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Acute Abdomen. David Gavriel MD Surgical department SZMC. Overview. Basic Definition and Principles Clinical Diagnosis / DDx Characterizing the pain Other history to elicit Ways to remember such a broad differential History & Physical / Labs / Imaging

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Acute Abdomen

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Acute abdomen

Acute Abdomen

David Gavriel MD

Surgical department




  • Basic Definition and Principles

  • Clinical Diagnosis / DDx

    • Characterizing the pain

    • Other history to elicit

    • Ways to remember such a broad differential

    • History & Physical / Labs / Imaging

    • Non-surgical causes of acute abdomen

  • Clinical Management

  • Decision to Operate

  • Atypical presentations

Basic definition and principles

Basic Definition and Principles

  • Signs and symptoms of intra-abdominal disease usually best treated by surgery

  • Proper eval and management requires one to recognize:

    • 1. Does this patient need surgery?

    • 2. Is it emergent, urgent, or can wait?

      • In other words, is the patient unstable or stable?

  • Learn to think in “worst-case” scenario

  • But remember medical causes of abd pain

Visceral vs parietal pain innervation

Visceral vs. Parietal Pain innervation

Clinical diagnosis

Clinical Diagnosis

  • Characterizing the pain is the key

    • Onset, duration, location, character

  • Visceral pain → dull & poorly localized

    • i.e. distension, inflammation or ischemia

  • Parietal pain → sharper, better localized

    • Sharp “RUQ pain”(chol’y), “LLQ pain”(divertic)

  • Kidney / ureter → flank pain

Clinical diagnosis pain cont d

Clinical Diagnosis – Pain cont’d

  • Location

    • Upper abdomen → PUD, chol’y, pancreatitis

    • Lower abdomen → Divertic, ovary cyst, TOA

    • Mid abdomen → early app’y, SBO

  • Migratory pattern

    • Epigastric → Peri-umbil → RLQ = Acute app’y

    • Localized pain → Diffuse = Diffuse peritonitis

Clinical diagnosis1

Clinical Diagnosis

  • “Referred pain”

    • Biliary disease → R shoulder or back

    • Sub-left diaphragm abscess → L shoulder

    • Above diaphragm(lungs) → Neck/shoulder

  • Acute onset & unrelenting pain = bad

  • Pain which resolves usu. not surgical

Other history

GI symptoms

Nausea, emesis (? bilious or bloody)

Constipation, obstipation (last BM or flatus)

Diarrhea (? bloody)

Both Nausea/Diarrhea present usu. medical

Change in sx w eating?

NSAID use (perf DU)

Jaundice, acholic stools, dark urine

Drinking history (pancreas)

Prior surgeries (adhesions → SBO, ?still have gallbladder & appendix)

History of hernias

Urine output (dehydrated)

Constituational Sx


Sexual history

Other history

Physical examination

Physical Examination

  • Observation of the patient

    • Position of patient

    • Activity of patient

    • Appearance of abdomen

  • Auscultation

    • Bowel sounds, bruits

  • Percussion

  • Palpation

    • Masses, tenderness, rebound, hernias

Examination patterns signs

Examination Patterns (Signs)

Evaluation studies

Evaluation Studies

Clinical diagnosis2

Clinical Diagnosis

  • Location of pain by organ

  • RUQ

    • Gallbladder

  • Epigastrum

    • Stomach

    • Pancreas

  • Mid abdomen

    • Small intestine

  • Lower abdomen

    • Colon, GYN pathology

Clinical diagnosis3

Clinical Diagnosis

Inflammation versus obstruction

Inflammation versus Obstruction

Localization of pain

Localization of Pain

Localization of pain cont

Localization of Pain – cont.

Localization of pain cont1

Localization of Pain – cont.

Non surgical causes by systems

Non-Surgical Causes by Systems

Non surgical causes

Non Surgical Causes

Surgical acute abdominal diseases

Surgical Acute Abdominal Diseases

Think broad categories for ddx

Think Broad categories for DDx

  • Inflammation

  • Obstruction

  • Ischemia

  • Perforation (any of above can end here)

    • Offended organ becomes distended

    • Lymphatic/venous obstrux due to ↑pressure

    • Arterial pressure exceeded → ischemia

    • Prolonged ischemia → perforation

Ischemia perforation

Ischemia / Perforation

  • Acute mesenteric ischemia

    • Usually acute occlusion of the SMA from thrombus or embolism

  • Chronic mesenteric ischemia

    • Typically smoker, vasculopath with severe atherosclerotic vessel disease

  • Ischemic colitis

  • Any inflammation, obstructive, or ischemic process can progress to perforation

  • Ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm

Gyn etiologies

GYN Etiologies

Labs imaging

Labs & Imaging

What do you see

What do you see?

Abdominal x ray

Abdominal X ray

Abdominal x ray1

Abdominal X ray

Ct scanning

CT Scanning

Ct scan

CT scan

What is the diagnosis?

Acute appendicitis

Ct scanning1

CT Scanning

Ct scanning2

CT Scanning

Findings suggesting surgical disease

Findings Suggesting Surgical Disease

Intra abdominal pressure monitoring

Intra Abdominal Pressure Monitoring

  • Increased abdominal pressure can be a symptom of disease or the cause

  • Can decrease abd. visceral blood flow

  • Can decrease cardiac venous return

  • Can cause respiratory embarrassment

  • Can lead to GERD and aspiration

Abdominal compartment syndrome

Abdominal Compartment Syndrome

Vac pac closure

“VAC-Pac” Closure

Differential diagnosis

Differential Diagnosis

  • Correct diagnosis made 80% of time after history and physical exam

  • Sometimes diagnosis cannot be made preoperatively

  • Diagnostic laparoscopy can be helpful adjunct

  • Peritoneal lavage can be performed at bedside in ICU/ER in unstable patient

Pregnant patients

Pregnant Patients

  • Special emphasis placed on Gyn and surgical diagnoses

  • Hesitancy to operate and to perform X Ray imaging can delay diagnosis

  • Presentation patterns can be altered by pregnancy

  • Delayed diagnosis can threaten both mother and fetus

Pregnant patient

Pregnant Patient

  • Most common non-obstetrical surgical diseases in pregnancy are:

    • Appendicitis (1:1500)

    • Biliary tract disease (1-6:10,000)

    • Bowel obstructions (1:4,000)

    • Pancreatitis

Appendicitis in pregnancy

Appendicitis in Pregnancy

  • Classic symptoms 60% of time

  • Nausea, vomiting, lower abd pain

  • Fever is uncommon

  • Leukocytosis present in normal pregnancy

Appendicitis in pregnancy1

Appendicitis in Pregnancy

Algorithms in acute abdomen acute severe generalized pain

Algorithms in Acute AbdomenAcute Severe Generalized Pain

Algorithms in acute abdomen gradual onset severe generalized pain

Algorithms in Acute AbdomenGradual Onset Severe Generalized Pain

Algorithms in acute abdomen right upper quadrant pain

Algorithms in Acute AbdomenRight Upper Quadrant Pain

Algorithms in acute abdomen right lower quadrant pain

Algorithms in Acute AbdomenRight Lower Quadrant Pain

Algorithms in acute abdomen left lower quadrant pain

Algorithms in Acute AbdomenLeft Lower Quadrant Pain

Decision to operate

Decision to operate

  • Peritonitis

    • Tenderness w/ rebound, involuntary guarding

  • Severe / unrelenting pain

  • “Unstable” (hemodynamically, or septic)

    • Tachycardic, hypotensive, white count

  • Intestinal ischemia, including strangulation

  • Pneumoperitoneum

  • Complete or “high grade” obstruction

Special circumstances

Special Circumstances

  • Situations making diagnosis difficult

    • Stroke or spinal cord injury

    • Influence of drugs or alcohol

  • Severity of disease can be masked by:

    • Steroids

    • Immunosuppression (i.e. AIDS)

    • Threshold to operate must be even lower

Take home points

Take Home Points

  • Careful history (pain, other GI symptoms)

  • Remember DDx in broad categories

  • Narrow DDx based on hx, exam, labs, imaging

  • Always perform ABC, Resuscitate before Dx

  • If patient’s sick or “toxic”, get to OR (surgical emergency)

    • Ideally, resuscitate patients before going to the OR

  • Don’t forget GYN/medical causes, special situations

  • For acute abdomen, think of these commonly (below)

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