Week 6: Assessment of the Abdomen and Gastrointestinal System

Published by Brenda I. Belcher

Mar 27, 2021

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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.

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
  • 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.

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 107, “X-Ray Interpretation: Chest (pp. 480–487) 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)


Assignment 1: Lab Assignment: Assessing the Abdomen

In this Lab Assignment, you will analyze an Episodic note case study that describes abnormal findings in patients seen in a clinical setting. You will consider what history should be collected from the patients as well as which physical exams and diagnostic tests should be conducted. You will also formulate a differential diagnosis with several possible conditions.

To Prepare

Review the Episodic note case study your instructor provides you for this week’s Assignment. Please see the “Course Announcements” section of the classroom for your Episodic note case study.

  • With regard to the Episodic note case study provided:
    • Review this week’s Learning Resources, and consider the insights they provide about the case study.
    • Consider what history would be necessary to collect from the patient in the case study.
    • Consider what physical exams and diagnostic tests would be appropriate to gather more information about the patient’s condition. How would the results be used to make a diagnosis?
    • Identify at least five possible conditions that may be considered in a differential diagnosis for the patient.

The Assignment

  1. Analyze the subjective portion of the note. List additional information that should be included in the documentation.
  2. Analyze the objective portion of the note. List additional information that should be included in the documentation.
  3. Is the assessment supported by the subjective and objective information? Why or why not?
  4. What diagnostic tests would be appropriate for this case, and how would the results be used to make a diagnosis?
  5. Would you reject/accept the current diagnosis? Why or why not? Identify three possible conditions that may be considered as a differential diagnosis for this patient. Explain your reasoning using at least three different references from current evidence-based literature.
By Day 7 of Week 6

Submit your Lab Assignment. 

Submission and Grading Information

To submit your completed Assignment for review and grading, do the following:

  • Please save your Assignment using the naming convention “WK6Assgn1+last name+first initial.(extension)” as the name.
  • Click the Week 6 Assignment 1 Rubric to review the Grading Criteria for the Assignment.
  • Click the Week 6 Assignment 1 link. You will also be able to “View Rubric” for grading criteria from this area.
  • Next, from the Attach File area, click on the Browse My Computer button. Find the document you saved as “WK6Assgn1+last name+first initial.(extension)” and click Open.
  • If applicable: From the Plagiarism Tools area, click the checkbox for I agree to submit my paper(s) to the Global Reference Database.
  • Click on the Submit button to complete your submission.
Grading Criteria

To access your rubric:Week 6 Assignment 1 Rubric

Check Your Assignment Draft for Authenticity

To check your Assignment draft for authenticity:Submit your Week 6 Assignment 1 draft and review the originality report.

Submit Your Assignment by Day 7 of Week 6

To participate in this Assignment:Week 6 Assignment 1


Exam: Week 6 Midterm Exam

This exam is a test of your knowledge in preparation for your certification exam. No outside resources, including books, notes, websites, or any other type of resource, are to be used to complete this exam. You are expected to comply with Walden University’s Code of Conduct.

This exam will be on topics covered in weeks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. Prior to starting the exam, you should review all of your materials. This exam is timed with a limit of 2 hours for completion. When time is up, your exam will automatically submit.

By Day 7 of Week 6

Submit your Midterm Exam.

Submission and Grading Information

Submit Your Midterm Exam by Day 7 of Week 6.

To Complete this Exam:Week 6 Exam


Assignment 2: Lab Assignment DCE

The causes of abdominal pain can be extremely varied due to the sheer number of structures, organs, and functions within the abdomen. If abdominal pain is caused by a life-threatening condition, then swift and accurate assessment is essential.

In preparation for the Comprehensive (Head-to-Toe) Physical Assessment due in Week 9, it is recommended that you practice performing an abdominal examination this week.

Focused Exam: Abdominal Assignment:

  • Complete the following in Shadow Health:
  • Abdominal  Concept Lab (Required)
  •  Gastrointestinal (Practice)
  • Focused Exam: Abdominal Pain (Practice)

What’s Coming Up in Week 7?

Week 7 Required Media

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