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Abdominal Pain. LSU Medical Student Clerkship, New Orleans, LA. Historical Elements. O- onset P-provocation /palliation Q- quality/quantity R- region/radiation S- severity/scale T- timing/time of onset. Physical Exam. General Appearance and Vitals (sick vs Not sick)

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abdominal pain
Abdominal Pain

LSU Medical Student Clerkship, New Orleans, LA

historical elements
Historical Elements

O- onset

P-provocation /palliation

Q- quality/quantity

R- region/radiation

S- severity/scale

T- timing/time of onset

physical exam
Physical Exam

General Appearance and Vitals (sick vs

Not sick)

Abdominal exam-Inspection (scars, masses, ecchymosis, distention)-Auscultation (bowel sounds, bruits),-Percussion (organomegaly, dullness)-Palpation (tenderness, guarding, rebound, referred pain, masses)-Don't forget GU, Rectal and Pelvic

visceral pain
Visceral Pain

Stretching of hollow viscus or capsule of solid viscus

Visceral fibers enter the spinal cord at several levels leading to poorly localized, poorly characterized pain. (dull, cramping, aching)

visceral pain6
Visceral Pain

Visceral pain can be localized by the sensory cortex to an approximate spinal cord level determined by the embryologic origin of the organ involved.

Foregut organs (stomach, duodenum, biliary tract) produce pain in the epigastric region

Midgut organs (most small bowel, appendix, cecum) cause periumbilical pain

Hindgut organs (most of colon, including sigmoid) as well as the intraperitoneal portions of the genitourinary tract cause pain initially in the suprapubic or hypogastric area.

parietal pain
Parietal Pain

Parietal abdominal pain is caused by irritation of fibers that innervate the parietal peritoneum

Parietal pain, in contrast to visceral pain, can be localized to the dermatome superficial to the site of the painful stimulus.

As the underlying disease process evolves, the symptoms of visceral pain give way to the signs of parietal pain, causing tenderness and guarding. As localized peritonitis develops further, rigidity and rebound appear.

referred pain
Referred Pain

Pain or discomfort that is perceived at a site distant from the affected organ because of overlapping transmission pathways

Also reflects embryologic origin:

subdiaphragmatic irritation -> ipsilateral supraclavicular or shoulder pain gynecologic pathology -> back or proximal lower extremity painbiliary tract disease -> right infrascapular painmyocardial ischemia ->midepigastric, neck, jaw, or upper extremity painureteral obstruction -> ipsilateral testicular pain

radiology plain films
Radiology: Plain Films

Advantages: Quick, easy, non-invasive, lower radiation, lower cost, can be done at bedside and can help make decisions in certain disease states.


Only useful in certain conditions – otherwise low yield, difficult to position sick patients.

radiology plain films10
Radiology: Plain Films

When are they useful?


Volvulus (cecal and sigmoid)

Free air

Radiopaque foreign bodies


iron overdose
Iron Overdose:

Remember the radiopaque foreign bodies mneumonic:


BariumAntihistaminesTricyclic antidepressantsChloral hydrate, calcium, cocaineHeavy metalsIodinePhenothiazine, potassiumSlow-release (enteric coated)

radiology ultrasound
Radiology: Ultrasound

Advantages: Can be done at bedside, easy to learn, repeatable, no radiation, cheap, can be used in pregnancy, patient does not need to leave the department

Disadvantages: Highly dependent on user’s skill level. Limited by body habitus and bowel gas

radiology ultrasound16
Radiology: Ultrasound

What conditions is it most useful for?

Gallbladder disease



Volume status

Ob/Gyn (Ectopic, IUP, Ovarian pathology)

Appendicitis (particularly in children)

radiology ct
Radiology: CT

Advantages: Highly diagnostic for most disease processes. High yield exam. Helpful with multiple, competing diagnoses.

Disadvantages: Time. Cost. Radiation. Contrast exposure (for IV contrast). Patient should be stable to go to CT.


The labs you order should be used confirm or exclude specific diagnoses suspected by your history and physical examination.

CBC, CMP, Amylase, Lipase and UA are routinely ordered as “belly labs” but should not be ordered blindly.

The studies you obtain (labs and imaging) should be ordered with the intention of changing your management of the patient. They should not be ordered “just because the patient is in the ED.”

  • A 60 y/o male presents after a syncopal event with a complaint of abdominal pain.
  • His pain is poorly localized but radiating to his back.
  • His history is significant for HTN and tobacco abuse.
  • His vitals are normal and his physical exam reveals only the following:
what is on the differential
What is on the differential?
  • Pancreatitis
  • Mesenteric Ischemia
  • MI
  • Gallbladder Disease
  • GERD
  • Obstruction
  • Peritonitis
  • PE
  • PUD
  • AAA
  • Valvular Insufficiency
  • Perforated Viscus
abdominal aortic aneurysm
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

What happens:

The media weakens over time, the vessel dilates and expands over time. As the vessel weakens and expands, rupture becomes more likely.

The larger it becomes, the more likely is the rupture.


Fun facts:

They are typically infrarenal

>3cm at this level is a AAA

Age, Family history, Atherosclerotic risk factors, infection, trauma, connective tissue disease are risk factors.

Rupture is associated with 80-90% mortality.

Vital signs can be normal. For now.

aaa diagnosis and management
AAA: Diagnosis and Management

H&P: May not be symptomatic until the rupture

Syncope and Abdominal pain

Cullen’s sign and Grey Turner’s sign

Imaging: U/S 100% sensitive when the aorta is visualized.

CT requires a stable patient but is also highly sensitive and is better at detecting rupture and retroperitoneal fluid.

Treatment is surgical!! Despite what surgery tells you: There is no such thing as a stable rupture.

ED’s role is maintaining hemodynamic stability with blood products – SBP 90-100mg until surgery.

  • A 75 year old male presents with diffuse, severe abdominal pain after having a bloody bowel movement.
  • His history is significant for A. Fib and CHF.
  • His vitals show hypotension and tachycardia.
  • You palpate a soft abdomen but even the lightest touch causes him extreme pain.
  • You stabilize him and send him to the CT… film…
  • Lower GI Bleed
  • Brisk Upper GI bleed
  • Mesenteric Ischemia
  • Peritonitis
  • Diverticulitis
  • Aorto-enteric Fistula
  • Small Bowel Obstruction
  • Large Bowel Obstruction
selections from diffuse pain mesenteric ischemia
Selections from “Diffuse pain”: Mesenteric Ischemia
  • What happens: Most commonly from emboli but can be from thrombus or low-flow state to mesenteric vasculature which leads to ischemia of the bowel.
  • Death of bowel leads to bacterial translocation which leads to peritonitis, sepsis, hemodynamic instability and death.

XR: pneumatosis intestinalis, air in the portal vein, pneumobilia, perforation.

US: Pneumatosis, decreased flow.

CT: The test of choice and the gold standard. Can determine etiology and extent of involvement, thus determining course of treatment. Requires a stable patient!

MR: No advantage over CT

mesenteric ischemia diagnosis and management
Mesenteric Ischemia: Diagnosis and Management
  • Begins with history/physical and a high degree of clinical suspicion.
  • Initial treatment is resuscitative and supportive. What does that actuallymean?
  • Early surgical consult.
  • May require IR depending on etiology of ischemia.
  • A 23 year old female presents with severe, intermittent right lower quadrant pain associated with nausea and vomiting.
  • She has no medical history.
  • Her vital signs reveal tachycardia but are otherwise normal.
  • Physical exam shows a soft abdomen, RLQ TTP without peritoneal signs. Pelvic (which is part of the physical exam), shows scant discharge.
  • If you could only order one test, what would it be?
  • What is on your differential?
  • Ectopic Pregnancy
  • Ruptured Ovarian Cyst
  • Appendicitis
  • Right-sided diverticulitis
  • TOA
  • Ovarian Torsion
  • Nephrolithiasis
  • Pyelonephritis
  • Endometriosis
  • UTI
  • Heterotopic pregnancy
  • Terminal ileitis
  • A 24 y/o male presents with rapid onset, non-radiating, diffuse abdominal pain.
  • He has no medical or surgical history.
  • He is tachycardic and tachypneic.
  • His exam reveals a distended abdomen which is diffusely tender. He has decreased bowel sounds.
  • Appendicitis
  • Bowel Obstruction
  • Testicular torsion
  • Perforated Viscus
  • Colitis
  • PUD
  • Peritonitis
  • Mesenteric Ischemia
obstructions small and large bowel
Obstructions: Small and Large Bowel








Sigmoid Volvulus

  • NPO
  • NasoGastric Tube suction.
  • Fluid and Electrolyte repletion
  • Antibiotics
  • Surgical consult
  • Incomplete exams (rectals, pelvics and genital exams)
  • Incomplete histories
  • Missing abnormal vitals
  • Relying on labs
  • Relying on imaging
  • Not performing serial exams
  • Elderly, the young, the pregnant, altered or psychiatric patients
  • “Constipation” “GERD” “Gastroenteritis” and “UTI”
other conditions
Other conditions…
  • Systemic
    • DKA
    • Alcoholic ketoacidosis
    • Uremia
    • Sickle cell disease
    • Porphyria
    • SLE
    • Vasculitis
    • Glaucoma
    • Hyperthyroidism
  • Toxic
    • Methanol poisoning
    • Heavy metal toxicity
    • Scorpion bite
    • Black widow spider bite
  • Thoracic
    • Myocardial infarction/ Unstable angina
    • Pneumonia
    • Pulmonary embolism
    • Herniated thoracic disc (neuralgia)
  • Genitourinary
    • Testicular torison
    • Renal colic
  • Infectious
    • Strep pharyngitis (more often in children)
    • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
    • Monocucleosis
  • Abdominal wall
    • Muscle spasm
    • Muscle hematoma
    • Herpes zoster
  • Me.
  • SBO PICTURE: http://www.healthhype.com/partial-and-complete-bowel-obstruction-symptoms-and-treatment.html
  • CECAL VOL. http://bestpractice.bmj.com/best-practice/monograph/877/resources/image/bp/2.html
  • Sigmoid: http://www.learningradiology.com/archives2008/COW%20338-Sigmoid%20volvulus/sigmoidvolcorrect.htm
  • Pneumoperitnoeum: http://new.medicalfinals.co.uk/?p=425
  • Foreign bodies: http://lifeinthefastlane.com/2009/10/top-ten-foreign-bodies/
  • Gallbladder: http://imaging.consult.com/imageSearch?query=impactions&qyType=AND&global_search=Search&modality=&thes=true&normalVariantImage=false&groupByNode=none&anatomicRegion=&modalityFilter=Ultrasound
  • AAA: http://www.keepingyouwell.com/CareAndServices/VascularLabServices/AbdominalAorticAneurysms.aspx
  • Appendix 1: http://imagingsign.wordpress.com/category/ultrasound/
  • Appendix 2: http://www.madisonradiologists.com/SvcCTAbdominalPain.htm
  • CT AAA: http://radiographics.rsna.org/content/20/3/725/F44.expansion
  • Cullen’s: http://www.gastrointestinalatlas.com/English/Jejuno_and_Ileum/Etc__Etc_/etc__etc_.html
  • Portal air: http://www.nzma.org.nz/journal/119-1246/2343/
  • Ovarian torsion: http://medchrome.com/major/gynaeobstr/complications-of-ovarian-cyst/
  • Ovarian torsion U/S: http://www.med-ed.virginia.edu/courses/rad/edus/index13.html
  • Cecal volvulus diagram: http://imaging.consult.com/image/topic/dx/Gastrointestinal?title=Colonic%20Obstruction&image=fig11&locator=gr11&pii=S1933-0332(06)70677-2
  • Cecal volvulus drawing: http://www.radiologyassistant.nl/en/4542eeacd78cf
  • Sigmoid volvulus illustration: http://alharthy.com/
  • Sigmoid X ray; http://rad.usuhs.edu/medpix/topic_display.html?recnum=1608&pt_id=10030&imageid=
  • Small bowel obstruction XR: http://allbleedingstops.blogspot.com/2009/01/solution-to-puzzle.html
  • “other conditions” slide: http://erweb.vghtpe.gov.tw/ skhou/ abdominal%20pain.ppt 91k