NURS 6512 Assessing the Abdomen 

NURS 6512 Assessing the Abdomen 

NURS 6512 Assessing the Abdomen 

Assessment of the Abdomen and Gastrointestinal System

The abdominal compartment situated between the thorax and pelvis houses the gastrointestinal system as well as other organs such as the kidneys and spleen. The abdomen and the gastrointestinal system encounter physiologic disturbances resulting in several pathologies that range in severity from mild to life-threatening. Consequently, clinical assessment of the abdomen and gastrointestinal system is imperative to assist in prompt diagnosis of these pathologies and initiation of the necessary therapeutic approaches. This paper will explore a case study concerning LZ, a 65-year-old African American male who presents to the emergency department with a two-day history of epigastric pain radiating to the back. The subsequent paragraphs will explore subjective and objective details as well as the assessment of this case scenario.


LZ presents with a sudden onset two-day history of intermittent epigastric pain that radiates to the back. The pain has persisted despite the use of proton pump inhibitors. However, he reports an increase in severity and vomiting although there is no associated fever or diarrhea. Epigastric abdominal pain is a non-specific symptom that may indicate both gastrointestinal and non-gastrointestinal etiologies. Consequently, further evaluation is required, and the additional history to inquire about the history of presenting illness includes the following: The character of the pain must be mentioned since some pathologies present with sharp pain while others present with a colicky pain. Similarly, it is important to ask about the timing of the pain. For instance, if it is worse at any particular time of the day. Factors aggravating and relieving the pain provide an important clue to the underlying etiology. Consequently, it is worth inquiring about the effects of a change of position on the pain. For instance, if it is worse or better in any distinct position. Similarly, noting the impact of eating on the pain is equally important.

Associated factors are crucial as most pathologies that present with epigastric pain also manifest with other symptoms. Apart from fever and diarrhea, questions regarding symptoms such as cough, chest pain, nausea, anorexia, hematuria, hematemesis, bloating, belching, nocturnal pain, indigestion, weight loss, dizziness, diaphoresis, anxiety, and alterations in bowel habits must be raised. LZ also vomited after taking his lunch. Subsequently, additional questions to ask include the number of episodes, constituents, amount, and the color of the vomitus, if other family members who ate the same meal vomited, and associated factors since vomiting is a non-specific symptom. Other parts of history that are considered significant include history of medication use particularly NSAIDs, steroids, and anticonvulsants among others, history of trauma, nutritional history including the diet and caffeine intake, and family history of similar presentation.

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Additionally, LZ has a positive history of hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and GERD as well as a history of alcohol and smoking. The aforementioned factors are regarded as significant risk factors underlying several gastrointestinal pathologies. Consequently, it is important to quantify both smoking and alcohol intake and determine if the blood pressure and hyperlipidemia are well controlled. Finally, it is necessary to ask if he is stressed following divorce.


The analysis of the vital signs demonstrates that LZ with a blood pressure of 91/60 mmHg is hypotensive since he is a known hypertensive patient on metoprolol. Similarly, he is overweight which carries moderate health risks. The respiratory, dermatological, and cardiovascular systems revealed no abnormalities. Nevertheless, exhaustive examination with regards to inspection, palpation, auscultation, and percussion is crucial, particularly for the chest. auscultation particularly for the chest Findings noted on the abdominal exam include tenderness in the epigastric area with guarding although no masses or rebound tenderness. Additional features that are crucial to highlight in the physical examination include the general exam which focuses on the general appearance of the patient. Similarly, a detailed abdominal examination including comprehensive findings on auscultation, inspection, palpation, and percussion is crucial since different diseases present with different abdominal signs. Finally, a neurological examination is also significant as vomiting can be a manifestation of neurologic disease.

NURS 6512 Assessing the Abdomen 
NURS 6512 Assessing the Abdomen 


Investigations necessary to assist in the diagnosis of his condition and rule out other causes of epigastric pain include both laboratory and radiological studies. Laboratory investigations include complete blood count with differential, urea, creatinine, and electrolytes, liver function tests, coagulation profile, serum amylase, and lipase levels, ESR/CRP, procalcitonin, blood glucose levels, LDH, lactate levels, serum triglycerides, calcium levels, stool for H. pylori antigen, and serum gastrin levels. The abovementioned laboratory tests are vital in evaluating the common causes of epigastric pain radiating to the back such as acute pancreatitis and peptic ulcer disease (Patterson et al., 2022).

On the other hand, imaging tests include ECG to rule out pericarditis, abdominal ultrasound to check for gallstones, liver or renal problems, abdominal X-ray which may reveal pneumoperitoneum in the case of a perforated ulcer, Chest X-ray and CT thorax, abdomen and Pelvis to identify possible pancreatitis and abdominal aortic aneurysm (Patterson et al., 2022). Finally, endoscopy is critical as both GERD and peptic ulcer disease are possible differentials.

Abdominal aortic aneurysm, acute pancreatitis, and perforated peptic ulcer are among the potential diagnosis for LZ’s presentation. Abdominal aortic aneurism refers to focal dilatation of the abdominal aorta to more than 1.5 times its ordinary diameter (Sakalihasan et al., 2018). Predisposing factors for this condition include advanced age, smoking, arterial hypertension, and hypercholesterolemia which LZ possesses (Sakalihasan et al., 2018). It is usually asymptomatic but may present with epigastric pain radiating to the back and pulsatile abdominal mass. A perforated peptic ulcer is another possible cause of his symptoms. Peptic ulcer disease shares similar risk factors as GERD including alcohol use and smoking. Psychological stress probably due to divorce is also a risk factor. The patient usually presents with epigastric pain which may radiate to the back. However, if perforated, features of peritonitis such as tenderness and guarding may be evident with no palpable mass (Malik et al., 2022). Acute pancreatitis similarly manifests with severe epigastric pain radiating to the back, abdominal tenderness, guarding, and nausea and vomiting (Shah et al., 2018). Additionally, LZ has a history of alcohol use and hyperlipidemia which may precipitate pancreatitis.

The other possible differential diagnoses for his condition include causes of acute abdomen particularly those causing epigastric pain such as acute mesenteric ischemia, myocardial infarction, acute gastritis, and Mallory Weiss syndrome (Patterson et al., 2022). For instance, acute mesenteric ischemia may present with epigastric pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, and signs of peritonitis while Mallory Weiss syndrome manifests with epigastric pain/back pain, hematemesis, and signs of shock. Finally, myocardial infarction at times manifests as epigastric pain accompanied by nausea and vomiting, dizziness, dyspnea with exertion, and diaphoresis (Saleh & Ambrose, 2018). This is a potential differential diagnosis as LZ has risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as hypertension, smoking, alcohol use, and hyperlipidemia.


Meticulous evaluation of the abdominal and gastrointestinal systems is essential as it may point out an underlying diagnosis. Abdominal pain is a very non-specific symptom and may result from gastrointestinal or non-gastrointestinal causes. However, severe epigastric pain radiating to the back may be an indication of abdominal aortic aneurysm, acute pancreatitis, and perforated peptic ulcer.


Malik, T. F., Gnanapandithan, K., & Singh, K. (2022). Peptic ulcer disease.

Patterson, J. W., Kashyap, S., & Dominique, E. (2022). Acute Abdomen.

Sakalihasan, N., Michel, J.-B., Katsargyris, A., Kuivaniemi, H., Defraigne, J.-O., Nchimi, A., Powell, J. T., Yoshimura, K., & Hultgren, R. (2018). Abdominal aortic aneurysms. Nature Reviews. Disease Primers, 4(1), 34.

Saleh, M., & Ambrose, J. A. (2018). Understanding myocardial infarction. F1000Research, 7, 1378.

Shah, A. P., Mourad, M. M., & Bramhall, S. R. (2018). Acute pancreatitis: current perspectives on diagnosis and management. Journal of Inflammation Research, 11, 77–85.