NURS 680B Assignment Gastrointestinal System (Shadow Health)

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NURS 680B Assignment Gastrointestinal System (Shadow Health)

NURS 680B Assignment Gastrointestinal System (Shadow Health)

In this online assignment, you will:

Assess the gastrointestinal system of your patient, Tina Jones.

Document your findings in the SOAP note template within Shadow Health for practice.

Complete self-reflection prompts to help you think more deeply about your performance in the assignment. Reflective writing develops clinical reasoning skills as you grow and improve as a clinician, and gives instructors insight into your learning process. The more detail and depth provided in your responses, the more you will benefit from this activity.

This assignment is to be completed in Shadow Health. Even though your activity and responses will be recorded in Shadow Health’s system, complete the assignment in Blackboard as follows:

Click on the assignment name above.

Select the “Write Submission” option.

Type the word “Confirmed.”

Click “Submit” to save.

This assignment will take you approximately 65-85 minutes to complete.

In order to use the voice-to-text functionality in Shadow Health (not required), you will need to use the latest version of Chrome web browser.

You are welcome to revisit your Shadow Health assignment as many times as as you like, up until the assignment due date deadline; to leave the assignment open, do not click on “Submit” until you are satisfied with your performance.

If you accidentally submit your assignment and would like to revisit it, contact the Shadow Health support team (see below). The assignment cannot be reopened after the assignment due date.

Focused Gastrointestinal Assessment
When conducting a focused gastrointestinal assessment on your patient, both
subjective and objective data are needed.
Components may include:
• Chief complaint
• Present health status
• Past health history
• Current lifestyle
• Psychosocial status
• Family history
• Physical assessment
Communication during the history and physical must be respectful and performed in a
culturally-sensitive manner. Privacy is vital, and the healthcare professional needs to
be aware of posture, body language, and tone of voice while interviewing the patient
(Jarvis, 2011; Caple, 2011). Take into consideration that a patient’s ethnicity and
culture may affect the history that the patient provides.
Taking a Focused Gastrointestinal History
It is important to begin by obtaining a thorough history of abdominal or gastrointestinal
complaints. You will need to elicit information about any complaints of gastrointestinal
disease or disorders.
Gastrointestinal disease usually manifests as the presence of one or more of the
• Change in appetite
• Weight gain or loss
• Dysphagia
• Intolerance to certain foods
• Nausea and vomiting
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• Change in bowel habits
• Abdominal pain
(Jarvis, 2011).
Ask your patients if they have had any changes in appetite or food intake. If they have,
ask for more information about the change. Appetite and eating can be influenced by
many factors that may indicate gastrointestinal disease or that can be attributed to
socioeconomic considerations such as food availability, family norms, peers, and
cultural practices. A loss of taste sensation can contribute to loss of appetite and
potentially result in poor nutrition, especially in older individuals. Attempts at voluntary
control can be a factors, such as dieting or eating disorders (National Institute of Mental
Health [NIMH], 2011).
Weight Loss or Gain
Document any change in weight. If weight loss or gain is substantial or has happened
rapidly, investigate further. Dieting to a body weight leaner than recommended health
standards tends to be highly promoted by current fashion trends, sales campaigns for
special foods, and is encouraged in some activities and professions. Young women are
especially at risk for diet related alterations in normal gastrointestinal functions. Weight
loss may also be associated with illness, while weight gain may be attributed to fluid
retention or a mass (Jarvis, 2011).
People with dysphagia have difficulty swallowing and may also experience pain while
swallowing. Some people may be completely unable to swallow or may have trouble
swallowing liquids, foods, or saliva. Eating becomes a challenge, making it difficult to
take in enough calories and fluids to nourish the body.
Ask your patient if they have any difficulty swallowing and when the difficulty first
occurred. More than 50 pairs of muscles and many nerves work to move food from the
mouth to the stomach. It is important to note what the patient has difficulty swallowing
(e.g. solids versus liquids), and the area that the patient feels is where food gets “stuck”
(Altman, 2010).
People with diseases of the nervous system, such as cerebral palsy or Parkinson’s
disease, often have problems swallowing. Additionally, stroke or head injury may affect
the coordination of the swallowing muscles or limit sensation in the mouth and throat.
An infection or irritation can cause narrowing of the esophagus. People born with
abnormalities of the swallowing mechanism may not be able to swallow normally. In
addition, cancer of the head, neck, or esophagus may cause swallowing problems.
Sometimes the treatment for these types of cancers can cause dysphagia. Injuries of
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the head, neck, and chest may also create swallowing problems (National Institute of
Health [NIH], 2011).
Intolerance to Food
Ask your patient if they have any intolerance to certain foods. If so, ask which foods and
the type of reaction to the food. Food intolerance should not be confused with food
allergies. An intolerance to certain foods is generally based on the presence of a
gastrointestinal imbalance such as having too little of a particular enzyme that can
hinder proper breakdown and use of the food by the body. Food intolerance may be
related to disorders such as celiac disease, insulin-dependent diabetes, and
inflammatory bowel disease. Symptoms of intolerance to a particular food might include
stomach discomfort, gas, bloating, burping, flatulence, abdominal pain, and diarrhea
(NIH, 2011). Food intolerance may also increase with older adults (Ahmed & Haboubi,
Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting can be side effects of medications, a manifestation of many
diseases, and can occur frequently in early pregnancy. Ask your patients about the
frequency of these symptoms. Nausea and vomiting may also indicate food poisoning.
Questions about types of food eaten in the past 24 hours should be asked to rule out
potential poisoning.
If vomiting is present, you will want to ask about the amount, frequency, color, and odor
of the vomitus. Ask if there is any blood in the vomit or if the vomit appears to be like
coffee grounds. Hematemesis, or blood in the vomitus, is a common symptom of gastric
or duodenal ulcers and may also indicate esophageal varices. Coffee ground emesis
indicates an “old” gastrointestinal bleed. The old, partially digested blood appears to
look like coffee grounds (Jarvis, 2011).
Changes in Bowel Habits
Particular emphasis should be placed on changes in bowel habits, as it is a common
manifestation of gastrointestinal disease. The frequency, color, and consistency of
bowel movements should be assessed. Assess the use of laxatives at this time.
Black, tarry stools may indicate an upper gastrointestinal bleed or may simply be from
the ingestion of iron supplements or over the counter medications for gastrointestinal
upset (Shaw, 2012).
Bright red blood in the stools may indicate hemorrhoids or localized lower
gastrointestinal bleeding.
Currant jelly stools are usually foul smelling and resemble maroon or purple colored
jelly. The presence of currant jelly stools often indicates a massive bleeding episode
and the patient’s hemodynamic status must be assessed quickly (Shaw, 2012).
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Test Yourself
What can occur as a result of the aging process?
A. Dysphagia
B. Blood in the stools
C. Increase in food intolerance
The correct answer is: C.
Past Gastrointestinal Disease and Medication History
Past Gastrointestinal Disease
Ask about any past history of gastrointestinal disorders such as ulcers, gall bladder
disease, hepatitis, appendicitis, hernias. Ask the patient if they received treatment and if
the treatment was successful. History should also include past abdominal surgeries, any
abdominal problems after the surgery, and abdominal x-rays or tests (including
colonoscopy) and their results (Jarvis, 2011).
Medication History
Many medications can produce gastrointestinal symptoms. Almost every class of drugs
has the potential for gastrointestinal side effects. Most of the side effects include
nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or constipation.
Aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may cause abdominal pain
and may increase the likelihood of gastrointestinal bleeding. Dietary supplements and
the use of over the counter medications should also be included (Jarvis, 2011).
Social History and Lifestyle Risk Factors
In taking a complete history, it is important to address lifestyle risk factors and social
behaviors that may contribute to unhealthy lifestyles and increase the risk of
gastrointestinal disorders.
Ask your patients about the frequency and duration of alcohol consumption, caffeine
intake, and cigarette smoking at this time. Alcohol can cause liver cirrhosis and
esophageal varices. Cigarette smoking and regular ingestion of caffeine can lead to
gastric reflux and gastric ulcers.
Also ask about recreational drug use such as marijuana, opiates, or amphetamines.
The use of illicit drugs can increase or suppress appetite and affect GI function (Shaw,
Test Yourself
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Alcohol can cause liver cirrhosis and ________ .
Esophageal varices is the correct response.
Nutritional Assessment
Assessing nutritional status of your patients is important for several reasons. A thorough
nutritional assessment will identify individuals at risk for malnutrition and provide
baseline information for nutritional assessments in the future.
Some of your patients that will require a thorough nutritional assessment include those
patients with:
• Recent unintentional weight loss
• Chemotherapy or radiation
• Recent weight gain
• Food allergies or intolerance
• Decreased appetite
• Multiple medications
• Alterations in sense of taste
• Dieting history
• Difficulty chewing or swallowing
• Vomiting
• Mobility problems
• Diarrhea
• Inability to feed self
• Recent surgery or major illness or injury
• Substance abuse
• Chronic conditions
• Potential for social isolation
• Low income
(Jarvis, 2011 & Shaw, 2012)
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The Physical Exam
When performing a focused assessment, you will use at least one of the following four
basic techniques during your physical exam: inspection, auscultation, percussion, and
palpation. These techniques should be used in an organized manner from least
disturbing or invasive to most invasive to the patient (Jarvis, 2011). Inspection is first, as
it is non-invasive. Auscultation is performed following inspection; the abdomen should
be auscultated before percussion or palpation to prevent production of false bowel
For accurate assessment of the abdomen, patient relaxation is essential. The patient
should be comfortable with knees supported and arms at the sides, and should have an
empty bladder. The environment should include a comfortable temperature, with good

NURS 680B Assignment Gastrointestinal System (Shadow Health)

NURS 680B Assignment Gastrointestinal System (Shadow Health)

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The Physical Exam: Inspection
Visualization of the entire abdomen is needed. When assessing the abdomen, it is
important to document the location of the physical exam finding. The abdomen can be
divided into four or nine quadrants.
The Physical Exam: Inspection
With your patient in the supine position, inspect for:
• Bulges
• Masses
• Hernias
• Ascites
• Spider nevi
• Enlarged veins
• Pulsations or movements
• Inability to lie flat
Normally, blood vessels are not evident on the abdomen. However they may be present
in the elderly or pregnant client due to the loss of subcutaneous fat.
During inspection ask your patient to lift their head slightly. If you notice a protrusion
around the umbilicus or any incisions, a hernia may be present (Jarvis, 2011).
The Physical Exam: Auscultation
You should always auscultate the abdomen after inspection and before percussion or
palpation so you do not produce false bowel sounds by percussion or palpation.
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Auscultation should begin in the right lower quadrant. If bowel sounds are not heard, in
order to determine if bowel sounds are truly absent, listen for a total of five minutes
(Jarvis, 2011).
Bowel sounds echo the underlying movements of the intestines. It is normal to hear
high-pitched clicking and gurgling sounds approximately every 5 to 15 seconds.
It is suggested that you listen to bowel sounds for a full minute before determining if
they are normal, hypoactive, or hyperactive. Refer to the table to see how different
bowel sounds are produced and what they may indicate.
An example of a video demonstrating abdominal auscultation can be viewed at:

Table of Bowel Sounds
The Physical Exam: Percussion
Percussion is used to elicit tenderness or sounds that give clues to underlying
problems. When percussing directly over suspected areas of tenderness, monitor the
patient for signs of discomfort. Percussion requires skill and practice. Shaw (2012) best
describes the method of percussion, in Assessment Made Incredibly Easy.
“Press the distal part of the middle finger of your non-dominant hand firmly on the body
part. Keep the rest of your hand off the body surface. Flex the wrist, but not the forearm,
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of your dominant hand. Using the middle finger of your dominant hand, tap quickly and
directly over the point where your other middle finger contacts the patient’s skin,
keeping the fingers perpendicular. Listen to the sounds produced.”
The Physical Exam: Percussion
When examining the abdomen, percuss for general tympany, liver span, and splenic
dullness. Tympany should be the predominant sound when percussing the abdomen.
Air “floats” to the top of the abdomen in the supine position and tympany reflects a
drum-like sound (Shaw, 2012).
Dullness is usually heard over solid organs or masses such as the liver, spleen, or a full
bladder (Shaw, 2012).
The Physical Exam: Percussion
Percussing over the kidneys does not usually produce pain or discomfort. If tenderness
is present, a urinary tract infection or kidney inflammation may be present.
Costovertebral angle tenderness may be elicited when the patient is in a standing or
upright position. Place the palm of your non-dominant hand near the posterior
costovertebral margin over the kidney. Gently, but firmly, tap on your hand with the fist
of your other hand. An example of a video demonstrating abdominal percussion can be
viewed at:
To determine if abdominal distention is due to fluid or air, you may want to ask a
nursing assistant or another nurse to assist you in percussing a fluid wave. When
percussing a fluid wave, your assistant should place her arm and hand along the midline of the patient’s abdomen, with the patient in the supine position. Her arm should be
placed firmly on the abdomen to prevent the transmission of fat waves. You should then
place your palm of one of your hands in the lateral lumbar region of the patient’s
abdomen. With your other hand, quickly pat or tap the other lateral lumbar region of
your patient’s abdomen. If a fluid wave is present, as with ascites, you will feel the
resulting wave with your opposite hand. If the distention is due to air you will not feel
any wave (Stephen et al., 2009).
Did You Know?
Tympany should be the predominant sound when percussing the abdomen. Air
“floats” to the top of the abdomen in the supine position and tympany reflects a
drum-like sound (Jarvis, 2011).
The Physical Exam: Palpation
Palpation is another commonly used physical exam technique that requires you to touch
your patient with different parts of your hand using different strength pressures. During
light palpation, you press the skin about ½ inch to ¾ inch with the pads of your fingers.
When using deep palpation, use your finger pads and compress the skin about 1½ to 2
inches. Palpate lightly then deeply noting any muscle guarding, rigidity, masses or
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tenderness. Palpate tender areas last. Only if indicated, palpate the liver margins, the
spleen or the kidneys and percuss the abdomen for general tympany, liver span, splenic
dullness, costovertebral angle tenderness, presence of fluid wave, or shifting dullness
with ascites (Jarvis, 2011).
Palpation allows you to assess for texture, tenderness, temperature, moisture,
pulsations, masses, and internal organs (Shaw, 2012). Normally, you should elicit no
tenderness on either light or deep palpation of the abdomen. If inguinal lymph nodes are
palpated, they should be small and freely moveable.
Test Yourself
During light palpation compress the skin:
A. ½ inch to ¾ inch
B. ½ inch to 2 inches
C. 1 ½ inches to 2 inches
D. 1 ½ inches to 3 inches
The correct answer is: A.
Abdominal Pain
If your patient is experiencing abdominal pain, have them point to the exact location of
the pain.
Abdominal pain can be classified as:
• Visceral
• Parietal
• Referred
Visceral Pain
Visceral pain is usually described as dull, crampy, squeezing, or aching. It can be
constant or intermittent. The pain may be difficult to localize orand may be located over
an abdominal organ (Jarvis, 2011).
Parietal Pain
Parietal pain is usually from inflammation over the peritoneum. Peritoneal inflammation
usually indicates an underlying emergency and should be assessed quickly. Parietal
pain is usually intense, constant, and on one side. It can be aggravated by extension of
the lower extremity on the affected side, coughing, or eliciting rebound tenderness
(Jarvis, 2011).
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Referred Pain
Referred pain is usually visceral pain that is felt in another area of the body when a
common nerve pathway is shared. It occurs with specific gastrointestinal disorders
such as appendicitis (can cause umbilical pain in early stages), gall bladder disease
(referred to right upper scapula), and pancreatitis (referred to the mid-back) (Jarvis,
Mnemonic for Pain Assessment
In general, the mnemonic, PQRST, is very useful in assessing abdominal pain and
other gastrointestinal symptoms, such as distention, nausea, and vomiting. It provides a
methodology in which communication to other healthcare providers will be efficient and
After eliciting information about any experienced signs or symptoms of gastrointestinal
disease, ask about your patients past abdominal or gastrointestinal history, medications,
and nutritional status.
Provocative or Palliative: What makes the pain or symptom(s) better or worse?
Quality: Describe the pain or symptom(s) (burning, dull, sharp)
Region or Radiation: Where in the body does the pain or symptom(s) occur? Is there
radiation or extension or the pain or symptom(s) to another area of the abdomen?
Severity: On a scale of 1-10, (10 being the worst) how bad is the pain or symptom(s)?
Another visual pain scale may be appropriate for patients that are unable to identify with
this scale.
Timing: Does it occur in association with something else? (e.g. eating, exertion,
Assessing Abdominal Pain: Muscle Tests
The patient history is extremely important in assessing abdominal pain. Pain may be
chronic or acute and related to inflammation, infection, allergy, or food intolerance. It
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can also result from trauma or obstruction. There are also a few physical exam
techniques that can be used to assess acute abdominal pain. These are the iliopsoas
muscle test, obturator test, and Blumberg test (Altman, 2010; Shaw, 2012).
Iliopsoas Muscle Test
The iliopsoas muscle test is used most often when acute abdominal pain is present and
appendicitis is suspected.
When your patient is lying in the supine position ask him or her to lift their right leg
straight up, flexing only at the hip. Push down on the lower part of the thigh when your
patient is trying to hold their leg up. If the patient feels pain in the iliopsoas muscle (the
right lower quadrant of the abdomen) the test is positive and may indicate a perforated
or inflamed appendix.
Anticipate further investigatory tests to confirm a suspected diagnosis (Altman, 2010).
The Obturator Test
The obturator muscle test is also performed when acute abdominal pain is present and
appendicitis is suspected. When your patient is lying in the supine position ask him or
her to lift their right leg straight up, flexing at the hip, and 90 degrees at the knee. Hold
the ankle and rotate the leg internally and externally. If the patient feels pain in the area
of the internal obturator muscle (the right lower quadrant of the abdomen and pelvis) the
test is positive and may also indicate a perforated or inflamed appendix (Altman, 2010).
The Blumberg Sign
Blumberg Sign is also known as rebound abdominal tenderness. Choose a site away
from the suspected area of tenderness. Holding your hand 90 degrees to the
abdomen, press inward deeply, then release quickly. Pain on release of pressure is an
indicator of peritoneal irritation (Altman, 2010).
Assessing and Interpreting Associated Laboratory Values
There are many common lab values that will help you in your assessment of your
patient’s gastrointestinal system and accessory organs. Lab values should be looked at
collectively in the context of a complete abdominal history and examination. The
following table illustrates examples of lab values and the possible related
gastrointestinal disturbance.
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Digestion, transport, and absorption are the processes by which the digestive system
supplies nutrients to each and every cell of our body. If there is a disruption to this
process, the whole body suffers.
By asking specific questions about a patient’s gastrointestinal history and performing
focused abdominal exam techniques for your adult patient, you will be able to assess for
the slightest changes in gastrointestinal function.
Alterations in your gastrointestinal assessment findings could indicate potential
Being knowledgeable about the focused, gastrointestinal assessment will allow you to
intervene quickly and appropriately for gastrointestinal disorders.
Ahmed, T., & Haboubi, N. (2010). Assessment and management of nutrition in older
people and its importance to health. Clinical Interventions in Aging, 5, 207-216.
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Altman, G.B. (2010). Fundamental and advanced nursing skills (3rd ed.). Clifton Park,
NY: Delmar.
Caple, C. (2011). Physical assessment: Performing- cultural considerations. Glendale,
CA: Cinahl Information Systems.
Jarvis, C. (2011). Physical examination and health assessment, (6th ed.). St. Louis:
W.B. Saunders.
Merck Manual Online (2013). Retrieved August 2013 from
National Institute of Health [NIH] (2011). Dysphagia. Retrieved August, 2014 from:
Mosby Company. (2012). Mosby’s medical dictionary (9th ed.). New York: Elsevier.
Shaw, M. (2012). Assessment made incredibly easy (5th ed.). Philadelphia, PA:
Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Venes, D. (ed.) (2013). Tabers® cyclopedic medical dictionary (22nd ed.).
Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Co.
At the time this course was constructed all URL’s in the reference list were current and
accessible. is committed to providing healthcare professionals with the most
up-to-date information available.
© Copyright 2004, AMN Healthcare, Inc.
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