Emergency department assessment of abdominal pain: clinical indicator tests for detecting peritonism

Eur J Emerg Med. 2005 Dec;12(6):275-7. doi: 10.1097/00063110-200512000-00005.


Objectives: Peritonism is a finding that leads to a more cautious approach in the emergency department management of abdominal pain. This study examined whether peritonism assessment using inspiration, expiration and cough tests was associated with the patient's clinical management.

Methods: This prospective observational study evaluated consecutive patients presenting directly to the emergency department for 3 months from June 2000 with abdominal pain. Triage initial observations of blood pressure, pulse, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation and temperature were recorded. The examining emergency physician recorded each patient's response and pain score to the individual peritonism tests and scored it as positive if there was an indication of it being a painful manoeuvre. The results were blinded from the receiving specialty if subsequent referral was required.

Results: Sixty-seven patients had peritonism tests performed. No individual test was more painful than the others with similar values in pain scores. In all, 70% (7/10) were admitted when all three tests were positive, compared with 21% (12/57) when two or less of the tests scored positive (P=0.004, Fisher's exact test). Admission was not associated with any individual test or combination of tests, or any other variable. The peritonism tests were not associated with any other physiological observation or measurement.

Conclusions: These peritonism tests represent a simple investigation, and are significantly associated with admission when all three tests are positive. They seem to be a clinical predictor of cases in which continuing assessment was required, and may be useful as a departmental 'safety net' in the management of abdominal pain.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain / diagnosis*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement
  • Peritonitis / diagnosis*
  • Physical Examination
  • Prospective Studies