Advances in scientific medicine have, on occasion, threatened to displace the history and physical examination in the evaluation of the patient. However, we usually discover that technologic advances serve to make the physical examination more rational and provide new understanding or objective documentation of long-appreciated physical finding. New techniques for evaluation of the intra-abdominal contents include many biochemical, isotopic, ultrasonic, and angiographic methods. These advances, although improving our ability to detect, document, and interpret physical finding, have not superseded the need for the skills of the medical interview and physical examination. An orderly approach to the examination of the abdomen will make possible the analysis of the symptoms arising from the many organs of the digestive and genitourinary systems found in this region.
Certain features of the abdominal examination differ from those of other areas. Although most of the information acquired is obtained from palpation, there are many exceptions. Palpation may be very difficult in the obese, very muscular, or tense patient. For reasons to be described later, palpation is performed last. The order of other techniques is also changed, but it must be recalled that the same basic steps of inspection, percussion, palpation, and auscultation are used in this area as in other areas.
Although a detailed analysis of abdominal pain is beyond the scope of this chapter, a few common examples that demonstrate the variable usefulness of different sources of information are worthy of note. The physical findings may be entirely negative in the presence of peptic ulcer disease, whereas a typical history of pain relieved by food will suggest the diagnosis. In the patient with jaundice, right upper quadrant pain, and tenderness, the physical findings may not enable distinction between obstructive jaundice or hepatitis, but the history may be virtually diagnostic. Finally, when abdominal pain is referred from thoracic or vertebral sources, neither history nor physical examination, confined to the abdomen, will help unless integrated into the total clinical context.
There have been several systems devised for dividing the abdomen into topographic segments, but only the one in most general use will be described here. Other systems may be found in any standard textbook of anatomy. Secting lines, one extending vertically from the xiphoid to the symphysis pubis and the other extending horizontally across the abdomen at the level of the umbilicus. This divides the abdomen into the right upper, right lower, left upper, and left lower quadrants. The term epigastrium, which is included here because of its frequent use in clinical medicine, is composed of the medial halves of the right and left upper quadrants. The student must know the structures located in each of these areas, the most important of which are the following.
Before any attempt is made to examine the abdomen, care must be taken to see that the patient is relaxed and in a proper position. With the attaint in a supine position, the head should be elevated on a pillow and the arms should be placed across the chest. The patient should be assured that no sudden manipulation or painful procedure will be carried out.
Since the structures under investigation are separated from the examiner’s hand by a rather thick abdominal wall, an adequate relaxation of the abdomen must be obtained before satisfactory examination can be performed.
The examiner should resist the temptation to begin palpating the abdomen before adequate inspection is carried out. This is an excellent opportunity for the experienced clinician to make small talk to aid in the relaxation of the patient, or even to restate briefly the digestive history to assure his own orientation to the examination. The patient should be suitably draped with the skin exposed from sternum to pubis. There should be adequate lighting and occasionally oblique illumination will reveal features otherwise missed. The abdomen is observed first for general symmetry, visible masses, and the status of nutrition. The skin normally is the same as that noted elsewhere in the body. Silver striae (vertical, often, wrinkled, streaks) are frequently seen in the lower quadrants of the abdomen following a large gain of weight or after pregnancy. Tight, glistening skin is often associated with ascites and edema of the abdominal wall. Exanthematous rashes and petechiae may be observed. The presence and location of any surgical scars should also be noted at this time, as well as any obvious pulsation’s. Frequently in slender patients, pulsation’s transmitted from the aorta may be seen in the epigastrium. Such pulsation’s may also represent masses in contact with major vessels or abnormalities of the vessels themselves.
Obvious asymmetry of contour may be an important finding. Lateral asymmetry will be noted only if one remembers to examine from above as well as from the side. The presence of masses or hernias may be suspected from this observation and confirmed later by palpation. When observed from the side, the abdomen is usually flat from xiphoid to symphysis pubis, or symmetrically protuberant or scaphoid, depending on the nutritional status of the patient. The umbilicus is usually centrally located in the abdominal contour. Supraumbilical fullness may represent a mass originating in the upper abdominal structures, such as in the liver, pancreas, stomach, or trans verse colon. Similarly, fullness in the lower abdomen may result from bladder distention, pregnancy, or masses arising from the ovaries, uterus, or colon.
Generalized symmetrical abdominal fullness is a more frequent and often difficult diagnostic problem. This fullness is usually caused by ascites (free fluid within the abdomen), obesity, or distention of the bowel with trapped gas. The distinction usually can be made from the history and related physical finding. Helpful information from inspection include the overall nutritional status of the patient, bulging of the flanks caused by fluid accumulation, and the appearance of the umbilicus. The umbilicus is usually deeply inverted in obesity and flat or everted in long-standing ascites. When abdominal distention is accompanied by visible peristaltic contractions, it is almost diagnostic of intestinal obstruction. This finding is made more obvious when the abdomen is viewed by cross illumination.
Next the examiner may note the presence of distended abdominal veins. Prominence of these vessels indicates increased collateral circulation as a result of obstruction in the portal venous system or in the vena cava and may coexist with ascetics in the patient with cirrhosis. It is helpful to remember that the normal direction of flow in these vessels is away from the umbilicus, that is, the upper abdominal veins carry blood upward to the superior vena cava and the lower abdominal veins drain downward to the inferior vena cava. The direction of blood flow in these collateral veins is easily assessed by a simple maneuver. A segment of vein in the epigastrium is emptied between two fingers to a distance of a few centimeters. One then allows blood to refill the vein from one direction by removing the rate of refilling. The same segment is again emptied and filling from the opposite direction is estimated. Usually the rate of filling is obviously faster in one direction than in the other, indicating the direction of flow in that portion of the collateral venous system. The process is repeated in the hypogastrium and the direction of flow in the lower abdominal veins is observed. In portal hypertension normal flow direction is maintained. In contrast, obstruction of the vena Cava alters the flow direction in these veins. In obstruction of the superior vena Cava, the flow direction in the upper abdominal venous collaterals is reversed or downward. In the inferior vena Cava obstruction the direction is reversed in the lower abdominal veins, and they will drain upward.
When portal hypertension is present or when there is other reason to suspect liver disease, the examiner should make a careful inspection of the upper extremities, face, neck, and chess for the presence of coetaneous enigmas (spider nevi), which are found in association with liver disease. These may be distinguished from petechiae and other lesions by the fact that they blanch, not only by pressure on the nevus but also by gentle pressure over the central arteriole that feeds this clump of dilated blood vessels.
The abdomen is inspected for evidence of unusual pigmentation, such as jaundice. Disorders accompanied by hyperpigmentation also may be more notable on inspection of the skin of the abdomen, where changes caused by exposure of the skin to sunlight are readily separated from those caused by generalized increase in pigment. The tendency of these disorders to manifest increased pigmentation in areas of minor or persistent trauma to the skin may be especially evident at the belt line. Other pigment changes caused by intra-abdominal hemorrhage may be found. A bluish discoloration of the umbilicus occasionally is seen after major intraperitoneal hemorrhage. A similar discoloration of the flanks, in the absence of trauma, occasionally is seen following the extravagation of blood from intra-abdominal organs into extraperitoneal sites, as in hemorrbagic pancreatitis.
Finally, hair distribution should be noted. In the normal female, the pubic hair is roughly triangular with the base above the symphysis, whereas in the male it is in the shape of a diamond, often with hair continuing to the umbilicus. The distribution and quantity of hair may be altered by chronic liver disease and various endocrine abnormalities.
The second step in the abdominal examination is palpation. This procedure is usually the most important and often the most difficult to perform accurately. Proper preparation of the patient and systematic application of the principles outlined will result in a satisfactory examination. Several different kinds of information may be obtained by palpation. One may elicit pain or discomfort upon abdominal pressure, the nature of which may be of considerable value in arriving at a diagnosis. A related finding is a change in the tone of the abdominal wall , often caused by intrabdominal irritative processes. One also may detect masses or organ enlargement , findings that ordinarily are of great importance in the evaluation of the patient.
Relaxation and positioning of the patient. During palpation the patient should continue to lie supine with arms relaxed on the chest or at the sides. The examiner should make certain that his hands are warm. He should assure the patient that he will make an effort not to cause discomfort and follow up this assurance by avoiding at the outset an area already described as painful. If the patient exhibits ticklishness, the examiner should disregard it and try to continue. If this proves unsuccessful, it is useful to have the patient place his own hand on his abdomen, since this never tickles. The examiner may tentatively exert pressure on the abdomen through the patient’s own hand, and gradually increase the pressure, while assuring the patient that the examination will cause no discomfort. When the patient has relaxed, the examiner again places his own hand on the abdomen and allows the patient to maintain contact with his hand. This usually complete the relaxation of the ticklish patient, and the examination proceeds as usual.
The examination is begun with gentle exploration of the abdominal wall with no effort made to palpate deeply. The patient may be further relaxed by instructing him to breathe slowly and deeply. As with inspection ,the initial step in palpation may be facilitated by distracting conversation or questions regarding the history. If the patient remains tense or if the abdominal wall is very muscular ,better results may be obtained by having the patient flex the thighs and knees.
It should be emphasized again that during the preliminary stages muscle relaxation is the goal. At this time no attempt should be made either to elicit discomfort or to palpate for a mass or enlarged viscous. By light palpation some estimate may be made of the degree of muscle rigidity or resistance. If these are present, the examiner should determine whether the abdominal wall exhibits voluntary muscle.
Tightening or actual rigidity. Rigidity of the abdominal muscles is manifested by increased tonus, which is reflex in nature and produced by irritative lesions involving the peritoneum. This muscle spasm cannot be relaxed by voluntary effort. Voluntary tensing of the muscles, on the other hand, is brought about through fear or nervousness and is not necessarily associated with an intra-abdominal lesion. This type of muscle tension can be overcome by roper technique, reassurance, and an effort to relax on the part of the patient.
A maneuver occasionally useful for confirming that increased muscle tone is caused by voluntary tension is to use the stethoscope for palpation. Having carried out auscultation without exerting pressure, the examiner may reapply it to several areas of the abdominal wall without comment. The patient does not associate the instrument with pain or pressure and will not react to it with muscle guarding. The examiner applies the head of the stethoscope lightly at first, then with increasing pressure. In voluntary tension, one may apply considerable pressure in this way, often to find a much more relaxed abdominal wall. On the other hand, true increased tone caused by peritoneal irritation will be manifest by a response equal to that produced by manual palpation.
During deep palpation in the midepigastrium, almost all patient will complain of tenderness, which accompanies pressure on the abdominal aorta. It is well to reassure the patient that this sensation is normal during deep palpation of this area.. In fact, if the examiner is able to palpate the aorta and the patient does not experience some discomfort, this would probably be abnormal.
Locating painful area. After relaxation is obtained, the examining hand is first moved gently over the entire abdomen, and an estimate of the muscle tone in the various quadrants is made. Following general palpation, an attempt should be made to detect and localize any painful area within the abdomen. Two types of pain may be elicited by palpation.
1. Visceral—This is pain that arises from an organic lesion or functional disturbance within an abdominal viscus. For example, it is the type seen in an obstructive lesion of the intestine in which there is a buildup of pressure and distention of the gut. This type of pain has several characteristics: it is dull, poorly localized, and difficult for the patient to characterize.
2. Somatic—This is similar to the distress noted in painful lesions of the skin. It is sharp, bright, and well localized. It is sharp, bright, and well localized. It is not caused primarily by involvement of the viscera; rather it indicates involvement of one of the somatic structures, such as the parietal peritoneum or the abdominal wall itself. It should be pointed out that an inflammatory process originating in a viscus will produce visceral pain that may extend to involve the peritoneum. Inflammation of the peritoneum would then result in somatic pain. This is best illustrated by appendicitis in which the pain is at first poorly localized, dull, ill defined, and primarily midline (when it is entirely visceral in origin). Later, as the inflammation spreads to the peritoneum, the pain becomes sharp, bright, and well localized in the right lower quadrant over the involved region.
After a painful area is located, the examiner should determine whether the pain is constant under the pressure of the examining hand or if it is transient, tending to disappear even though pressure is continued over the area. Pain caused by inflammation usually remains unchanged or increases as pressure is applied. Visceral pain as the result of distention or contraction of a viscus tends to become less severe while pressure is maintained.
Occasionally the examiner may have difficulty in distinguishing visceral pain from that arising in somatic structures, such as the spine and abdominal wall. An example of abdominal wall discomfort is seen in patients with fibrositis. These types of pain may be differentiated by having the patient tense his abdominal muscles, which may be accomplished by forcefully elevating his head while keeping his shoulders flat on the table. Under these conditions increased tension of the abdominal wall will accentuate the pain if it originates in somatic structures. On the other hand, discomfort from intra-abdominal sources will be less severe with the abdomen tense than when relaxed.
Rebound tenderness.When pain has been elicited, the examiner should test for the phenomenon of rebound tenderness. This is found only when the peritoneum overlying a diseased viscus becomes inflamed. Although it may be produced in different ways, the most common is to press firmly over a region distant from the tender area and then suddenly release the pressure. The patient will feel a sharp stab of pain in the area of disease if true rebound tenderness is present. For example, pressure applied in the right lower quadrant and then suddenly released will cause a marked increase in pain over an area of diverticulitis in the left quadrant. Rebound tenderness may also be elicited by having pressure over the tender area and having the patient cough or strin. Marked tenderness to percussion in the area is usually seen in this situation. This type of tenderness indicates widespread inflammation of the area involved is small, and rebound tenderness may be elicited only over the most tender area of the abdomen.
Palpation of organs and masses. The examiner should palpate for enlargement of intra-abdominal organs, principally the spleen, liver, and kidneys. In examining for splenic enlargement, the examiner should stand at the patient’s right side. His left hand is placed over the patient’s left costovertebral angle, exerting pressure to move the spleen anteriorly. At the same time his right hand is worked gently under the left anterior costal margin. With the examiner’s hands stationary in this position, the patient is instructed to take a deep breath. If there is significant enlargement of the spleen, it will be palpated as a firm mass that slides out from under the ribs, bumping against the finger of the examiner’s right hand. The spleen normally moves down with inspiration. If splenic enlargement is suspected from previous percussion but cannot be felt by the technique just described, the patient should then be rolled slightly toward the right so that the spleen may fall anteriorly . The examining hands are again placed as described and the procedure is repeated. Occasionally a spleen that cannot be felt with the patient in the supine position may be palpated by this maneuver. When the spleen can be felt, it must be considered abnormal, sine the normal spleen is not palpable.
One must be careful to avoid missing a spleen so large that the edge is well below the costal margin. Previous percussion of the left upper quadrant should prevent this error. If the edge is not felt under the left costal margin but splenomegaly is suspected, the examiner should palpate more medially, than in the midaxillary line, and finally explore the inferior portion of the left abdomen. A technique used in the obese or heavily muscled patient is for the physician to move to the patient’s left side and face the lower abdomen, while the patient rests the small of the back on his left forearm. The examiner then may palpate with both hands over a large portion of the left abdomen while the patient takes deep breaths.
Next, palpation for enlargement of the liver is performed. The right hand may be held either parallel or perpendicular to the long axis of the patient. The fingers are gently worked deep into the right upper quadrant. With the examiner’s fingers in place, the patient is again requested to take a deep breath. Ordinarily the liver is not palpable, although not infrequently the examiner may feel the edge of the normal live at or slightly below the right costal margin. When the liver is palpated, a firm edge will strike the fingers upon inspiration. When felt more than 1cm below the costal margin, however, the organ should be considered abnormally large. An exception is a congenitally large right lobe of the liver, which occasionally extends quite far into the right flank. Another exception is seen in severe, chronic emphysema, in which the diaphragms are depressed by the over expanded lung, displacing the liver below the costal margin. In both instances, the total mass of the liver is within normal limits. The findings on palpation should be predictable from the estimates made during percussion. The character of the surface of the liver should be described. Not infrequently large metastatic masses may be present and palpable in the liver . In some persons with cirrhosis, the anterior surface of the liver will have a granular feel. This is easily felt in the thin individual.The same precautions mentioned in the examination of the spleen also apply to the palpation of the liver. In some conditions, the left lobe is predominantly enlarged and palpation must include the epigastrium to appreciate that portion of the liver. If percussion suggests massive enlargement, one may need to explore a large area of the right abdomen to find the lower border of the liver, which occasionally may extend below the level of the umbilicus or even to the iliac crest. As in palpation of the spleen, it may be helpful to palpate from above using the palmar aspects of both hands in an attempt to feel the liver through the obese or very muscular wall.
Occasionally other normal structures may be felt in the abdomen. In thin persons, the lower poles of the kidneys may be felt high in either flank by deep palpation. The kidneys will descend with inspiration. A distended bladder may be palpated in the suprapubic region. Often this is more readily detected by percussion. Confirming that a mass is felt in the suprapubic region lower quadrant, it is easily manipulated by the examining fingers, and the gas may be expressed into the colon. By deep palpation in the left lower quadrant, the examiner may feel the sigmoid colon as it rolls over the pelvic brim, where it is felt as a sausage-shaped mass that is freely movable and frequently tender.
It should be emphasized that careful palpation of the vascular structures of the abdomen has become an important part of the physical examination. In patients who are thin or have some anterior curvature of the spine, the abdominal aorta is normally felt as a soft pulsatile structure in the midepigastrium and extending down to the brim of the pelvis. Tenderness is elicited from pressure on this structure. In older individuals, aneurysms frequently occur in this vessel. These aneurysms are saclike enlargements of a segment of a segment of the abdominal aorta, are felt as pulsatile masses in the midportion of the abdomen, and are frequently associated with pain in the abdomen. If a pulsating mass is noted, the examiner must first decide whether this is a pulsation transmitted through an overlying structure from the aorta. If the aorta appears to be the site of the enlargement, then its width should be estimated. Aneurysms may be multiple and involve not only the abdominal aorta but also the internal iliac vessels. Consequently, if the examiner discovers a pulsatile mass in the aorta, he also should palpate carefully in the region of the pelvic brim for other similar lesions.
Under normal circumstances, the gallbladder cannot be palpated. However, in a jaundiced patient, the right upper quadrant should always be carefully palpated for a soft, cystic mass, approximately 6 to 8 cm in diameter , which appears to be attached to the liver and moves with respiration. This is an exceedingly valuable sign in differentiating jaundice caused by cancer of the head of the pancreas or the common bile duct from that caused by gallstones. In the presence of tumor of the common bile duct or head of the pancreas, the wall of the gallbladder is normal, and consequently the organ is capable of distending to the point that it is palpable .On the other hand, if the obstruction is caused by gallstones, the gallbladder wall is inflamed, and this diseased organ is not capable of distention. Therefore, the gallbladder will not become palpable.
Exceptions to this rule occur in nonjaundiced patients with inflammatory gallbladder disease. Patients with gallstone obstruction of the cystic duct and cholecystitis may develop hydropic distention of the infected gallbladder, which is palpable as a tender right upper quadrant mass.The gallbladder may also become transiently palpable early in the course of an attack of biliary colic, only to recede with subsidence of the attack.
When one can palpate an abdominal mass that is not clearly an enlarged organ, it should be characterized as to size , location ,consistency, contour, mobility , and tenderness. Masses in the abdominal wall may be distinguished from those of visceral origin by palpation during voluntary tensing of the muscles. When the patient lifts his head from the examining table, abdominal wall masses will remain palpable and even may become more evident as they are elevated by the tensed muscle. In contrast, intra-abdominal masses will be more difficult to discern after the wall is tensed.
Finally, one should palpate the umbilicus for evidence of nodularity or a mass, the presence of which implies peritoneal seeding from an intra-abdominal neoplasm.
Percussion of the abdomen is primarily used to establish the presence of distention, tumors, fluid, and enlargement of solid viscera. Light percussion is preferable, since it produces a clearer tone. It is well to establish an orderly procedure for percussion. With the patient recumbent, the examiner should stand at the patient’s right side. First, percuss down the lower left thoracic wall in the midamillary line. This should produce a resonant note over the underlying lung in this area. Below the level of the left hemidiaphragm there is normally a tympanitic note caused by the splenic flexure of the colon. Any dullness extending above the ninth interspace in the left midaxillary line should make the examiner suspicious that there is enlargement of a solid organ in this area. This is most likely caused by the spleen, but occasionally may be mimicked by enlargement of the kidney or by marked enlargement of the left lobe of the liver. Consolidation of the left lower lobe of the lung or pleural effusion will invalidate this observation.
In the presence of lesser degrees of splenomegaly, another technique for processing the spleen has been of value. Following percussion in the left midaxillary line, the procedure is repeated in the lowest intercostal space in the left anterior axilary line. Normally the percussion note here also is resonant. Percussion is continued while the patient takes a deep breath. In the absence of splenic enlargement, the percussion note should not change. With modest degrees of splenomegaly, the lower pole of the spleen moves inferomedially and is brought forward during inspiration. As it moves under the lowest intercostal space with inspiration, it will produce a change in the percussion note from resonance to dullness.
Next, percussion of the liver should be performed in the right midaxillary and midelavicular lines. The normal upper limit of liver dullness in the midaxillary line varies from the fifth to the seventh interspace. Because of this variation, determination of the actual extent of liver dullness is more reliable. This is done by percussion in the right midelavicular line until the upper border is determined. One then percusses downward over the liver until the lower border of liver dullness is found. The lower border of liver dullness is at the costal margin. Dullness extending into the normally tympanitic right upper quadrant indicates hepatic enlargement, a mass adjacent to the liver, or downward displacement of the liver. Measurement of the actual extent of liver dullness will help define these findings. The diameter may be checked by repeating percussion during full inspiration and again during full expiration, which should yield a range of about 2 to 4cm. Movement of both borders. The mean diameter of liver dullness is about 10cm, with the normal upper limit being about 12cm. Since these values vary somewhat with the sex, height, and body build of the patient, the overall size of the patient must be taken into account when using this method. Since estimates of liver size vary somewhat with the force of percussion, the student must learn that light percussion is most accurate.
The remainder of the normal abdomen is more or less tympanitic to percussion, depending on the amount of gas in the intestine. After percussion of the liver and spleen, one may percuss over any visible masses to determine whether they are dull (as with tumor or fluid-filled spaces) or tympanitic (as with distended bowel). Distention of the urinary bladder may yield an area of suprapubic dullness. If other masses are detected by palpation later in the examination, percussion may help to characterize them further.
The last thing to be noted on percussion is the presence or absence of free fluid in the abdominal cavity (ascites). This may be detected by several maneuvers(1) fluid wava, (2)shifting dullness , and (3) elbow-knee position.
Fluid wave. With patient lying on his back, the examiner’s left hand is placed against the patient’s right flank. An assistant or the patient places the ulnar edge of one hand lightly against the middle of the abdomen to prevent the transmission of any wave through the tissues of the abdominal wall. The examiner’s right hand then lightly taps the left flank of the patient. In the presence of a siguificant amount of ascites, a wave will be transmitted through the fluid that will be felt against the examiner’s left hand as a sharp impulse. This finding is present only when there is a reasonably large amount of fluid.
Shifting dullness. When the patient with ascites lies on his back, the fluid will migrate into the flanks, producing dullness laterally. At the same time the midabdomen is tympanitic because of the underlying bowel. When dullness is found in the flanks, a mark is made on the skin at the appropriate level. The patient is then rolled onto his right side, and the percussion is aagain carried out toward each flank. In the presence of ascites, the fluid will gravitate toward the midline and that the bowel, which has been displaced upward by the fluid, results in a tympanitic note in the upper flank. This is repeated after rolling the patient to his left side. By this means, an estimate of the amount of free fluid can be made.
Elbow-knee position. The presence of small amounts of fluid may be readily detected by placing the patient in an elbowknee position and percussing from the flanks toward the most dependent portion of the abdomen. Free fluid, if present, will run from the pelvis into the most dependent area, which, if the patient is in the proper position , is located in the periumbilical region. The finding of dullness in this area indicates the presence of ascitic fluid. This technique is more sensitive for detecting small amounts of fluid than are the previously described methods.
The diaphragm of the stethoscope should be placed lightly against the abdominal wall in order to avoid artifacts resulting from friction and compression of vessels. First, one should listen to the sounds produced by intestinal peristalsis. These sounds are difficult to describe and are best appreciated from the experience of listening to the abdomen of many normal individuals. Also, this exercise permits understanding of the normal wide variability of bowel sounds, which may be interpreted as evidence of disease by the inexperienced examiner. The recording of “slightly hypoactive” bowel sounds by the student usually represent an attempt to give significance to a normal finding.
Two abnormalities of the bowel sounds are significant. The absence of any sound or extremely weak and infrequent sounds heard after several minutes of continuous auscultation ordinarily represent the immobile bowel of peritonitis or paralytic ileum. In contrast, increased sounds with a characteristic loud, rushing, high-pitched tinkling quality often occur in mechanical intestinal obstruction and may be accompanied by waves of pain. The latter findings are caused by distention of the bowel and increased peristaltic activity proximal to the site of the obstruction.
Another sound that is unrelated to peristalsis may be heard in the appropriate setting and is known as a succession splash. In cases of pyloric obstruction, with increased air and fluid in the stomach, this sound may be produced when the abdomen is rocked from side to side with one hand. A similar sound may be heard over the inferior sternum and epigastrium in the presence of a large hiatus hernia.
The most important physical finding indicating vascular disease is a bruit. A bruit in the abdomen is a systolic sound created by turbulence in the flow of blood through a partially occluded or diseased artery. One type of bruit is that which is heard over the aorta and is produced by atherosclerotic plaques or an aneurysm. Partial occlusion of other major abdominal arteries, either by congenital bands or by atherosclerotic plaques, may be detected by auscultation. Examples of these types of lesions are found in the celiac artery and superior mesenteric artery. Also, a bruit may be heard over diseased renal arteries. To be of significance a bruit must be heard consistently in the area if the patient is moved into various positions, and it must be heard with extremely light pressure on the diaphragm of the stethoscope.
Other sources of bruits in the abdomen include vascular malformations of congenital origin or those produced by distortion of vessels by tumor, cysts, or severe inflammation. Rarely one may hear a bruit caused by an intra-abdominal arteriovenous shunt. Adequate auscultatory practice of them must include listening in the epigastrium, above and lateral to the umbilicus on both sides, and over the liver. It is worth emphasizing that bruits often are soft and high pitched and require the same intensity of concentration as that required for the detection of grade I cardiac murmurs. Obviously, if the bowel sounds are very loud, significant bruits may be missed on casual examination.
Another vascular sound that may be heard is that of a venous hum. This is usually heard over the upper portion of the abdomen or liver and is associated with enlargement of the anastomotic veins most frequently associated with liver disease or with portal or splenic vein thrombosis. Congenital abnormalities of the umbilical vein will also produce this finding. This sound is softer than the arterial bruit and tends to be a continuous humming sound rather than systolic in time.
Occasionally, friction rubs may be heard over parts of the abdomen. A definite friction rub may be heard over the spleen in cases of inflammation of the spleen or with splenic infarction. Friction rubs may also be heard over the liver and almost always indicate either a primary or metastatic tumor to the liver. Since these sounds are quite, soft and are associated with respiration, they must be separated from normal breath sounds. Care must be taken to avoid sounds from the skin.
Gastric and duodenal ulcer is a common and chronic disease. Peptic ulcer is termed depending on the aggressive action of hydrochloric acid and pepsin on the mucosa. Peptic ulcer usually occurs in the stomach, pylorus, or duodenal bulb but also can develop in the lower esophagus and upper jejunum after gastroenteroanastomosis.