Abdominal exam: what to expect?

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Abdominal exams are routine and non-invasive, involving palpitations and auscultation. Doctors observe the patient’s face for signs of discomfort or pain and may probe with more pressure at specific points. Abnormal findings may result in further testing, including X-rays, CT scans, and blood tests. Patients should provide detailed information about their symptoms and medical history.

A doctor performs an abdominal exam as part of a routine physical exam and also when a patient has complaints of abdominal pain or discomfort. A routine abdominal exam is nothing to fear, is typically painless, and is non-invasive like a pelvic or rectal exam. You can expect the examining doctor to touch your abdomen, press on it, and listen to it using a stethoscope.

During an abdominal exam, you can expect to be lying down. The main aspects of a routine abdominal exam include palpitations and auscultation. Palpitation involves the examining doctor placing their hands on the abdomen while feeling pain, tenderness, swelling, or other abnormalities. Auscultation involves the use of a stethoscope and requires the patient to simply stand still and breathe.

Doctors are trained to make several observations in a very short amount of time. During an abdominal exam, doctors are trained to not only feel the internal components of the abdomen but also look at the patient’s face for signs of discomfort or pain. Therefore, you can expect the examining doctor to look at you and make eye contact as he or she examines your abdomen. Depending on your reaction to general palpitations and their findings, your doctor may probe with more pressure at specific points.

Barring any physical problems, abdominal exams are rarely painful. A little pressure, maybe a little tickling and cold hands are probably the only sensations you will have. If something is wrong, it is entirely possible that you will experience some pain or discomfort, but this is the initial exam is how problems are detected and a primary diagnosis is found. Special tests that may be done during the exam include tests for rebound tenderness and costovertebral tenderness, both of which can cause more discomfort than normal.

Depending on your doctor’s findings after an abdominal exam, you may be referred for further testing. Some abnormal findings that can result from an abdominal exam include appendicitis, hernia, and liver disease. X-rays and CT scans may be ordered for imaging and diagnostic purposes. Blood tests and other laboratory tests may also be ordered. If you are seeing a doctor specifically because of abdominal tenderness or pain, try to be as detailed and descriptive as possible about the type, duration, severity, and location of the pain. Also be prepared to offer information about recent activity, possible injuries, medical history, and current or recent medications.

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