Interactive Guide to Physical Examination

Examination of the Abdomen


After working through this module, the student should be able to describe:

  • Musculoskeletal anatomy pertinent to the abdominal exam.
  • Location of intra-abdominal contents relative to the abdominal wall and what is normally palpable.
  • Examination techniques used for inspection, auscultation, percussion and palpation of the abdomen.
  • Advanced techniques used to evaluate the acute abdomen.

Module navigation:

Ideally, the student should progress through the module by using the menu of options on the side. Additional cues to access the glossary, video clips, or interactive portions of the module can be found within the text.

Equipment needed:

  • Stethoscope.
  • Pen and tape measure.

General approach to the abdominal exam:

The following are key elements needed for a successful abdominal examination.

  • The patient should be relaxed, have an empty bladder, and have arms either down at his sides or crossed over his chest.
  • The patient should not have his hands under his head as this serves to tighten abdominal musculature.
  • Have the patient bend his knees to facilitate relaxation of the abdominal musculature.
  • Have the patient remove pants/skirt to expose the abdomen fully from the lower thorax to the inguinal region.
  • Good lighting is essential.
  • Examine the abdomen from the patient's right side.
  • In patients complaining of abdominal pain, have them identify the area of discomfort and examine this region last.

Now you are ready to begin your exam, beginning with inspection, then auscultation, followed by percussion and palpation.