Abdominal (GI) Examination

This is essentially an examination of the patient’s abdomen; it is also called the gastrointestinal examination (GI). It is a complex examination which also includes examination of other parts of the body including the hands, face and neck. The abdominal examination aims to pick up on any gastrointestinal pathology that may be causing a patient’s symptoms e.g. abdominal pain or altered bowel habit. This examination is performed on every patient that is admitted to hospital and regularly in clinics and general practice.

Like most major examination stations this follows the usual procedure of inspect, palpate, auscultate (look, feel, listen). It is an essential skill to master and is often examined in OSCE’s.

Subject steps

  1. At this point ask the patient to lie as flat as possible with their arms straight down beside them and begin your inspection of the abdomen. Comment on any obvious abnormalities such as scars, masses and pulsations. Also note if there is any abdominal distension.

  2. Once all 9 areas have been examined superficially, you should move on to examine deeper.

    A deeper exam is performed with two hands, one on top of the other again flexing at the MCP joints. You should still be looking at the patient’s face for them flinching due to pain. Again, examine all 9 named segments of the abdomen.

  3. At this point, you should mention to the examiner that you would like to finish the procedure with an examination of the hernial orifices, the external genitalia and also a rectal examination. It is also appropriate to perform a urinalysis at this point including a pregnancy test in females.

  4. Allow the patient to dress and thank them.  Wash your hands and report any findings to your examiner.