Abdominal Assessment for the Correctional Nurse: Basic Asssessment

With this class, we begin a three-part series on Abdominal Assessment for the Correctional Nurse.  This first class will include basic abdominal assessment, expected normal findings and potential abnormalities in each region.  The second and third class will review abdominal assessment techniques, and will discuss in more detail the evaluation and nursing interventions for the patient with symptoms of nausea and vomiting, and diarrhea and constipation.

Abdominal pain is perhaps one of the most frequent complaints listed on a sick call/request to be seen slip in the correctional environment.  Changes to routine and diet, stress, and the “unmasking” of symptoms as patients become “detoxed” from substances like alcohol and drugs may contribute to complaints of abdominal problems.  It is important that the correctional nurse understand the pathophysiology of the abdomen, and how to conduct a proper assessment of the abdominal areas.  As with all presenting complaints, it is vital that a succinct, yet thorough history be obtained from the patient to include any health problems they were experiencing in the past or prior to their incarceration.  The myriad of conditions that may present with abdominal pain include gall bladder disease, liver disease, pancreatitis, appendicitis, spleen problems, ulcers, diverticulitis, intestinal obstruction, cancer, ovarian cyst, ectopic pregnancy, GERD, pericarditis, and intestinal gas, just to name a few!  While it is not the intention of this class to educate correctional nurses to diagnose the condition of their patient with abdominal pain, it is important that the correctional nurse have a basic understanding of the pathophysiology so that they can determine when a provider needs to be notified.

In this class, the proper way to conduct an abdominal assessment will be reviewed, including appropriate questions to ask of any patient complaining of abdominal pain, how to inspect, auscultate, percuss and palpate the abdomen appropriately, common signs that help providers diagnose abdominal conditions, and where in the abdominal cavity certain organs are located.