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An Approach to Abdominal Pain in the ED. Nisarg Shah MD, FACEP. Introduction. Complaints related to abdominal pain comprise between 5-7% of all visits to the ED. Of those, the most common discharge diagnosis is Abdominal Pain NOS.

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introduction
Introduction
  • Complaints related to abdominal pain comprise between 5-7% of all visits to the ED.
  • Of those, the most common discharge diagnosis is Abdominal Pain NOS.
  • Although most abdominal pain is non-emergent and self-limited in nature, attention must be paid to not miss medical and/or surgical emergencies.
important factors
Important Factors
  • Patients rarely present with the classical signs/symptoms of acute abdominal pain.
  • Three important factors to consider are age, gender, and co-morbidities.
age differences
Greater than 50

Biliary disease

NOS

Appendicitis

Bowel obstruction

Pancreatitis

Diverticular disease

Cancer

Less than 50

NOS

Appendicitis

Biliary tract disease

Gynecologic

Pancreatitis

Bowel obstruction

Age differences
gender differences
Males

Perforated ulcer

Gastritis

Appendicitis

Females

Nonspecific

Diverticulitis

Acute cholecystitis

Gynecologic

Gender differences
comorbidities
Comorbidities
  • Immunocompromised i.e. age, steroids, HIV, sickle cell disease, malignancy
  • CAD, Atrial fibrillation, Peripheral vascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Dementia
  • Multiple surgeries
types of pain
Types of Pain
  • Visceral Pain: caused by stretching of fibers innervating the walls of hollow organs or capsules of solid organs, described as crampy or dull pain
  • Parietal Pain: caused by irritation of fibers that innervate the parietal peritoneum, pain is more sharp and localized
  • Referred Pain: pain at a location distant to the diseased organ based on embryonological origin
history
History
  • Most diagnoses can be made by history alone.
  • Careful attention must be paid to:
    • Time/mode of onset
    • Duration
    • Location
    • Character/progression
    • Medical history
    • Contributing symptoms
caveat
Caveat

Although we can agree that history is usually the most important part of the encounter, urgent determination of potential surgical emergencies is essential.

history time mode of onset
History – time/mode of onset
  • Woken up from sleep
  • Abrupt/severe versus gradual
  • Less severe but increasing
  • Gradual onset with slow progression
  • Intermittent pain
  • Associated with certain activities – eating or exercise
history duration
History-Duration
  • Acute onset of pain vs. chronic pain
  • Acute, severe, and worsening pain suggests a surgical disorder
  • Very long duration often, but not always, suggests a less acute cause
history location
Four basic quadrants

Right upper quadrant

Right lower quadrant

Left upper quadrant

Left lower quadrant

Three central areas

Epigastric

Periumbilical

Suprapubic

History-Location
history character progression
History-Character/Progression
  • Severity/magnitude of stimulus
  • Intermittent crampy
  • Severe and colicky
  • Sudden increase
  • Sudden change in sensation or location
medical history
Medical History
  • Previous surgery
  • Sexual activity
  • Menstrual history
  • Travel
  • Exposure risk/occupation
  • Psychiatric
  • Medications
  • Comorbidities
history contributing symptoms
History-Contributing Symptoms
  • Anorexia
  • Vomiting (bilious? blood?)/Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Bleeding
  • Constipation
  • Obstipation
  • Dysuria
  • SOB
  • Chest pain
physical examination
Physical Examination
  • The exam serves several important purposes
    • To confirm suspicions from the history
    • To localize the area of disease
    • To avoid missing extra-abdominal causes of pain
physical examination17
Physical Examination
  • General appearance including facial expression, diaphoresis, pallor, and degree of agitation to distinguish the intensity of the pain
  • Vital signs
physical examination18
Physical Examination
  • Inspection: look for distention, ecchymosis, scars, hernias
  • Auscultation: listen for bowel sounds, pitch, bruits
  • Palpation: feel for guarding, masses, tenderness, rebound
  • Percussion: liver size, tympany
differential diagnosis
Differential Diagnosis
  • The next important step in the evaluation of abdominal pain is to formulate a differential diagnosis
  • It is helpful to construct a list based upon location of abdominal pain
laboratory evaluation
Laboratory Evaluation
  • Dependent upon initial history and physical examination
  • Most frequently ordered study is the CBC
  • Additional studies may include electrolytes, amylase, lipase, LFTs, BUN, creatinine, urinalysis, Beta Hcg, lactic acid
  • EKG
imaging studies
Imaging Studies
  • Plain films:
    • CXR or Upright pCXR
    • Abdominal series
imaging studies cont d
Imaging studies cont’d
  • CXR help determine the following:
    • Abdominal pain of pulmonary origin - pneumonia with diaphragmatic irritation
    • Free air under diaphragm - perforated viscous
    • Air filled viscera in chest – diaphragmatic or hiatal hernia
    • Mediastinal air - Boerhave’s tear
imaging studies cont d25
Imaging studies cont’d
  • Abdominal films can help with:
    • Fluid filled loops/air fluid levels – obstruction
    • Renal calculi
    • Gallstones or air in the biliary tree
    • Massive dilation of colon
    • Lots of stool
imaging
This person most likely has

Large bowel obstr.

Small bowel obstr.

Generalized ileus

Localized ileus

Normal bowel gas pattern

Imaging
imaging28
This person most likely has

Large bowel obstr.

Small bowel obstr.

Generalized ileus

Localized ileus

Normal bowel gas pattern

Imaging
imaging29
This person most likely has

Large bowel obstr.

Small bowel obstr.

Generalized ileus

Localized ileus

Normal bowel gas pattern

Imaging
imaging30
This person most likely has

Large bowel obstr.

Small bowel obstr.

Generalized ileus

Localized ileus

Normal bowel gas pattern

Imaging
imaging31
This person most likely has

Large bowel obstr.

Small bowel obstr.

Generalized ileus

Localized ileus

Free intraperitoneal air

Imaging
imaging32
Pneumobilia after passage of a gallstone. Take a good look at the liver where the biliary tract is outlined by air. Imaging
imaging studies cont d35
Imaging studies cont’d
  • Likelihood ratio of finding abnormality on xray is increased by
    • Increased/high pitched bowel signs
    • Distention
    • History of abdominal surgery
    • Blood in urine/history of kidney stones
    • Severe abdominal pain and tenderness
    • Abdominal pain for less than one day
imaging studies cont d36
Imaging studies cont’d
  • Sonography is the study of choice for:
    • Biliary/hepatobiliary disease
    • Pregnant women
    • Evaluation of gynecologic structures – ovarian as well as testicular
    • Rapid evaluation of hemoperitonium
    • AAAs
imaging studies cont d37
Imaging studies cont’d
  • CT scanning is now the test of choice for:
    • Intraabdominal infections such as diverticulitis, appendicitis, and post operative infections
    • Vasculature of the abdomen
    • Kidney stones
    • Abdominal hernias
    • Defining obstructions, neoplasms
special considerations
Special Considerations
  • Patients bearing special consideration
    • Women of childbearing age
    • Elderly patients
    • Children
    • Patients on immunosuppressives
women of childbearing age
Women of childbearing age
  • Childbearing women – atypical presentations – pregnant women with appendicitis may present with RUQ pain when uterus displaced other organs in 2nd/3rd trimesters
elderly patients
Elderly patients
  • A low threshold should be used for admitting or admitting elderly patients.
  • Their presentation is rarely typical.
  • Their history is rarely clear.
  • Their comorbidities are many.
children
Children
  • Young children often have difficulty localizing their pain.
  • History is limited.
  • Obtaining imaging is sometimes difficult but imaging has cut down on improper diagnoses.
immunosuppressives
Immunosuppressives
  • Anyone on prednisone or other immunosuppressive medications be more careful with as they often present atypically.
  • Corticosteroids may mask pain.
aside about radiation
Aside About Radiation
  • We now image a lot in abdominal pain or chest pain. Try to keep in mind the large amount of radiation that we are exposing people to when we are making our diagnostic plan.
time course of ailment
Time course of ailment
  • Even if you image someone and the results are normal remember to tell people to still watch for warnings.
abdominal catastrophes
Abdominal Catastrophes
  • Things not to miss
    • MI
    • AAA
    • Mesenteric ischemia
    • Ectopic pregnancy
    • Ruptured viscous
slide46
MI
  • Consider
    • in patients with risk factors
    • In patients with epigastric pain
    • In patients who are vomiting, particularly inferior wall MIs
    • Diaphoresis is often common
    • diabetics
slide47
AAA
  • Used to be misdiagnosed commonly as nephrolithiasis.
  • Consider in any patient with CAD, hypertension, testicular pain, flank pain.
  • Check for pulsatile mass, abdominal bruits.
mesenteric ischemia
Mesenteric Ischemia
  • Pain out of proportion to exam is the classical description.
  • High morbidity/mortality
  • Consider in older patients with comorbidities such as A. Fib., severe CAD, CHF
  • Angiography is test of choice but can be hard to set up in a timely manner so early consultation is essential.
ectopic pregnancy
Ectopic pregnancy
  • Perform a pregnancy test in any woman of child bearing age.
  • If positive get a BQuant.
  • Depending on the number and your clinical suspicion obtain a pelvic sonogram.
extraabdominal causes
Extraabdominal causes
  • Cardiopulmonary – MI, angina, ptx, pna
  • Abdominal wall – cellulitis, shingles
  • Hernias
  • Metabolic – DKA, AKA or adrenal crisis, sickle cell crisis