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Abdominal Pain in Adults (cont.)

What Exams and Tests are Used to Diagnose the Cause of Abdominal Pain in Adults?

Physical Examination

Physical examination will include a careful examination of the patient's abdomen, heart, and lungs in order to pinpoint the source of the pain.

  • The doctor will touch different parts of the abdomen to check for tenderness or other signs that indicate the source of the pain.
  • The doctor may do a rectal exam to check for small amounts of blood in the stool or other problems such as a mass or internal hemorrhoids.
  • If the patient is a man, the doctor may check the penis and testicles.
  • If the patient is a woman, the doctor may do a pelvic exam to check for problems in the uterus, Fallopian tubes, and ovaries.
  • The doctor also may look at the patient's eyes for yellow discoloration (jaundice) and in the mouth to be sure the patient is not dehydrated.

Laboratory Tests

Laboratory tests may or may not help to determine the cause of the abdominal pain. Combined with the information gained from the questions the patient was asked and the physical examination performed by the doctor, certain blood or urine tests may be ordered and could assist in determining the diagnosis.

  • One of the most important tests is to see if a woman is pregnant.
  • A raised white blood cell count may mean infection or may just be a reaction to the stress of pain and vomiting.
  • A low red blood count (hemoglobin) may mean that a patient is bleeding internally, but most conditions that involve bleeding are not painful.
  • Blood in the urine, which may not be visible to the eye, suggests that a patient may have a kidney stone.
  • Other blood tests, such as liver enzymes and pancreas enzymes, can help determine which organ the cause of the pain, but they do not point to a diagnosis.

Radiology Tests

Radiology studies of the patient's abdomen can be useful, but are not always necessary or helpful.

  • Occasionally, an X-ray will show air outside of the bowel, meaning that something has ruptured or perforated.
  • An X-ray also can help diagnose bowel obstruction.
  • Sometimes X-rays can show a kidney stone.

Ultrasound is a painless procedure useful in finding some causes of abdominal pain.

  • This may be done if the doctor suspects problems with the gallbladder, pancreas, liver, or the reproductive organs of women.
  • Ultrasound also assists in the diagnosis of problems with the kidneys and the spleen, or the large blood vessels that come from the heart and supplies blood to the lower half of the body.

Computerized tomography (CT scan) are a special type of X-ray that provides useful information about the liver, pancreas, kidneys and ureters, spleen, and small and large intestine.

The patient and doctor should discuss the need for an X-ray or CT scan and their associated radiation exposure before proceeding with any radiological examination.

The doctor may perform no tests at all. The cause of the patient's pain may be clear without any tests and may be known not to be serious. If the patient does undergo tests, the professional should explain the results to them.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/17/2015
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