NURS 6512 Abdomen and Gastrointestinal System

NURS 6512 Abdomen and Gastrointestinal System

NURS 6512 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.

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.


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.

On your way home from dinner, you start experiencing sharp pains in your abdomen. You ate seafood—could you have food poisoning? What else might be causing your pain? Appendicitis? Should you head to the emergency room, or should you wait and see how you feel in the morning?
Numerous ailments can affect the GI system and the abdomen. Because the organs are so close, it can be difficult to conduct an accurate assessment. Also, pain in another area of the body can affect the GI system. For example, patients with chronic migraines often report nausea.
This week, you will explore how to assess the abdomen and gastrointestinal system.

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Learning Objectives

Students will:

• Evaluate abnormal abdomen and gastrointestinal findings
• Apply concepts, theories, and principles relating to health assessment techniques and diagnoses for the abdomen and gastrointestinal system
• Analyze chest X-Ray and abdominal X-Ray imaging
• Identify concepts, theories, and principles related to advanced health assessment
Learning Resources

Required Readings (click to expand/reduce)

Ball, J. W., Dains, J. E., Flynn, J. A., Solomon, B. S., & Stewart, R. W. (2019). Seidel’s guide to physical examination: An interprofessional approach (9th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby.

• Chapter 6, “Vital Signs and Pain Assessment”

This chapter describes the experience of pain and its causes. The authors also describe the process of pain assessment.

• Chapter 18, “Abdomen”

In this chapter, the authors summarize the anatomy and physiology of the abdomen. The authors also explain how to conduct an assessment of the abdomen.
Dains, J. E., Baumann, L. C., & Scheibel, P. (2019). Advanced health assessment and clinical diagnosis in primary care (6th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby.
Credit Line: Advanced Health Assessment and Clinical Diagnosis in Primary Care, 6th Edition by Dains, J.E., Baumann, L. C., & Scheibel, P. Copyright 2019 by Mosby. Reprinted by permission of Mosby via the Copyright Clearance Center.

Chapter 3, “Abdominal Pain”
This chapter outlines how to collect a focused history on abdominal pain. This is followed by what to look for in a physical examination in order to make an accurate diagnosis.

Chapter 10, “Constipation”
The focus of this chapter is on identifying the causes of constipation through taking a focused history, conducting physical examinations, and performing laboratory tests.

Chapter 12, “Diarrhea”
In this chapter, the authors focus on diagnosing the cause of diarrhea. The chapter includes questions to ask patients about the condition, things to look for in a physical exam, and suggested laboratory or diagnostic studies to perform.

Chapter 29, “Rectal Pain, Itching, and Bleeding”
This chapter focuses on how to diagnose rectal bleeding and pain. It includes a table containing possible diagnoses, the accompanying physical signs, and suggested diagnostic studies.

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NURS 6512 Abdomen and Gastrointestinal System
NURS 6512 Abdomen and Gastrointestinal System

Colyar, M. R. (2015). Advanced practice nursing procedures. Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis.
Credit Line: Advanced practice nursing procedures, 1st Edition by Colyar, M. R. Copyright 2015 by F. A. Davis Company. Reprinted by permission of F. A. Davis Company via the Copyright Clearance Center.

These sections below explain the procedural knowledge needed to perform gastrointestinal procedures.

Chapter 115, “X-Ray Interpretation of Abdomen” (pp. 514–520)

Note: Download this Student Checklist and Abdomen Key Points to use during your practice abdominal examination.

Ball, J. W., Dains, J. E., Flynn, J. A., Solomon, B. S., & Stewart, R. W. (2019). Abdomen: Student checklist. In Seidel’s guide to physical examination: An interprofessional approach (9th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby.
Credit Line: Seidel’s Guide to Physical Examination, 9th Edition by Ball, J. W., Dains, J. E., Flynn, J. A., Solomon, B. S., & Stewart, R. W. Copyright 2019 by Elsevier Health Sciences. Reprinted by permission of Elsevier Health Sciences via the Copyright Clearance Center.

Ball, J. W., Dains, J. E., Flynn, J. A., Solomon, B. S., & Stewart, R. W. (2019). Abdomen: Key points. In Seidel’s guide to physical examination: An interprofessional approach (9th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby.
Credit Line: Seidel’s Guide to Physical Examination, 9th Edition by Ball, J. W., Dains, J. E., Flynn, J. A., Solomon, B. S., & Stewart, R. W. Copyright 2019 by Elsevier Health Sciences. Reprinted by permission of Elsevier Health Sciences via the Copyright Clearance Center.

Document: Midterm Exam Review (Word document)

Optional Resource
LeBlond, R. F., Brown, D. D., & DeGowin, R. L. (2014). DeGowin’s diagnostic examination (10th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill Medical.

• Chapter 9, “The Abdomen, Perineum, Anus, and Rectosigmoid” (pp. 445–527)

This chapter explores the health assessment processes for the abdomen, perineum, anus, and rectosigmoid. This chapter also examines the symptoms of many conditions in these areas.
• Chapter 10, “The Urinary System” (pp. 528–540)

In this chapter, the authors provide an overview of the physiology of the urinary system. The chapter also lists symptoms and conditions of the urinary system.

Required Media (click to expand/reduce)

Assessment of the Abdomen and Gastrointestinal System – Week 6 (14m)
Online media for Seidel’s Guide to Physical Examination
It is highly recommended that you access and view the resources included with the course text, Seidel’s Guide to Physical Examination. Focus on the videos and animations in Chapter 17 that relate to the assessment of the abdomen and gastrointestinal system. Refer to Week 4 for access instructions on