Jason A. Dominitz, M.D. , MHS, John H. Sekijima, M.D., and Mary Watts, M.D.
Abdominal pain is one of the most common causes of visits to a primary care provider, accounting for 2.5 million visits to office-based physicians per year. It is the most frequent cause for gastroenterology consultation.[2,3,4,5] The overall economic and social impact of abdominal pain is staggering. While a specific diagnosis can be obtained in many patients, no identifiable etiology is found in approximately 35%-51% of patients with abdominal pain.[6,7] A thorough review of all causes of abdominal pain is beyond the scope of this chapter. For detailed information regarding the causes of abdominal pain, the standard gastroenterology texts serve as an excellent resource.[8,9]
In compiling this review of abdominal pain, the authors chose selected references from a PubMed literature search through February 1999. The MeSH heading "abdominal pain" was used, as were selected specific causes of abdominal pain. Special attention was devoted to controlled trials and comprehensive reviews. Key references from these articles were also reviewed and are referenced. Special emphasis was placed on articles that provide evidence or guidelines for the diagnosis and management of selected specific causes of abdominal pain.
I.B. General Approach to the Patient with Abdominal Pain
When confronted with a patient complaining of abdominal pain, the provider must first rule out catastrophic causes of pain, such as dissecting aortic aneurysm, perforated viscus, or bowel obstruction. As with all patient encounters, the provider should begin with an appropriate history and physical examination. However, the initial appearance of the patient will guide the nature and urgency of the history and physical. If the patient is hemodynamically unstable, then efforts should be made to rapidly stabilize the patient. If an abdominal aortic aneurysm is suspected, then surgical consultation should be obtained immediately, with the expectation that the patient may require emergent surgery. If an abdominal aortic aneurysm is not suspected and the abdomen is rigid, then abdominal and chest radiographs should be rapidly obtained, along with surgical consultation. The radiographs should be carefully examined for evidence of perforation or obstruction, which may require prompt exploratory surgery. If the radiographs are nonspecific, then other causes of a rigid abdomen should be considered, such as acute pancreatitis, toxins, hematologic or metabolic disorders.
In the absence of a rigid abdomen, or if the patient is hemodynamically stable, the provider becomes challenged with sorting through a long list of possible diagnoses. Unfortunately, 35% of patients admitted with abdominal pain have no identifiable etiology for their symptoms. In the primary care setting, the average abdominal pain episode has been reported to require an average of 1.32 visits and cost $123.36. In 51% of these cases, no specific diagnosis was reached.
We have found that it is helpful to start by determining whether the symptoms are acute (i.e. onset within days to weeks) or chronic. Although atypical presentations can occur for any condition, many causes of abdominal pain have characteristic locations which can help guide the diagnostic approach. Therefore, we suggest that the location of the pain be used next to narrow down the diagnostic possibilities. At this point, the specific historical features, physical examination findings, and routine laboratory tests can either suggest a specific diagnosis or guide the next appropriate investigation (e.g. radiographic study, consultation or endoscopy).
Acute abdominal pain in older patients often results from infectious, inflammatory, or ischemic disorders and bears special mention. Elderly patients may not have the traditional systemic and local features of an infection. In a retrospective review of 103 patients over age 65, the most common causes of hospitalization for acute abdominal pain included biliary disease in 23%, diverticulitis in 12%, intestinal obstruction in 11% and constipation in 9%. Almost 14% of patients had no clear etiology of their pain. In-hospital mortality was nearly 6%.
I.C. Cost-Effective Approach
In today's managed care environment, there is increased pressure for the provider to determine the most cost-effective approach to working up a patient with abdominal pain. Clearly, patients bring to the encounter their own fears regarding the etiology of their pain, including malignancies and ulcers. While various studies have been conducted to identify the most cost-effective means of evaluating patients with abdominal complaints (e.g. dyspepsia),[11,12,13,14,15,16,17] there is no clear consensus. In addition, these studies have failed to account for the often intangible benefit derived by the patient from a negative study. Recently, Wiklund et al. studied the benefits of a negative endoscopy in patients with dyspepsia and found that quality of life improves despite persistent symptoms. Therefore, we recommend that providers use an approach which is designed to first exclude acute life-threatening diagnoses such as a dissecting aneurysm, perforation, or obstruction. Once these have been reasonably excluded, the provider should employ a systematic approach to obtain a thorough history and physical with pertinent laboratory, radiologic, and endoscopic procedures. The choice of the most appropriate test is determined by a host of factors which may or may not be directly related to the patient. For example, for patients with uncomplicated dyspepsia, testing and treating for Helicobacter pylori or empiric therapy with acid suppression or promotility agents may be an appropriate first step. However, if the patient is very concerned about the possibility of a malignancy, then endoscopy would be appropriate. As it has been shown that the cost-differential between early endoscopy and empiric therapy may be negligible, this approach is clearly justifiable. For patients with symptoms consistent with the irritable bowel syndrome, appropriate tests will depend upon the specific clinical situation. For example, in a young female patient with cramping lower abdominal pain relieved with defecation, alternating constipation and diarrhea, bloating, and mucus in the stool, it would be reasonable to obtain a routine blood count, pregnancy test, and consider pelvic ultrasound. However, for an older female patient, abdominal/pelvic ultrasound and either sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy would be recommended.
II. Evaluation of the Patient with Abdominal Pain
The history alone can suggest a specific diagnosis for a variety of causes of abdominal pain. For example, patients with known atherosclerotic disease, weight loss, food avoidance, and post-prandial pain should be considered to have mesenteric angina until proven otherwise. The history should encompass the chronicity, onset, duration, quality, location and radiation of the pain. In addition, associated symptoms as well as alleviating and aggravating factors should be determined. (Table 1) compares the features of some common causes of acute abdominal pain.
While acute pain often appears to be more dramatic or serious than chronic pain, one should not assume that chronic pain is any less significant. Patients with gastrointestinal malignancies may present with chronic pain as their primary complaint. Pain which wakes a patient from their sleep or is acute in onset suggests possible strangulation or perforation of the bowel. Pain which is gradual in onset suggests an inflammatory process, such as appendicitis, or an infectious process, such as an abscess. Sometimes the patient can recall preceding abdominal trauma which may result in something as minor as a bruised rib to something as critical as a ruptured spleen. The duration of pain can often aid in the diagnosis as well. For example, acute pancreatitis can cause pain lasting days while biliary colic typically lasts for several minutes or hours. Cramping or squeezing pain suggests a luminal origin, such as a partial or complete obstruction of a peristaltic organ (e.g. bowel obstruction or renal colic). The visceral peritoneum is innervated by C fibers, which are slow transmitters. These fibers produce dull, crampy pain, usually of insidious onset and poorly localized. The parietal peritoneum, skin, and muscles are innervated by the fast transmitting A - neurons which result in sharp pain, often of acute onset and well localized.
Due to the relatively sparse innervation of the viscera, patients are often unable to localize their pain. In addition, through a process known as functional divergence, a small number of abdominal afferents will stimulate a large number of spinothalamic tract neurons. Functional divergence also results in associated physiologic responses to abdominal pain, such as changes in pulse, blood pressure, muscle tone, and motor and secretory reflexes.[19,20,21] Since most abdominal organs originate as midline structures embryologically, they have bilaterally symmetric innervation. Digestive tract pain, therefore, is generally midline. Abdominal pain which is localized to either side suggests that the pain originates from those organs with innervation which is predominantly one-sided (e.g. kidneys, ureters and ovaries), or from structures with somatic innervation. For some organs with bilateral innervation (e.g. ascending and descending colon and gallbladder), there may be a lateral predominance which can help localize the etiology. The embryologic origin of the abdominal structures determines the clinical pain location as shown in (Table 2). However, due to variability in innervation between patients, pain originating from a particular organ may not be clinically manifest as one might expect. Pain may also migrate over time. When appendiceal inflammation first occurs, the patient generally experiences periumbilical pain due to the bilaterally symmetric innervation of the appendix and its midgut origin. As the inflammation progresses and involves the parietal peritoneum, the pain is experienced in the right lower quadrant. Radiation of pain can also help refine the differential diagnosis. For example, pancreatic pain typically radiates to the back, while cardiac ischemia may produce pain radiating to the neck, jaw, or left upper extremity.
The patient should be asked if any symptoms are associated with the pain, such as nausea, vomiting, diaphoresis, palpitations, fever, chills, gastrointestinal bleeding, weight loss, jaundice, diarrhea, constipation, steatorrhea, mucus in the stool, change in stool caliber, early satiety, bloating, dysphagia, odynophagia, heartburn, sourbrash (i.e. a sour or bitter taste in the back of the throat), or waterbrash (i.e. excessive salivation). Anorexia may suggest gastric disease, especially when accompanied by epigastric pain and/or early satiety. The relation of vomiting to meals is often helpful. Patients who vomit immediately after eating may have functional vomiting. Vomiting which occurs within 30-60 minutes of a meal suggests mucosal disease of the stomach. Vomiting which occurs hours after a meal is indicative of gastric outlet obstruction or gastroparesis. Aggravated or alleviating symptoms, such as food, dairy products, antacids, physical exertion, stress, and passage of stool or flatus should be determined. Sitophobia (fear of eating due to pain) may be indicative of gastric outlet obstruction, intestinal ischemia, or a gastric malignancy. In women, one needs to obtain a menstrual and sexual history and consider gynecologic pathology. Pelvic inflammatory disease and ovarian cysts may produce pain which can mimic acute appendicitis. Ectopic pregnancy can present with acute or subacute abdominal pain.
Aside from historical features directly related to the abdominal pain, it is important to obtain a thorough history concerning past medical problems (e.g. prior gastrointestinal disease and atherosclerotic disease), past surgical history (e.g. prior cholecystectomy), and family and social history (e.g. Armenian or Sephardic Jewish patients at risk for familial Mediterranean fever).
II.B. Physical Examination
The physical examination of the abdomen should be carefully and thoroughly conducted on all patients. The exam is often unremarkable in patients with uncomplicated diseases. Though fever is often present in patients with infectious or inflammatory processes, elderly patients may not become febrile even with a significant infection. The facial expression may reflect the degree of pain that the patient is experiencing. Bowel sounds may be absent in the presence of perforation or ileus. The presence of a succussion splash more than 2 hours postprandially suggests gastric outlet obstruction. Signs of peritonitis include fever, tenderness and guarding. Patients with peritoneal inflammation will have tenderness elicited by gently jostling the exam table or jarring the patients heal when the leg is extended. Guarding can often be voluntary. By using the stethoscope to apply pressure to the abdomen, the examiner may assess for voluntary guarding. Patients who are apprehensive when the examiners hand is pressed against the abdomen will often relax their abdomen when they believe that the examiner is listening with the stethoscope. In a study of hospitalized patients with acute abdominal pain, the presence of rebound was found to have no predictive value for the presence of peritonitis. The physical exam should also include assessment of the sclera for jaundice, cardiovascular and pulmonary examination for congestive heart failure or pneumonia, pelvic examination for gynecologic causes of abdominal pain, and a careful rectal exam.
II.C. Laboratory Tests
The initial laboratory evaluation will depend to a large extent upon the setting in which the patient presents. Laboratory tests should not be ordered frivolously, as unexpected abnormalities can often result from random laboratory error and result in unnecessary additional testing and patient concern. However, these tests are clearly a vital part of the work-up for abdominal pain. For patients presenting to the emergency department with acute abdominal pain, initial labs should include a CBC with differential, electrolytes (i.e. sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous), serum chemistries (e.g. bicarbonate, blood urea nitrogen, creatinine, serum glucose, amylase and lipase), liver function tests (ALT, AST, alkaline phosphatase and bilirubin), urinalysis, and possibly coagulation labs and a pregnancy test. Blood may also be necessary for typing and crossmatching, depending upon the clinical situation. Blood cultures should be obtained from febrile patients. In addition, an electrocardiogram should be strongly considered as myocardial ischemia can present as isolated abdominal pain. Although this "shotgun" approach may seem wasteful, it may be necessary to maintain the efficiency of the emergency department setting, especially as these tests can aid in making a more rapid diagnosis and in preparing the patient for possible surgery. For non-acute patients, the laboratory tests should be tailored to the clinical situation and a more stepwise approach may be utilized.
II.D.1. Non-Contrast Studies
An abdominal series of plain radiographs can be vital to the diagnosis of abdominal pain. These films should include a flat plate of the abdomen, and upright view of the abdomen, and an upright chest radiograph. These films can identify evidence of perforation (often best seen on the chest film as free intraperitoneal air under the diaphragm or retroperitoneal air), bowel obstruction, air in the portal venous system or biliary tree, calcium deposits (e.g. gallstones, renal or ureteral stones, appendicoliths, chronic pancreatitis, aortic aneurysm), foreign bodies, and pneumatosis (i.e. air in the bowel wall suggesting possible ischemia). It should be noted that when looking for free air, the patient should remain in an upright position for at least 5 minutes to allow the air to percolate up to the diaphragm. For those patients unable to assume an upright position, a left lateral decubitus film may suffice. The patient should remain with the left side down for at least 10 minutes. It has been estimated that the plain film is diagnostic of gastrointestinal obstruction in 50%-60% of cases, equivocal in 20%-30%, and normal, non-diagnostic, or misleading in 10%-20% of cases. The plain radiograph can also show evidence of an intraabdominal inflammatory or infectious process (e.g. when a normal psoas shadow is obscured by a pelvic abscess).
II.D.2. Contrast Studies
Radiologic contrast studies are often over utilized in the evaluation of abdominal pain. The standard barium upper gastrointestinal series (UGI) can provide information regarding esophageal motility, esophageal stenoses and peptic ulceration. However, the UGI is neither as sensitive nor as specific as endoscopy for mucosal abnormalities, such as erosive esophagitis and peptic ulcer.[28,29,30,31] A barium enema (BE) will demonstrate the colonic anatomy and may also fill the terminal ileum. A BE may show evidence of diverticulosis, strictures, fistulas and mucosal masses (e.g. polyps and cancer). Barium contrast studies should not be utilized for the evaluation of an acute abdomen. Intravenous urography is often used to demonstrate a calculus in the urinary tract.
II.E. Imaging Tests
Abdominal ultrasound is often a useful, non-invasive test to help identify the etiology of abdominal pain. Ideally, patients should have nothing by mouth for several hours prior to their examination.
Ultrasound is commonly used to evaluate right upper quadrant pain to identify biliary abnormalities such as bile duct dilatation, gallbladder wall thickening, pericholecystic fluid, gallstones, and sludge. Ultrasound can also identify pancreatic abnormalities, such as duct dilation and fluid collections, though overlying bowel gas often limits the quality of the examination. Other information elicited by ultrasound includes the presence of ascites or other signs of chronic liver disease (e.g. fatty liver or cirrhotic appearing liver), gynecologic abnormalities (e.g. ovarian cysts, ectopic pregnancy, or uterine fibroids), renal abnormalities (e.g. hydronephrosis, renal cysts) and acute appendicitis.
II.E.2. Computed Tomography
Computed tomography (CT) is a powerful tool in the evaluation of abdominal pathology. However, as its use is associated with significant cost, CT should be reserved for those patients in whom the diagnosis cannot be safely established with less expensive means. Computed tomography is useful for establishing many causes of abdominal pain, such as abdominal aortic aneurysms, intro-abdominal fluid collections, diverticulitis, bowel obstruction, intestinal ischemia, perforated viscus, appendicitis and pancreatitis. It can also identify lesions suggestive of primary cancers or metastatic disease. Unenhanced helical CT has been shown to be quite accurate in the diagnosis of ureteral stone disease.
II.E.3. Magnetic Resonance Imaging
There are few indications for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in the evaluation of abdominal pain. The utility of MRI in the performance of cholangiopancreatography (MRCP) is under study. This procedure may replace diagnostic endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) in many settings, and allows for imaging the pancreaticobiliary system in patients whose anatomy prohibits ERCP (e.g. Roux-en-Y surgical anastomosis).
Gastrointestinal endoscopy is another useful test in the evaluation of abdominal pain. Like CT, the cost associated with endoscopy needs to be considered in the management of the patient. Endoscopic procedures commonly utilized include: esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD), flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). For many patients, such as those with dyspepsia, EGD can serve several purposes. In addition to establishing the specific etiology for the symptom (e.g. peptic ulcer disease, erosive esophagitis, gastric cancer), tissue can be obtained at the time of endoscopy for histopathology or assessment for Helicobacter pylori. Even if no organic pathology is identified, a negative endoscopy can serve to reassure the patient. Endoscopy is more accurate than contrast radiography[28,29,30,31] and is preferred by patients. Likewise, sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy can identify a specific cause of the patients symptoms (e.g. sigmoid volvulus, colitis, malignancy and ischemia), exclude the presence of organic pathology (e.g. as in the patient with irritable bowel syndrome) and treat colonic abnormalities (e.g. sigmoid volvulus and colonic polyps). For patients with suspected pancreaticobiliary disorders, ERCP can establish a specific etiology (e.g. chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer and choledocholithiasis) and is often used to treat these conditions (e.g. sphincterotomy and stone extraction for choledocholithiasis or stenting for biliary obstruction). Other endoscopic procedures which are beyond the scope of this chapter include biliary manometry and endoscopic ultrasound. Endoscopic procedures are generally safe and very well tolerated.
III. Specific Causes of Abdominal Pain
III.A. Abdominal Wall Pain
Abdominal pain originating from structures other than the visceral organs should always be considered as part of a complete evaluation. Skin, subcutaneous fat, muscle, and bone are all possible sources of pain. Some examples of causes of abdominal wall pain are shown in (Table 4).
III.A.1. Features of Abdominal Wall Pain
1 Often discretely localized by examining fingertips
2 Constant site of tenderness
3 Superficial tenderness
4 Positive Carnetts sign
The examiner palpates the abdomen to elicit a localized area of tenderness. The patient is then asked to contract the abdominal musculature by raising the head or straightened legs off the table. With the patient holding this position, palpating pressure is reapplied to the site of discomfort and the patient is asked if the pain decreases or increases in severity. If the pain is truly intra-abdominal, then the contracted abdominal wall should diminish the tenderness by protecting the underlying viscera. In contrast, if the cause of the pain resides in the abdominal wall the elicited pain should at least be as severe and often enhanced.
For pain that is well localized, superficial and positive on Carnetts testing, a local 2 cc injection of 0.25% bupivacaine hydrochloride or 1% lidocaine can be beneficial. 40 mg of triamcinolone acetate may be mixed with the anesthetic to prolong the effect.
III.B. Peptic Ulcer Disease
III.D. Bowel Obstruction
In adults, bowel obstruction most commonly results from external hernias or postoperative adhesions. Other causes include malignancy, colonic diverticular disease, volvulus, gallstone ileus, and intussusception. In children, obstruction is most commonly associated with intussusception, atresia, or meconium ileus.
III.D.2. Clinical Presentation
Patients with bowel obstruction typically present with fairly sudden onset of crampy abdominal pain, abdominal distention and failure to pass flatus. If the obstruction is partial, the patient may have the same symptoms, though will continue to pass flatus. When the obstruction involves the proximal small bowel, the pain tends to be more sharp, is epigastric in location, and is accompanied by frequent bilious vomiting. When the obstruction involves the distal bowel, the pain tends to be periumbilical in location and is accompanied by less frequent, though often feculent, vomiting. The patient is typically restless and ill appearing. Fever, tachycardia, and orthostatic hypotension may be present, as life-threatening dehydration can occur. Hyperactive bowel sounds with rushes and/or high pitched tinkling sounds are classically found. The abdomen is tender to palpation with involuntary guarding.
In addition to an appropriate clinical presentation, radiographic imaging is a critical component in the diagnosis of intestinal obstruction. Abdominal radiographs reveal dilated loops of bowel, often with air-fluid levels, proximal to the obstruction, with normal caliber or collapsed bowel distally. When the diagnosis is not evident, an abdominal CT scan is frequently regarded as the test of choice in identifying obstruction. A single-contrast water soluble contrast enema may help rule out a large bowel obstruction.
When bowel obstruction is suspected, surgical consultation should be immediately obtained as surgical treatment may be required. Delay in treatment may result in ischemia and infarction of bowel. A nasogastric tube should be inserted and intermittent suction applied to remove gastrointestinal secretions and minimize nausea and vomiting. Intussusception may be reduced with a diagnostic and therapeutic barium enema. Sigmoid volvulus may be initially diagnosed with a contrast enema study and treated with the placement of a rectal tube (e.g. a red rubber catheter) above the level of the volvulus. Alternatively, a sigmoidoscopy may be performed to reduce the volvulus. Surgery is often necessary to remove the involved bowel in order to prevent recurrent volvulus.
III.E. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
III.E.1. Epidemiology and Pathogenesis
IBS is a common functional gastrointestinal disorder without identifiable laboratory, structural or histological abnormalities. It has been estimated that at least 8 billion dollars of direct charges are spent annually in the U.S. on physician, laboratory and radiology examinations in patients with this condition. According to one U.S. household survey, IBS individuals were noted to have a 2-3 fold increase in work absenteeism over those without symptoms.
Women are both more commonly affected and more likely to visit a physician with this condition than their male counterparts. Psychosocial factors such as stress, anxiety and depression may significantly modify the expression of IBS but are not diagnostic features.
A variety of motor abnormalities of both the small and large bowel have been observed in IBS patients. However no specific motility disturbance distinguishes the IBS patient from normal subjects in the resting state, and many of the abnormal motor findings do not correlate well with clinical symptoms.
Balloon distention and air insufflation studies of the ileum and colorectum have revealed that patients with IBS report pain at lower volumes and/or pressures than asymptomatic controls. This lower pain threshold has also been referred to as visceral hyperalgesia or hypersensitivity. These findings may help to explain such complaints as urgency, incomplete evacuation, bloating and discomfort.
The diagnosis of IBS is generally made on the basis of clinical manifestations and symptom criteria. (Table 3). Typically, a patient with IBS will present to the office with variable complaints of abdominal pain, altered bowel habits and bloating. The abdominal discomfort may be quite heterogeneous in quality, intensity and location. The pain is characteristically relieved by the passage of stool or flatus and may be exacerbated by eating or emotional stress. Moreover, there appears to be considerable overlap with functional esophageal, gastroduodenal, bowel and anorectal symptoms. In one study of patients presenting with typical IBS symptoms, dyspepsia was found to be the predominant symptom one year later. Extraintestinal complaints such as fatigue, headache, urological symptoms and fibromyalgia are often present as well.[41,45]
Approximately half of the patients with functional bowel disease suffer from depression and anxiety. Previous physical and sexual abuse is also more frequently found and is associated with increased IBS severity and physician visits.[47,48]
Choosing which, if any, laboratory, endoscopic or radiological tests to order will depend on a detailed history and physical examination. New onset complaints in an older patient, nocturnal symptoms, weight loss, fever or a steadily deteriorating course should prompt a diligent search for more ominous diseases such as malignancy or inflammatory bowel disease. A CBC is appropriate and many physicians will also add a chemistry panel, thyroid tests and a sedimentation rate. However, these tests are rarely abnormal in the young patient presenting with symptoms typical of IBS.
For diarrhea predominant patients, stool evaluation for ova and parasites, Giardia antigen, occult blood and qualitative fat are important considerations. Measurement of serum carotene can aid in the evaluation of malabsorption. Moreover, a 48-72 hour stool collection for weight and fat can be crucial in distinguishing IBS from a more serious condition. Absence of steatorrhea (< 7 gms of stool fat/24h ) and total stool output (< 200-250 gms/24h ) in patients consuming a diet containing 100 gms of fat per day are consistent with functional disease.
Flexible sigmoidoscopy is appropriate in patients with chronic diarrhea to rule out significant mucosal disease. Colonoscopy should strongly be considered for any individual over the age of 50 with new symptoms or a family history of colorectal neoplasms. Furthermore, in the female patient with predominantly lower abdominal pain, a careful pelvic examination is mandatory and a gynecologic referral or pelvic ultrasonography may be indicated as well.
A strong physician-patient relationship is critical and allows for effective education and reassurance. Dietary modification is appropriate when gas-forming vegetables and fruits, excessive caffeine, fructose or sorbitol containing products exacerbate the symptoms. Similarly, a 2 week trial of a lactose free diet is a practical consideration.
Although the efficacy of fiber supplementation in IBS has never been definitively proven, a therapeutic trial is recommended. Natural fiber such as wheat bran or supplements like psyllium, polycarbophil, and methylcellulose may all cause bloating and discomfort, but these symptoms usually resolve within a few weeks. Tailoring the medications to particular symptoms should be the rule. For patients with predominant pain, antispasmodics or anticholinergic agents may be of benefit. In addition, low dose tricyclic antidepressants may be useful by directly modulating sensory nerve pathways, via antidepressant effects or by anticholinergic side effects. For diarrhea prone patients judicious usage of loperamide is often helpful. Further information regarding the diagnosis and management of IBS are available in recent reviews.[51,52]
III.E.5. Indications for Referral
1 Severe or refractory symptoms
2 Diagnosis is unclear
3 Evidence of rectal bleeding
III.F. Ischemic Bowel Disease
III.F.1. Acute Mesenteric Ischemia
III.F.1.a. Clinical Features
ischemia (AMI) is increasingly common, accounting for 0.1% of hospital admissions.
It is a highly morbid condition, with a mortality rate exceeding 60%.[53,54]
Risk factors for AMI include cardiac arrhythmias, advanced age, low cardiac
output, atherosclerosis, congestive heart failure, severe valvular cardiac disease,
recent myocardial infarction, and intra-abdominal malignancy.
Causes of AMI include mesenteric arterial occlusion (either embolus or thrombosis),
mesenteric venous occlusion, and nonocclusive events (e.g. vasospasm). While
approximately 50% of cases of AMI are attributable to embolization of the superior
mesenteric artery, 25% of AMI cases result from thrombosis of a pre-existing
arthrosclerotic lesion, and approximately 25% of AMI cases result from nonocclusive
mesenteric ischemia (NOMI).
Given the numerous underlying etiologies, the clinical presentation can be quite variable. Abdominal pain is classically out of proportion to the physical exam findings of tenderness. The pain may initially be colicky in nature, it generally progresses to a continuous, less severe pain. Associated symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea, with or without hematochezia. Patients may be asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms (e.g. ischemic colitis or traumatic disruption); some may have abdominal distention and bloody stool (e.g. venous thrombosis or arterial embolism); and others may have severe symptoms, with sudden onset of crampy, continuous pain (e.g. arterial thrombosis). Physical exam may initially be benign, though abdominal distention, hyperactive bowel sounds, peritoneal signs, and sepsis may develop.(Table 12)
Diagnosis of acute mesenteric ischemia requires a high index of suspicion in many cases, as the clinical presentation and laboratory findings are often nonspecific. Laboratory abnormalities may include leukocytosis, acidosis, and elevations of amylase, alkaline phosphatase, or creatine phosphokinase. Abdominal radiographs may reveal a nonspecific bowel gas pattern or, in late cases, pneumatosis intestinalis. Angiography is often diagnostic, especially in cases of thrombosis and embolism. Other radiologic tests of use include CT, MRI, and duplex ultrasound of the aorta and splanchnic vessels. Laparotomy may be required for definitive diagnosis as well as treatment.
Patients with intestinal ischemia require aggressive supportive care, including treatment of cardiovascular collapse and sepsis. Careful monitoring of volume status and urine output, as well as broad spectrum antibiotics are warranted. Surgical consultation should be emergently obtained for consideration of laparotomy.
III.F.2. Chronic Mesenteric Vascular Occlusive Disease
Nonacute occlusive intestinal ischemia or intestinal angina is a relatively uncommon disorder most often caused by severe atherosclerotic disease of at least two of the three major splanchnic vessels (celiac, superior and inferior mesenteric arteries). Typically there are plaque stenoses located at the ostia of the aorta or involving the proximal first few centimeters of the vessel.
Despite the relatively high prevalence of atherosclerotic disease of mesenteric vessels on autopsy, angiographic studies or duplex ultrasound scanning, clinical evidence of chronic ischemia is quite uncommon.[61,62,63] Splanchnic collateral blood flow is generally well preserved and many individuals will remain without complaints despite the presence of significant occlusive disease.
Symptomatic patients typically suffer from recurrent mid-abdominal pain generally occurring within 10-30 minutes of eating. The pain may be described as dull or cramping in nature and will often persist for 2-4 hours before gradually dissipating. In the more advanced setting, marked weight loss results from a fear of eating and the consumption of smaller meals. Not surprisingly, coronary or peripheral vascular disease may also be evident.
After ruling out more common causes of abdominal pain, workup begins with noninvasive doppler flow studies of the mesenteric vessels. Angiography is generally necessary to confirm diagnosis.
Percutaneous balloon angioplasty, endarterectomy and surgical bypass procedures have all been employed with variable success.[64,65]
III.F.3. Colonic Ischemia
Colonic ischemia is the most common form of gastrointestinal ischemia. The majority of patients are elderly with concomitant atherosclerotic disease. Major risk factors include elective aortic surgery and ruptured aortic aneurysm repair. Other factors include acute cardiac failure, shock or hypovolemia. Classic watershed areas such as the splenic flexure and sigmoid colon are particularly susceptible to ischemic injury. Younger individuals may also develop colon ischemia secondary to systemic vasculitis, medication reactions (estrogens, vasopressin, gold compounds), drug abuse (methamphetamines and cocaine) and long distance running. Colon ischemia has been recently reviewed.
III.F.3.b. Clinical features
Acute onset of lower abdominal cramping discomfort, followed by rectal bleeding is typical. Hemodynamically significant bleeding is uncommon. Examination usually reveals mild to moderate tenderness over the affected colonic segment. Marked tenderness or rebound suggests bowel necrosis, demanding an urgent surgical consultation.
Differential diagnosis includes infection, inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulitis and malignancy. Diagnosis is generally made by flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. Submucosal hemorrhage, edema and ulceration are classically noted. Biopsies confirm ischemia when there is mucosal infarction.
Initial management involves optimizing the patients fluid and cardiovascular status. Some physicians advocate the use of broad spectrum antibiotics although this has never been proven to be of benefit in humans.
4. Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
III. F. 4. a. Etiology and Pathophysiology
Most intra-abdominal aneurysms occur in the aorta below the origin of the renal arteries. Their cause is multi-factorial and related to weakening in the collagenous wall of the aorta. When aneurysms leak they cause stretching of sensory nerves in the retroperitoneum around the aorta and result in lower-back pain and sometimes symptoms of renal colic.
III. F. 4. b. Clinical Features
Most abdominal aortic aneurysms are asymptomatic until they rupture. Sometimes lower-mid-abdominal pain is present prior to rupture although this is unusual. Most commonly, pain is the main feature of a ruptured aneurysm. The patient typically describes a very severe, sudden, tearing pain in the mid-abdomen and back, often with radiation to the left flank. With rapid blood loss, there are symptoms and signs of shock including syncope and orthostatic dizziness.
III. F. 4. c. Management
Initial management is directed at correcting hypovolemia with large caliber intravascular access, and infusion of crystalloid and blood. This is a medical and surgical emergency that requires prompt operative intervention.
The annual incidence of acute appendicitis is 1:1,000. The risk for a child less than 5 years of age of having an appendectomy for appendicitis is about 8.6% for boys and 6.7% for girls. Approximately 80% of cases occur in people less than 40 years of age, with a peak incidence in those aged 10-30.
III.G.2. Clinical Features
The clinical features of patients with appendicitis are shown in (Table 6). Abdominal pain was universally present in this study. Diarrhea may be present in some patients. The features of appendicitis with and without perforation are shown in (Table 7). The risk of perforation is increased in preschool children and elderly patients. The differential diagnosis of acute appendicitis includes pyelonephritis, gastroenteritis, pelvic inflammatory disease, ovarian cyst, ruptured ectopic pregnancy, Crohn's disease, cecal diverticulitis, mesenteric adenitis, and infectious ileocolitis.
The diagnosis of acute appendicitis is often difficult. Rasmussen and Hoffmann have reviewed the reliability of the signs and symptoms of acute appendicitis. Migration of pain to the right iliac fossa and/or guarding/rigidity supports the diagnosis of appendicitis. However, the diagnosis should be doubted in the absence of anorexia, nausea and vomiting, or when the symptoms have persisted for more than 72 hours without perforation, or when tenderness is absent from the right iliac fossa. One study suggests the following indicators favoring appendicitis over pelvic inflammatory disease in young women with right lower quadrant pain: anorexia and onset of pain later than day 14 of the menstrual cycle. Indicators favoring pelvic inflammatory disease included a history of vaginal discharge, urinary symptoms, prior pelvic inflammatory disease, tenderness outside the right lower quadrant, cervical motion tenderness, vaginal discharge, and positive urinalysis.
Ultrasonography is often very useful in the diagnosis of appendicitis, with a positive and negative predictive value of approximately 90%. However, in a meta-analysis of studies of ultrasound for appendicitis, Orr et al. concluded that ultrasound should not be used in the setting of a classic presentation for appendicitis due to a high false-negative rate. The normal appendix is compressible with a diameter of <6 mm. When appendicitis is present, the appendix is typically fluid-filled, noncompressible, distended beyond 6 mm, and tender with focal compression. The positive and negative predictive values of CT also exceed 90% (Table 8). Although ultrasound is less expensive and more available that CT, ultrasound is also more operator dependent than CT.
Surgical consultation should be immediately obtained when patients are suspected of having acute appendicitis.
III.H. Diverticular Disease
III.H.1. Clinical Features
Diverticulosis of the colon is quite common and is associated with aging and with decreased fiber intake. As most patients with diverticulosis are asymptomatic, one must use caution before attributing symptoms to diverticulosis. Patients with diverticulosis may complain of crampy discomfort, typically in the left lower quadrant, which is often associated with constipation or diarrhea. Physical exam often reveals tenderness over the left lower abdomen. When fever, leukocytosis, or rebound tenderness are present, diverticulitis should be suspected. A palpable inflammatory mass may be present and there is often a change in bowel habits (either constipation or diarrhea). In elderly patients, a high index of suspicion for diverticulitis is necessary as they may not have classic symptoms of diverticulitis. Diverticulitis is reported to occur in about 10-25% of persons with diverticulosis who are followed for more than 10 years. Most of these patients can be managed as an outpatient with oral antibiotics. Complications of diverticulitis include abscess formation, fibrosis, bowel obstruction, fistulization (e.g. to the bladder, vagina, or bowel), and peritonitis. Brisk, painless bleeding may be present.
The diagnosis of diverticulitis can be facilitated with the use of ultrasound or CT. Barium enema should not be performed in the setting of acute symptoms in order to allow for resolution of some of the inflammatory process and to minimize the risk of perforation. Colonoscopy should likewise be avoided upon initial presentation. All patients should have colonic imaging with either barium enema or colonoscopy after an initial attack of diverticulitis has subsided in order to exclude tumors and other significant pathology.
The medical treatment of diverticular disease is outlined in (Table 9). Surgery may be necessary for patients who fail medical therapy within 72 hours, patients with two or more episodes of diverticulitis, and immunocompromised patients. Some have recommended surgical treatment for those patients who have diverticulitis prior to age 40.[71,72] However, this recommendation has recently be challenged. Surgical consultation should be obtained for patients with signs or symptoms of peritonitis or obstruction, or when an abscess is present.
III.I. Gallstone Disease
III.I.1. Biliary Colic
Classic biliary colic is characterized by a discrete episode of steady, severe pain, typically located in the epigastrium or right upper quadrant. It may radiate into the back or right scapular region but usually does not fluctuate, as implied by the term colic. In general, the pain comes on rapidly, lasts from 30 minutes to 3 hours, and then gradually subsides. Biliary colic is not associated with fever, leukocytosis, or acute peritoneal signs. The presence of these findings, or biliary pain that lasts for more than 4 to 6 hours, should raise suspicion for acute cholecystitis. On occasion, it is difficult to differentiate biliary colic from cardiac pain or other intraabdominal processes. Taking a careful history is absolutely critical because an accurate description of the quality and character of the pain often is the only criterion on which the decision to operate is based. Moreover, an ill-advised cholecystectomy for atypical or vague symptomatology often results in the postoperative recurrence of identical complaints.
True attacks of biliary pain should be distinguished from dyspeptic symptoms such as belching, epigastric burning, bloating, heartburn, flatulence and fatty food intolerance. These are nonspecific complaints and suggest other diagnoses, such as gastroesophageal reflux, peptic ulcer disease, or irritable bowel syndrome. Similarly, abdominal discomfort that is present day after day or is fleeting in nature (less than 10 to 15 minutes) should not be attributed to the presence of gallstones. Ultrasonographic findings of gallstones are shown in (figure 3A).
III.I.2. Acute Cholecystitis
Acute obstruction of the cystic duct by a stone leads to gallbladder distention and a host of potential injury-inducing mechanisms. Histologically, the findings range from edema, erythema, and mild mucosal inflammation to gross infiltration of the wall with polymorphonuclear neutrophils and evidence of frank necrosis and perforation.
On clinical presentation, patients with acute cholecystitis often complain of continuous upper abdominal pain and a history of similar, but self-limited, attacks in the past (i.e. biliary colic). They may be nauseated, but usually do not obtain pain relief by vomiting or changing positions. On examination, these patients typically have temperatures of 99 degrees to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and exhibit right subcostal tenderness and localized parietal pain because of progressive gallbladder inflammation. A classic Murphys sign may be elicited when the patients inspiration is abruptly halted as a result of contact of an inflamed gallbladder and the parietal peritoneum. Generalized rebound tenderness and an acute, rigid abdomen should raise suspicion for a perforation. Ultrasonic findings of acute cholecystitis are shown in figure 4.
III.I.3.a. Clinical Features
Choledocholithiasis, or stones in the common bile duct, are found in about 10-15 percent of patients with symptomatic gallstones. Most of these stones originate in the gallbladder and pass through the cystic duct into the common bile duct. Although some stones pass uneventfully into the duodenum, or reside in the duct without causing apparent symptoms, the natural history of common duct stones is much less benign than that of incidental stones found in the gallbladder. Obstruction in the distal duct or ampulla may give rise to serious complications of jaundice, cholangitis, or gallstone pancreatitis.
The term cholangitis refers to the presence of a bacterial infection behind an obstructed bile duct. Patients with cholangitis may have biliary pain, fever or chills, and jaundice (Charcots triad). Findings on examination often are less dramatic than the parietal pain and local tenderness of acute cholecystitis.
The clinical diagnosis of choledocholithiasis can be quite difficult. Common laboratory features include elevated bilirubin, alkaline phosphatase, and AST. The common bile duct diameter may also be increased, though may be normal. Ultrasound may demonstrate choledocholithiasis, though the majority of stones are missed. In a review of 1264 consecutive patients undergoing cholecystectomy, the presence or absence of choledocholithiasis was confirmed in 465 patients. Important independent predictors of choledocholithiasis included bilirubin, common bile duct diameter, AST, alkaline phosphatase, and age. Blood cultures are commonly positive and the organisms found include E coli, Klebsiella, Enterobacter, Pseudomonas, Enterococci, and gut anaerobe species (15 percent).
Some patients respond clinically to aggressive broad-spectrum antibiotic coverage and intravenous fluids. However, true cholangitis should be viewed as a medical emergency and the presence of hypotension, mental status changes or severe sepsis should prompt the immediate drainage of the biliary system by endoscopic sphincterotomy, percutaneous transhepatic drainage, or surgery.
III.I.4. Indications for Referral
1.Patient with typical episode/s of biliary colic.
2.Evidence of acute cholecystitis
1. Diagnosis of biliary colic uncertain or equivocal.
2. Evidence of biliary obstruction
3. Clinical suspicion of cholangitis
III.J. Acute Pancreatitis
Steady upper abdominal pain is the hallmark feature of acute pancreatitis. The pain often radiates to the back and may be associated with variable degrees of nausea and vomiting. On examination, the tenderness is localized to the epigastrium in mild cases and may be generalized with rigidity and guarding in severe cases.
The diagnosis of acute pancreatitis depends on the history and physical exam as well as confirmatory elevations in either amylase or lipase levels. If either enzyme is greater than 3 times the normal range, the diagnosis is virtually secure. Levels below this are nonspecific and other intra-abdominal conditions as well as renal insufficiency may be the cause. Lipase levels are probably more specific than amylase levels and remain elevated for a longer period of time. Absolute levels do not correlate with severity. Serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) is the most useful liver blood test for the diagnosis of gallstone pancreatitis. ALT levels greater than three times normal are 95% specific for biliary pancreatitis but only 50% sensitive. A combination of abdominal ultrasonography (US) and abnormal liver blood tests (ALT, bilirubin) offers the best accuracy. An ultrasound to detect gallstones, sludge or dilation of the common bile duct should be a routine examination in all patients with an initial episode of acute pancreatitis. The evaluation and management of acute pancreatitis has been recently reviewed.
III.J.2.a. Obstructive Causes of Acute Pancreatitis
2. Ampullary obstruction
Sphincter of Oddi dysfunction
3. Other duodenal abnormalities
Afferent loop obstruction
Pancreatic duct stricture
Parasites (Ascaris, Clinorchis)
III.J.2.b. Toxic or Metabolic Causes of Acute Pancreatitis
2. Hypertriglyceridemia (>2000 mg/dl)
5. Drugs (see Table 12 Drugs associated w/ pancreatitis)
III.J.2.c. Miscellaneous Causes of Acute Pancreatitis
2. Viral (mumps, coxsackie, CMV, hepatitis A, B, C)
3. Ischemia (hypoperfusion, vasculitis, emboli)
4. Penetrating ulcer
5. Post-procedural (ERCP, sphincterotomy)
7. Choledochal cyst
Several prognostic scoring systems have been developed to help identify the patient with severe pancreatitis (Ransons criteria (Table 5), Apache II , (Table 13) ). Ransons criteria (Table 5) are probably the most widely recognized signs. Severe pancreatitis is defined by having three or more criteria. Moreover, mortality has been shown to be approximately 10-20% in those individuals with 3-5 Ransons signs present and > 50% with 6 or more. Patients identified with severe pancreatitis should be aggressively supported in an intensive care setting with intravenous fluid support and monitoring of serum calcium. Prophylactic antibiotics such as imipenem or a fluoroquinolone should be administered.[80,82] If there is evidence of severe biliary pancreatitis of suspected gallstone origin or cholangitis then urgent ERCP should be performed.[80,82]
Dynamic CT imaging may be used to distinguish between interstitial and necrotizing pancreatitis. It is especially helpful in the patient who is not improving or when there is evidence of infectious complications. In this situation a CT guided fine needle aspiration directed at areas of fluid collection or necrosis should be performed to rule out pancreatic infection.
Pancreatitis may result in local and systemic complications. Local complications may include pancreatic necrosis (with or without infection) (figure 6), fluid collections and pseudocysts (figure 7), fistulas and pancreatic ascites. Systemic complications include shock, hypocalcemia, gastrointestinal hemorrhage, renal dysfunction, respiratory failure, and vascular thrombosis.
III.J.5. Reasons for GI referral:
1 Severe pancreatitis
2 Evidence of biliary pancreatitis
3 Suspected cholangitis
III.K. Chronic pancreatitis
A deep, boring, upper abdominal pain often radiating to the back is the most typical feature of chronic pancreatitis. The pain may be partially relieved by sitting upright and leaning forward and is frequently exacerbated by eating meals. The pattern is quite variable with some individuals experiencing discrete episodes followed by pain free intervals, while others complain of nearly constant pain. Weight loss from anorexia and decreased caloric intake is often observed and may be profound in the advanced cases. Pancreatic exocrine insufficiency and steatorrhea or endocrine insufficiency leading to poorly controlled diabetes are also important factors. Alcohol use is the most common cause of chronic pancreatitis in the United States. Other causes of chronic pancreatitis include hereditary pancreatitis, obstructive chronic pancreatitis, tropical pancreatitis, and idiopathic pancreatitis.
Amylase and lipase levels may be elevated, particularly early in the clinical course or during discrete episodes or attacks. As the disease progresses, the magnitude of the enzyme levels diminish and often become normal in individuals complaining of constant unremitting pain. Distal bile duct obstruction from disease in the head of the pancreas may be reflected in a rise of serum bilirubin, alkaline phosphatase or transaminases.
Diabetes results when more than 80% of the gland is destroyed. Stool collections for 48 or 72 hours may demonstrate steatorrhea. Normal fecal fat is < 7g of fat excreted/24 hours on a 100 gm fat/day diet. Physiologic or pancreatic function studies such as the secretin stimulation or bentiromide tests are reliable only in those patients with advanced disease. Since these patients can usually be diagnosed by other means, functional studies are rarely used in routine clinical practice.
Plain films demonstrating calcifications in the region of the pancreas are virtually pathognomonic for chronic pancreatitis.(figure 8) These calcifications are intraductal in location and are most often observed in alcoholic or hereditary pancreatitis. Computed tomography, particularly helical CT, is superior to ultrasonography in imaging the pancreas. Mass lesions, fluid collections and pseudocysts, subtle calcifications, ductal dilatation may be seen. Complications such as splenic or portal vein thrombosis may also be demonstrated. ERCP is quite sensitive in assessing for pancreatic ductal abnormalities such as focal strictures, dilation or ectatic changes of the main duct and blunting of the side branches. Endoscopic ultrasound or EUS has been shown to have excellent sensitivity and specificity for chronic pancreatitis. Heterogeneity of pancreatic parenchymal echogenicity, along with dilatation of the ductal system are the key features and appear to be quite specific for chronic pancreatitis.
Steatorrhea occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce sufficient lipase to digest dietary fat. This does not occur until pancreatic lipase is reduced to <10% of normal. Pancreatic enzyme supplementation with approximately 30,000 U of lipase per meal is an effective means of controlling steatorrhea. Either enteric-coated enzyme preparations should be used, or gastric acid should be suppressed with H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors to prevent intragastric enzyme degradation.[83,84,85] If steatorrhea persists, a low fat diet with medium chain triglyceride supplementation may improve the symptoms.
The pain of chronic pancreatitis can be very difficult to manage. Abstention from alcohol use is critical, especially in patients with alcoholic chronic pancreatitis. Analgesics are often required to control pain due to chronic pancreatitis. A single provider should take responsibility for prescribing analgesia in order to minimize abuse. The use of a chronic pain clinic is often useful. The role of pancreatic enzyme supplementation for pain control is controversial and requires further study.[86,87] The use of octreotide to reduce pain is under study and cannot be recommended at this time. Endoscopic and surgical treatment may be appropriate for select patients. The treatment of pain in chronic pancreatitis has been recently reviewed.
III.K.3. Indications for GI referral
1. Etiology of chronic pancreatitis is unclear
2. Pain is severe or difficult to manage
3. Progressive weight loss
4. Complications including pseudocysts, biliary obstruction, splenic vein thrombosis, pancreatic ascites or fistula
5. Abdominal imaging showing either a dilated pancreatic duct or suggestion of a mass lesion.
III.L. Pancreatic Carcinoma
In the U.S. approximately 29,000 new cases of pancreatic carcinoma are diagnosed each year. It remains a lethal disease with only 3% of patients alive at 5 years. Cigarette smoking, chronic pancreatitis and in particular hereditary pancreatitis appear to be associated with an increased frequency of pancreatic cancer.[92,93] Most patients are over age 60.
III.L.2. Clinical features
Symptomatic patients often complain of anorexia, weight loss, or abdominal pain. Jaundice and biliary obstruction may be present if the mass involves the head of the pancreas. Recently, a group of investigators showed that the presence of abdominal pain was a negative predictor of resectability and survival.
III.L.3. Diagnosis and Staging
Helical CT imaging is gaining widespread acceptance for diagnosis and staging of pancreatic carcinoma (figure 9). It has a reported accuracy of 77%, 58%, and 79% for determination of the T(tumor), N(node), and M(metastasis) stage. Moreover, a grading system to determine unresectability demonstrated sensitivities and specificities of 84% and 98% when greater than half the circumference of a major visceral vessel (SMA, SMV, portal vein, celiac or hepatic arteries) was involved with tumor. There is some debate regarding the necessity of a CT guided fine needle aspiration (FNA) for preoperative diagnosis of carcinoma. Some pancreatic surgeons believe that if the history and blood test abnormalities suggest carcinoma and the helical CT demonstrates a resectable mass in the head of the pancreas, then the patient should be prepared for an operation.
The role of endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) continues to be defined. It appears to offer more accurate detection of smaller than 3cm lesions, better lymph node staging, and determination of major venous involvement that precludes complete surgical resection. In addition it offers the potential for diagnostic fine needle aspiration. EUS is operator dependent and has not been widely available.
Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) should be performed particularly if the bile or pancreatic ducts are dilated and no discrete mass is seen by CT imaging (figure 10). Periampullary lesions may be endoscopically identified and biopsied. Alternatively a focal irregular pancreatic duct stricture or cutoff consistent with a small pancreatic mass may be demonstrated. Ductal brushings for cytology and/or molecular marker studies may enhance the diagnostic accuracy.
Palliative therapy is available for relief of jaundice, duodenal obstruction, and pain control. In jaundiced patients who are unresectable, ERCP and biliary stent decompression offers the least invasive form of palliation. For duodenal obstruction, laparoscopic surgical bypass or endoscopic duodenal stent placement should be considered. Pain due to pancreatic carcinoma can often be controlled with narcotic analgesia. However, a celiac plexus block can be performed for refractory pain.
Surgical resection offers the only chance for longterm survival. Unfortunately, only 10-15% are truly resectable at the time of the diagnosis. Moreover, the best results suggest that no more than 20% of those who are resected for cure will be alive at 5 years.[100,101]
To date only one randomized trial of adjuvant chemoradiation following potential resection for cure has been published. A modest increase in survival was documented. Gemcitabine, a novel nucleoside analogue, appears to offer a small improvement in survival as well as quality of life for those with unresectable cancer.
III.L.5. Indications for GI Referral
1 Evaluation of obstructive jaundice
2 Dilated bile and/or pancreatic ducts without a discrete mass lesion
3 CT evidence of a potentially resectable pancreatic mass lesion
III.M. Renal Stones (Nephrolithiasis)
III.M.1. Clinical Presentation
Urinary tract obstruction causes pain as a result of distention of the collecting system or renal capsule. The rate at which distention occurs, rather than the degree of distention, determines the degree of pain, which can often be quite severe. Patients with nephrolithiasis usually present with flank pain. This pain is typically constant and steady, in contrast to intestinal pain, though it can be cramping or colicky. The pain often radiates to the lower abdomen initially, then includes the testes or labia as the stone moves distally. Nausea and vomiting are commonly present. The patient is typically uncomfortable appearing and restless, with costovertebral angle tenderness and abdominal tenderness. Signs of peritonitis should be absent.
In patient with nephrolithiasis, urinalysis usually reveals microscopic or gross hematuria, though it may be absent in up to 10% of patients. Pyuria is variably present. An abdominal radiograph may show the location of the stone, as 90% of stones are radio-opaque. According to a study of 288 patients with intractable flank pain, the combination of a plain film of the abdomen with an ultrasound to identify the presence of a calculus in the renal-urinary tract has a positive predictive value of 100% and a negative predictive value of 81%. See (Table 10) for the test characteristics of plain film, ultrasound, and the combination compared to the gold standard of an intravenous urogram. Unenhanced helical CT has also been shown to be an excellent test for the identification of ureteral stone disease. In a study of 417 patients with acute flank pain, CT had a 95% sensitivity, 98% specificity and 97% accuracy. These authors recommend unenhanced CT for patients with flank pain and either no history of stone disease, or a history of stone disease with no visible stone on abdominal radiograph. The differential diagnosis of renal colic includes dissection of the aorta, musculoskeletal pain and malingering.
Patients with nausea and vomiting may be unable to maintain adequate hydration and require admission to the hospital for management. Urologic consultation should be obtained when fever is present (suggesting proximal infection); when there is evidence of complete ureteral obstruction with a nonfunctioning kidney; when the patient has a solitary kidney; when there is evidence of extravasation of urine; or for stones larger than 7 mm, as spontaneous passage is unlikely. Other patients may be managed conservatively with oral hydration. The urine should be screened in an attempt to recover the stone. Narcotic analgesics and antiemetics are usually required. If the stone has not passed within 6 weeks, urologic consultation should be obtained.
III.M.4. Indications for Urologic Consultation
Commonly used treatments
for PID in the ambulatory setting include:
1. Ceftriaxone 250 mg IM, one dose, or Cefoxitin (Mefoxin), 2gm IM, one dose with Probenecid 1 gm orally,
plus Doxycycline, 100 mg orally twice a day for 14 days,
2. Ofloxacin, 400 mg orally two times a day for 14 days, plus Metronidazole 500 mg orally, two times a day for 14 days.
3. Trovafloxacin, 200mg daily for 14 days .
Inpatient treatment regimens include the following:
1. Cefoxitin 2 g IV every 6 hours or cefotetan 2 g IV every 12 hours, and Doxycycline 100 mg IV or orally every 12 hours,
2. Gentamicin 2 mg/kg IV or IM as an initial dose followed by 1.5 mg/kg every 8 hours, and Clindamycin 900 mg IV every 8 hours.
Patients with TOA may be managed with medical therapy in many cases. Inpatient management is appropriate to insure an adequate response to therapy. Some cases will require a drainage procedure (e.g. CT directed drainage). However, surgical intervention is appropriate to prevent septic shock and potential death in the following situations:
1. Questionable diagnoses, when another surgical emergency may exist (e.g. appendicitis)
2. Rupture of an abscess
3. Failure of medical therapy
Endometriosis is the presence of ectopic foci of endometrial tissue. The pathophysiologic process by which endometriosis causes pain is not well understood. Many patients with endometriosis are asymptomatic. In fact, during laparoscopic tubal ligation, between 15%-43% of asymptomatic women are found to have endometriosis.[128,129] Nevertheless, endometriosis is one of the most common indications for hysterectomy in the United States.
The clinical features of endometriosis may include pelvic pain, tenderness, or dyspareunia. The pain classically is described as dysmenorrhea with pelvic pain and dyspareunia. The cyclic nature with exacerbation before and during menses suggests an hormonal influence. Although some patients may experience pain throughout the cycle, constant or non-cyclic pain suggests another etiology.
Endometriosis may be suspected on the basis of clinical presentation and response to therapy. However, surgical exploration remains the standard diagnostic approach, as other conditions (e.g. dysmenorrhea) may respond similarly to therapy directed at presumed endometriosis. The diagnosis of endometriosis may be reliably established based upon the visual characteristics seen during laparoscopy, without the need for histologic confirmation. In a clinical commentary on endometriosis, Hurd proposed three criteria necessary for the attribution of chronic pelvic pain to endometriosis.