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Blunt Abdominal Trauma

Outline of man showing gastrointestinal system.

Your abdomen extends from just below your chest to the top of your pelvis. It contains a number of vital organs, including your spleen, liver, pancreas, and stomach. These organs can be injured by the impact from a car accident or fall. Injury from a force that doesn’t break your skin to penetrate your body is known as blunt trauma.

When to go to the emergency room (ER)

Injury to your abdomen can be very serious. For that reason, a person with blunt abdominal trauma should be taken to the ER by trained medical personnel in an ambulance. The effects of blunt trauma often don’t appear right away, so it’s important to see a healthcare provider after a hard blow to the abdomen, even if you feel OK.

What to expect in the ER

Your breathing and pulse will be checked. You also will be examined carefully for injuries. Severe trauma may need surgery right away. Otherwise you will be watched closely for a time. You may also need to have one or more tests to find out the extent of your injuries. These may include:

  • Blood or urine tests need a sample of the blood or urine to be taken and checked for problems.

  • X-rays use radiation to take pictures of inside the body. It's mostly used to look for broken bones.

  • CT scan combines X-rays and a computer. This gives a detailed picture that can show problems with organs. These include your kidneys, spleen, liver, and stomach.

  • Ultrasound uses radio waves to make images of the organs in your abdomen. It can also quickly find internal bleeding if it's there.

  • Diagnostic peritoneal lavage (DPL) involves putting a needle and plastic catheter through the skin into your belly (abdomen). This is to check fluid from your abdomen for signs of blood (internal bleeding). This procedure is rarely used anymore.

Based on the test results, you may be admitted to the hospital. Or you may have further care in the ER.

When to call your healthcare provider

After treatment, call your healthcare provider right away if you notice any of these symptoms:

  • Increased pain or swelling in your abdomen

  • Nausea or vomiting

Call 911

Call 911 or get immediate medical care if any of the following occur:

  • Weakness or fainting

  • Blood in your stool or urine

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