed
Psychosocial stressors
Home, school, and peers
Pregnant Women
Urinary symptoms
Frequency, urgency, burning, dysuria
Odor (sign of infection)
Abdominal pain
Fetal movement
Onset, frequency, duration, intensity
Accompanying symptoms; back pain
Leakage of fluid
Vaginal bleeding
Older Adults
Urinary symptoms
Nocturia, change in stream, incontinence
Change in bowel patterns
Constipation, diarrhea, fecal incontinence
Dietary habits
Inclusion of fiber in diet
Food intolerances
Change in appetite
Daily fluid intake
Examination and Findings
Good light
Full exposure of abdomen
Empty bladder
Supportive pillows
Centimeter ruler and measuring tape
Marking pen
Four quadrants: navel at center of horizontal and perpendicular lines
Right upper quadrant (RUQ)
Left upper quadrant (LUQ)
Right lower quadrant (RLQ)
Left lower quadrant (LLQ)
Landmarks (Cont.)
Nine regions
Two horizontal lines
Across the lowest edge of the costal margin
Across the edge of the iliac crest
Two vertical lines
Running bilaterally from the midclavicular line to the middle of the Poupart
ligament, approximating the lateral borders of the rectus abdominis muscles
Surface characteristics
Venous return
Lesions and scars
Tautness and striae
Contour (abdominal profile from the rib margin to the pubis, viewed on the horizontal
Surface motion
Inspection (Cont.)
Abdominal landmarks
Abdominal venous patterns
Inspection (Cont.)
Smooth, even movement should occur with respiration.
Limited movement may indicate peritonitis.
Surface motion from peristalsis, seen as a rippling movement across a section of the
abdomen, may be seen in thin individuals, but can be a sign of intestinal obstruction.
Marked pulsations may occur as the result of increased pulse pressure or abdominal
aortic aneurysm.
Bowel sounds
Usually heard as clicks and gurgles that occur irregularly and range from 5 to 35 per
Generalized so most often they can be assessed adequately by listening in one place
Loud prolonged gurgles are called borborygmi (stomach growling)
Auscultation (Cont.)
Bowel sounds
Increased bowel sounds may occur with gastroenteritis, early intestinal obstruction, or
High-pitched tinkling sounds suggest intestinal fluid and air under pressure, as in early
Decreased bowel sounds occur with peritonitis and paralytic ileus.
Absent bowel sounds, referring to an inability to hear any bowel sounds after 5 minutes of
continuous listening, are typically associated with abdominal pain and rigidity and
are a surgical emergency.
Auscultation (Cont.)
Friction rubs
High-pitched sounds that are heard in association with respiration
Use the diaphragm of the stethoscope
Rare in the abdomen
Indicate inflammation of the peritoneal surface of the organ from tumor, infection, or
Liver and spleen
Auscultation (Cont.)
Harsh or musical intermittent auscultatory sound, which may reflect blood flow turbulence
and indicate vascular disease
Heard best with the bell of the stethoscope
Well localized
Epigastric region and over the aortic, renal, iliac, and femoral arteries
Auscultations Sites for Bruits
Auscultation (Cont.)
Venous hum
Soft, low-pitched, and continuous sound heard best from the bell of the stethoscope
Occurs with increased collateral circulation between portal and systemic venous systems
Epigastric region and around the umbilicus
Used to assess
Size and density of organs
Detect the presence of fluid (ascites)
Detect the presence of air (gastric distention)
Detect the presence of fluid-filled or solid masses
Percuss all quadrants or regions of the abdomen for a sense of overall tympany and dullness
Percussion (Cont.)
Liver span
Usual span is approximately 6 to 12 cm (2½ to 4½ inches)
Gastric bubble
Used to assess the kidneys for tenderness
Usually performed while examining the back rather than the abdomen
Percussion (Cont.)
Light palpation
Light, systematic palpation of all four quadrants, or nine regions
Initially avoiding any areas that have already been identified as problem spots
Palpation (Cont.)
Moderate palpation
Moderate pressure as an intermediate step to gradually approach deep palpation
Palpation (Cont.)
Deep palpation
Necessary to thoroughly delineate abdominal organs and to detect less obvious masses
Palpation (Cont.)
Spleen and Kidney Palpation
Palpating the Aorta
Palpation (Cont.)
Masses: identify and note
Movement with respiration
Palpation (Cont.)
Umbilical ring
Palpate the umbilical ring and around the umbilicus.
Area should be free of bulges, nodules, and granulation.
Umbilical ring should be round and free of irregularities.
Potential for herniation
Umbilicus may be either slightly inverted or everted, but it should not protrude.
Specific Organs and Structures
Left and right kidneys
Urinary bladder
Additional Procedures
Additional Procedures
Ascites assessment
Pathologic increase in fluid in the peritoneal cavity
Percuss for:
Dullness and resonance
Shifting dullness
Fluid wave
Fluid Assessment
Shifting dullness
Additional Procedures (Cont.)
Pain assesment
Abdominal pain a common complaint
How bad is the pain?
Has there been recent trauma?
Pain so severe that the patient is unwilling to move
Accompanied by nausea and vomiting
Marked by areas of localized tenderness
Facial expression during palpation
Common Causes of Abdominal Pain
Perforated ulcer
Intestinal obstruction
Leaking aneurysm
Biliary stones
Pelvic inflammatory disease
Ruptured ovarian cyst
Renal calculi
Splenic rupture
Abdominal Signs
Blumberg Cullen
Grey Turner
Additional Procedures (Cont.)
Rebound tenderness
Should be performed at the end of the examination
Additional Procedures (Cont.)
Iliopsoas muscle test
Performed when you suspect appendicitis
Additional Procedures (Cont.)
Obturator muscle test
Performed when you suspect a ruptured appendix or a pelvic abscess
Additional Procedures (Cont.)
Palpation technique used to assess an organ or mass
Infants and Children
Shape, contour, and movement
Pulsations and peristalsis
Umbilical cord
Muscle protrusion
Infants and Children (Cont.)
Bowel sounds in chest as well as abdomen
Suggests diaphragmatic hernia
Bruits or hums should not be heard
More tympany expected
Detectable spleen tip common
Pain difficult to assess
The techniques of abdominal examination of the adolescent are the same as those used for
Do not overlook the possibility of pregnancy as a cause of abdominal pain or lower abdominal
mass, even in young adolescent females.
Pregnant Women
Bowel sounds will be diminished as a result of decreased peristaltic activity.
Striae and a midline band of pigmentation (linea nigra) may be present.
Common gastrointestinal complaints:
Pregnant Women (Cont.)
Assessment of the abdomen of pregnant women includes:
Uterine size estimation for gestational age
Fetal growth
Position of the fetus
Monitoring of fetal well-being
Presence of uterine contractions
Older Adults
Techniques of examination are the same as those used for younger adults.
Abdominal wall of the older adult becomes thinner and less firm.
Abdominal contour is often rounded as a result of loss of muscle tone.
Use judgment in determining whether a patient is able to assume a particular position.
Decreased intestinal motility is associated with aging.
Older Adults (Cont.)
Decreased intestinal motility associated with aging:
Fecal Impaction
Gastrointestinal cancers
Pain perception may be altered as part of the aging process
Alimentary Tract
Acute diarrhea
Frequent liquid or loose stools lasting less than 4 weeks’ duration
Gastroesophageal reflux disease
Backward flow of gastric contents, which are typically acidic, into the esophagus
Irritable bowel syndrome
Disorder of intestinal motility
Alimentary Tract (Cont.)
Hiatal hernia with esophagitis
Part of the stomach passes through the esophageal hiatus in the diaphragm into the
chest cavity
Duodenal ulcer
Chronic circumscribed break in the duodenal mucosa that scars with healing
Crohn disease
Chronic inflammatory disorder that can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract,
producing ulceration, fibrosis, and malabsorption
Terminal ileum and colon are most common sites
Alimentary Tract (Cont.)
Ulcerative colitis
Chronic inflammatory disorder of the colon and rectum that produces mucosal friability
and areas of ulceration
Alimentary Tract (Cont.)
Stomach cancer
Most commonly found in lower half of the stomach
Colon cancer
May involve the rectum, sigmoid, proximal and descending colon
Hepatobiliary System
Inflammatory process characterized by diffuse or patchy hepatocellular necrosis
Diffuse hepatic process characterized by fibrosis and alteration of normal liver
architecture into structurally abnormal nodules
Hepatobiliary System (Cont.)
Primary hepatocellular cancer
Frequently arises in the setting of cirrhosis, approximately 20 to 30 years after liver injury
or disease onset
About 25% have no prior risk factors for cirrhosis
Stone formation in the gallbladder occurs when certain substances reach a high
concentration in bile and produce crystals.
Hepatobiliary System (Cont.)
Inflammatory process of the gallbladder most commonly due to obstruction of the cystic
duct from cholelithiasis; may be either acute or chronic
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
Spectrum of hepatic disorders not associated with excessive alcohol intake ranging from
steatosis to cirrhosis and hepatocellular cancer
Acute pancreatitis
Acute inflammatory process in which release of pancreatic enzymes results in glandular
Chronic pancreatitis
Chronic inflammatory process of the pancreas, characterized by irreversible morphologic
Spleen laceration/rupture
Most commonly injured organ in abdominal trauma because of its anatomic location
Mechanism of injury can be either blunt or penetrating but is more often blunt (e.g., from
motor vehicle accidents)
Acute glomerulonephritis
Inflammation of the capillary loops of the renal glomeruli
Dilation of the renal pelvis and calyces due to an obstruction of urine flow anywhere from
the urethral meatus to the kidneys
Infection of the kidney and renal pelvis
Kidney (Cont.)
Renal abscess
Localized infection within the medulla or cortex of the kidney
Renal calculi
Stones formed in the pelvis of the kidney from a physiochemical process associated with
obstruction and infections in the urinary tract
Acute renal failure
Sudden impairment of renal function over hours to days resulting in an acute uremic
Prolapse, or telescoping, of one segment of intestine into another causes intestinal
Pyloric stenosis
Hypertrophy of the circular muscle of the pylorus leads to obstruction of the pyloric
Meconium ileus
Distal intestinal obstruction caused by thick inspissated impacted meconium in the lower
Infants (Cont.)
Biliary atresia
Congenital obstruction or absence of some or all of the bile duct system resulting in bile
flow obstruction
Most have complete absence of the entire extrahepatic biliary tree
Meckel diverticulum
Outpouching of the ileum that varies in size from a small appendiceal process to a
segment of bowel several inches long, often in the proximity of the ileocecal valve
Infants (Cont.)
Necrotizing enterocolitis
Inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal mucosa associated with prematurity and
immaturity of the gastrointestinal tract
Common solid malignancy of embryonal origin in the peripheral sympathetic nervous
Wilms tumor (nephroblastoma)
Most common intraabdominal tumor of childhood; usually appears at 2 to 3 years of age
Children (Cont.)
Hirschsprung disease (congenital aganglionic megacolon)
Primary absence of parasympathetic ganglion cells in a segment of the colon that
interrupts intestinal motility
Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS)
Triad of microangiopathic hemolytic anemia, thrombocytopenia, and uremia
Older Adults
Fecal incontinence
Inability to control bowel movements leading to leakage of stool
Associated with three major causes:
Fecal impaction
Underlying disease
Neurogenic disorders
Question 1
What sign would identify intraabdominal bleeding?
A. Cullen sign
B. Kehr sign
C. Cushing sign
D. Grey Turner sign
Question 2
Which abdominal organs also produce hormones and function as endocrine glands?
A. Liver and gallbladder
B. Stomach and spleen
C. Gallbladder and pancreas
D. Pancreas and kidney
Question 3
Borborygmi sounds are:
A. Low-pitched crackle sounds
B. High-pitched tinkling sounds
C. Loud prolonged gurgles
D. High-pitched sounds heard in association with respirations
Question 4
The most pronounced functional change of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract in older adults is:
A. Decreased hydrochloric acid production
B. Increased motility
C. Decreased bile absorption
D. Decreased motility
Question 5
Relaxation or incompetence of the lower esophageal sphincter causes:
A. Peptic ulcer disease
B. Hiatal hernia
C. Crohn disease
D. Gastroesophageal reflux disease