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What Should I Expect during an Abdominal Examination?

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  • Written By: J. Beam
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2016
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A doctor performs an abdominal examination as part of a routine physical and also when a patient presents with complaints of abdominal pain or discomfort. A routine abdominal examination is nothing to fear, is typically painless and is not invasive like a pelvic or rectal examination. You can expect for the examining physician to touch your abdomen, press upon it, and listen to it using a stethoscope.

During an abdominal exam, you can expect to be lying down. The primary aspects of a routine abdominal examination include palpitation and auscultation. Palpitation involves the examining physician putting their hands on your abdomen as they feel for pain, tenderness, swelling, or other abnormalities. Auscultation involves the use of a stethoscope and requires the patient to merely be still and breathe.

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

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Barring any physical problems, abdominal exams are rarely painful. Mild pressure, perhaps some tickling and cold hands are likely the only sensation you will have. If there is something wrong, it is entirely possible that some pain or discomfort will result, but this is initial exam is how problems are detected and a primary diagnosis is found. Special tests that may be performed during the exam include testing for rebound tenderness and costovertebral tenderness, both of which may cause more discomfort than normal.

Depending on the physician’s findings after an abdominal exam, you may be referred for additional testing. Some abnormal findings that may result from an abdominal examination include appendicitis, hernia, and liver disease. X-rays and CT scans may be ordered for imaging and diagnostic purposes. Blood and other laboratory tests may also be ordered. If 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 as possible. Also be prepared to offer information regarding recent activities, possible injuries, medical history, and current or recent medications.

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