Thursday, December 18, 2014

Abdominal sounds

Table of Contents

Abdominal sounds are always evaluated together with symptoms such as:

  • Gas
  • Nausea
  • Presence or absence of bowel movements
  • Vomiting

If bowel sounds are hypoactive or hyperactive and there are other abnormal symptoms, it is important for you to have continued follow-up with your health care provider.

For example, no bowel sounds after a period of hyperactive bowel sounds can mean there is a rupture of the intestines, or strangulation of the bowel and death (necrosis) of the bowel tissue.

Very high-pitched bowel sounds may be a sign of early bowel obstruction.


Common Causes

Most of the sounds you hear in your stomach and intestines are due to normal digestion and are no need for concern. Many conditions can cause hyperactive or hypoactive bowel sounds. Most are harmless and do not need to be treated.

The following is a list of more serious conditions that can cause abnormal bowel sounds.

Hyperactive, hypoactive, or missing bowel sounds:

  • Blocked blood vessels prevent the intestines from getting proper blood flow. For example, blood clots can cause mesenteric artery occlusion.
  • Mechanical bowel obstruction is caused by hernia, tumor, adhesions, or similar conditions that can block the intestines.
  • Paralytic ileus is a problem with the nerves to the intestines. Reduced nerve activity can result from:
    • Blood vessel blockage
    • Bowel blockage
    • Chemical imbalances such as hypokalemia
    • Infection
    • Overexpansion of the bowel
    • Trauma

Other causes of hypoactive bowel sounds:

  • Drugs that reduce intestinal movements such as opiates (including codeine), anticholinergics, and phenothiazines
  • General anesthesia
  • Radiation to the abdomen
  • Spinal anesthesia
  • Surgery in the abdomen

Other causes of hyperactive bowel sounds:

  • Crohn's disease
  • Diarrhea
  • Food allergy
  • GI bleeding
  • Infectious enteritis
  • Ulcerative colitis

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Review Date: 10/30/2010
Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org)