An Overview of Physical Examination and History Taking An Overview

An Overview of Physical Examination and History Taking An Overview

C H A P T E R An Overview of Physical Examination and History Taking 1 The techniques of physical examination and history taking that you are about...

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An Overview of Physical Examination and History Taking


The techniques of physical examination and history taking that you are about to learn embody time-honored skills of healing and patient care. Your ability to gather a sensitive and nuanced history and to perform a thorough and accurate examination deepens your patient relationships, focuses your patient assessment, and sets the direction of your clinical thinking. The quality of your history and physical examination governs your next steps with the patient and guides your choices from the initially bewildering array of secondary testing and technology. Over the course of becoming an accomplished clinician, you will polish these important relational and clinical skills for a lifetime. As you enter the realm of patient assessment, you begin integrating the essential elements of clinical care: empathic listening; the ability to interview patients of all ages, moods, and backgrounds; the techniques for examining the different body systems; and, finally, the process of clinical reasoning. Your experience with history taking and physical examination will grow and expand, and the steps of clinical reasoning will soon begin with the first moments of the patient encounter: identifying problem symptoms and abnormal findings; linking findings to an underlying process of pathophysiology or psychopathology; and establishing and testing a set of explanatory hypotheses. Working through these steps will reveal the multifaceted profile of the patient before you. Paradoxically, the very skills that allow you to assess all patients also shape the image of the unique human being entrusted to your care.

Clinical Assessment: The Road Ahead


This chapter provides a road map to clinical proficiency in three critical areas: the health history, the physical examination, and the written record, or “write-up.” It describes the components of the health history and how to organize the patient’s story; it gives an approach and overview to the physical examination and suggests a sequence for ensuring patient comfort; and, finally, it provides an example of the written record, showing documentation of findings from a sample patient history and physical examination. By studying the subsequent chapters of the book and perfecting the skills of examination and history taking described, you will cross into the world of patient assessment— gradually at first, but then with growing satisfaction and expertise. After you work through this chapter to chart the tasks ahead, you will be directed by subsequent chapters in your journey to clinical competence. Chapter 2, Interviewing and the Health History, expands on the techniques CHAPTER 1 ■



THE HEALTH HISTORY: STRUCTURE AND PURPOSES and skills of good interviewing; Chapters 3 through 16 detail techniques for examining the different body systems. Once you master the elements of the adult history and examination, you will extend and adapt these techniques to children and adolescents. Children and adolescents evolve rapidly in both temperament and physiology; therefore, the special approaches to the interview and examination of children at different ages are consolidated in Chapter 17, Assessing Children: Infancy Through Adolescence. Finally, Chapter 18, Clinical Reasoning, Assessment, and Plan, explores the clinical reasoning process and how to document your evaluation, diagnoses, and plan. From this blend of mutual trust, respect, and clinical expertise emerges the timeless rewards of the clinical professions.

THE HEALTH HISTORY: STRUCTURE AND PURPOSES As you read about successful interviewing, you will first learn the elements of the Comprehensive Health History. For adults, the comprehensive history includes Identifying Data and Source of the History, Chief Complaint(s), Present Illness, Past History, Family History, Personal and Social History, and Review of Systems. As you talk with the patient, you must learn to elicit and organize all of these elements of the patient’s health. Bear in mind that during the interview this information will not spring forth in this order! However, you will quickly learn to identify where to fit in the different aspects of the patient’s story.


As you gain experience assessing patients in different settings, you will find that new patients in the office or in the hospital merit a comprehensive health history; however, in many situations a more flexible focused, or problemoriented, interview may be appropriate. Like a tailor fitting a special garment, you will adapt the scope of the health history to a number of factors: the patient’s concerns and problems; your goals for assessment; the clinical setting (inpatient or outpatient; specialty or primary care); and the amount of time available. Knowing the content and relevance of all components of the comprehensive health history allows you to choose those elements that will be most helpful for addressing patient concerns in different contexts. The components of the comprehensive health history structure the patient’s story and the format of your written record, but the order shown here should not dictate the sequence of the interview. Usually the interview will be more fluid and will follow the patient’s leads and cues, as described in Chapter 2. Each segment of the history has a specific purpose, which is summarized below. These components of the comprehensive adult health history are more fully described in the next few pages. The comprehensive pediatric history appears in Chapter 17. These sample adult and pediatric health histories follow stan2



Components of the Health History Identifying Data

Identifying data—such as age, gender, occupation, marital status Source of the history—usually the patient, but can be family member, friend, letter of referral, or the medical record If appropriate, establish source of referral, since a written report may be needed.


Varies according to the patient’s memory, trust, and mood

Chief Complaint(s)

The one or more symptoms or concerns causing the patient to seek care

Present Illness

Past History

■ ■

Family History

Amplifies the Chief Complaint, describes how each symptom developed Includes patient’s thoughts and feelings about the illness Pulls in relevant portions of the Review of Systems (see below) May include medications, allergies, habits of smoking and alcohol, since these are frequently pertinent to the present illness Lists childhood illnesses Lists adult illnesses with dates for at least four categories: medical; surgical; obstetric/ gynecologic; and psychiatric Includes health maintenance practices such as: immunizations, screening tests, lifestyle issues, and home safety Outlines or diagrams of age and health, or age and cause of death of siblings, parents, and grandparents Documents presence or absence of specific illnesses in family, such as hypertension, coronary artery disease, etc.

Describes educational level, family of origin, current household, personal interests, and lifestyle

Review of Systems

Documents presence or absence of common symptoms related to each major body system


Personal and Social History

dard formats for written documentation, which will be useful for you to learn. As you review these histories, you will encounter a number of technical terms for symptoms. Definitions of terms, together with ways to ask about symptoms, can be found in each of the regional examination chapters. As you acquire the techniques of the history taking and physical examination, remember the important differences between subjective information and objective information, as summarized in the table below. Knowing these differences helps you apply clinical reasoning and cluster patient information. These distinctions are equally important for organizing written and oral presentations concerning the patient. CHAPTER 1 ■




Subjective Data

Objective Data

What the patient tells you

What you detect on the examination

The history, from chief complaint through Review of Systems

All physical examination findings

Example: Mrs. G is a 54-year-old hairdresser who reports pressure over her left chest “like an elephant sitting there,” which goes into her left neck and arm.

Example: Mrs. G is an older white female, deconditioned, pleasant, and cooperative. BP 160/80, HR 96 and regular, respiratory rate 24, afebrile.

The Comprehensive Adult Health History Date and Time of History.

The date is always important. You are strongly advised to routinely document the time you evaluate the patient, especially in urgent, emergent, or hospital settings.

Identifying Data.

Includes age, gender, marital status, and occupation. The source of history or referral can be the patient, a family member or friend, an officer, a consultant, or the medical record. Patients requesting evaluations for schools, agencies, or insurance companies may have special priorities compared to patients seeking care on their own initiative. Designating the source of referral helps you to assess the type of information provided and any possible biases.

Reliability. Should be documented if relevant. For example, “The patient is vague when describing symptoms and unable to specify details.” This judgment reflects the quality of the information provided by the patient and is usually made at the end of the interview.

Chief Complaint(s)


Make every attempt to quote the patient’s own words. For example, “My stomach hurts and I feel awful.” Sometimes patients have no overt complaints, in which case you should report their goals instead. For example, “I have come for my regular checkup”; or “I’ve been admitted for a thorough evaluation of my heart.”

Present Illness

This section of the history is a complete, clear, and chronologic account of the problems prompting the patient to seek care. The narrative should include the onset of the problem, the setting in which it has developed, its manifestations, and any treatments. The principal symptoms should be well-characterized, with descriptions of (1) location, (2) quality, (3) quantity or severity, (4) timing, including onset, duration, and frequency, (5) the setting in which they occur, (6) factors that have aggravated or relieved the symptoms, and (7) as4


THE HEALTH HISTORY: STRUCTURE AND PURPOSES sociated manifestations. These seven attributes are invaluable for understanding all patient symptoms (see p. ___). It is also important to include “pertinent positives” and “pertinent negatives” from sections of the Review of Systems related to the Chief Complaint(s). These designate the presence or absence of symptoms relevant to the differential diagnosis, which refers to the most likely diagnoses explaining the patient’s condition. Other information is frequently relevant, such as risk factors for coronary artery disease in patients with chest pain, or current medications in patients with syncope. The present illness should reveal the patient’s responses to his or her symptoms and what effect the illness has had on the patient’s life. Always remember, the data flows spontaneously from the patient, but the task of organization is yours. Medications should be noted, including name, dose, route, and frequency of use. Also list home remedies, nonprescription drugs, vitamins, mineral or herbal supplements, birth control pills, and medicines borrowed from family members or friends. It is a good idea to ask patients to bring in all of their medications so you can see exactly what they take. Allergies, including specific reactions to each medication, such as rash or nausea, must be recorded, as well as allergies to foods, insects, or environmental factors. Note tobacco use, including the type used. Cigarettes are often reported in pack-years (a person who has smoked 11⁄2 packs a day for 12 years has an 18-pack-year history). If someone has quit, note for how long. Alcohol and drug use should always be queried (see p. ___ for suggested questions). (Note that tobacco, alcohol, and drugs may also be included in the Personal and Social History; however, many clinicians find these habits pertinent to the Present Illness.)

Past History


Childhood illnesses, such as measles, rubella, mumps, whooping cough, chicken pox, rheumatic fever, scarlet fever, and polio are included in the Past History. Also included are any chronic childhood illnesses. You should provide information relative to Adult Illnesses in each of four areas: Medical (such as diabetes, hypertension, hepatitis, asthma, HIV disease, information about hospitalizations, number and gender of partners, at-risk sexual practices); surgical (include dates, indications, and types of operations); Obstetric/gynecologic (relate obstetric history, menstrual history, birth control, and sexual function); and Psychiatric (include dates, diagnoses, hospitalizations, and treatments). You should also cover selected aspects of Health Maintenance, including Immunizations, such as tetanus, pertussis, diphtheria, polio, measles, rubella, mumps, influenza, hepatitis B, Haemophilus influenza type b, and pneumococcal vaccines (these can usually be obtained from prior medical records), and Screening Tests, such as tuberculin tests, Pap smears, mammograms, stools for occult blood, and cholesterol tests, together with the results and the dates they were last performed. If the patient does not know this information, written permission may be needed to obtain old medical records.

Family History

Under Family History, outline or diagram the age and health, or age and cause of death, of each immediate relative, including parents, grandparents, sibCHAPTER 1 ■



THE HEALTH HISTORY: STRUCTURE AND PURPOSES lings, children, and grandchildren. Review each of the following conditions and record if they are present or absent in the family: hypertension, coronary artery disease, elevated cholesterol levels, stroke, diabetes, thyroid or renal disease, cancer (specify type), arthritis, tuberculosis, asthma or lung disease, headache, seizure disorder, mental illness, suicide, alcohol or drug addiction, and allergies, as well as symptoms reported by the patient.

Personal and Social History The Personal and Social History captures the patient’s personality and interests, sources of support, coping style, strengths, and fears. It should include: occupation and the last year of schooling; home situation and significant others; sources of stress, both recent and long-term; important life experiences, such as military service, job history, financial situation, and retirement; leisure activities; religious affiliation and spiritual beliefs; and activities of daily living (ADLs). Baseline level of function is particularly important in older or disabled patients (see p. ___ for the ADLs frequently assessed in older patients). The Personal and Social History also conveys lifestyle habits that promote health or create risk such as exercise and diet, including frequency of exercise, usual daily food intake, dietary supplements or restrictions, and use of coffee, tea, and other caffeine-containing beverages and safety measures, including use of seat belts, bicycle helmets, sunblock, smoke detectors, and other devices related to specific hazards. You may want to include any alternative health care practices. You will come to thread personal and social questions throughout the interview to make the patient feel more at ease.

Review of Systems


Understanding and using Review of Systems questions is often challenging for beginning students. Think about asking series of questions going from “head to toe.” It is helpful to prepare the patient for the questions to come by saying, “The next part of the history may feel like a million questions, but they are important and I want to be thorough.” Most Review of Systems questions pertain to symptoms, but on occasion some clinicians also include diseases like pneumonia or tuberculosis. (If the patient remembers important illnesses as you ask questions within the Review of Systems, you should record or present such important illnesses as part of the Present Illness or Past History.) Start with a fairly general question as you address each of the different systems. This focuses the patient’s attention and allows you to shift to more specific questions about systems that may be of concern. Examples of starting questions are: “How are your ears and hearing?” “How about your lungs and breathing?” “Any trouble with your heart?” “How is your digestion?”



THE HEALTH HISTORY: STRUCTURE AND PURPOSES “How about your bowels?” Note that you will vary the need for additional questions depending on the patient’s age, complaints, general state of health, and your clinical judgment. The Review of Systems questions may uncover problems that the patient has overlooked, particularly in areas unrelated to the present illness. Significant health events, such as a major prior illness or a parent’s death, require full exploration. Remember that major health events should be moved to the present illness or past history in your write-up. Keep your technique flexible. Interviewing the patient yields a variety of information that you organize into formal written format only after the interview and examination are completed. Some clinicians do the Review of Systems during the physical examination, asking about the ears, for example, as they examine them. If the patient has only a few symptoms, this combination can be efficient. However, if there are multiple symptoms, the flow of both the history and the examination can be disrupted and necessary note-taking becomes awkward. Listed below is a standard series of review-of-system questions. As you gain experience, the “yes or no” questions, placed at the end of the interview, will take no more than several minutes. General. Usual weight, recent weight change, any clothes that fit more tightly or loosely than before. Weakness, fatigue, fever. Skin. Rashes, lumps, sores, itching, dryness, color change, changes in hair or nails.


Head, Eyes, Ears, Nose, Throat (HEENT). Head: Headache, head injury, dizziness, lightheadedness. Eyes: Vision, glasses or contact lenses, last examination, pain, redness, excessive tearing, double vision, blurred vision, spots, specks, flashing lights, glaucoma, cataracts. Ears: Hearing, tinnitus, vertigo, earaches, infection, discharge. If hearing is decreased, use or nonuse of hearing aids. Nose and sinuses: Frequent colds, nasal stuffiness, discharge, or itching, hay fever, nosebleeds, sinus trouble. Throat (or mouth and pharynx): Condition of teeth, gums, bleeding gums, dentures, if any, and how they fit, last dental examination, sore tongue, dry mouth, frequent sore throats, hoarseness. Neck.

Lumps, “swollen glands,” goiter, pain, or stiffness in the neck.

Breasts. Lumps, pain or discomfort, nipple discharge, self-examination practices. Respiratory. Cough, sputum (color, quantity), hemoptysis, dyspnea, wheezing, pleurisy, last chest x-ray. You may wish to include asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. Cardiovascular. Heart trouble, high blood pressure, rheumatic fever, heart murmurs, chest pain or discomfort, palpitations, dyspnea, orthopnea,




THE HEALTH HISTORY: STRUCTURE AND PURPOSES paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea, edema, past electrocardiographic or other heart test results. Gastrointestinal. Trouble swallowing, heartburn, appetite, nausea, bowel movements, color and size of stools, change in bowel habits, rectal bleeding or black or tarry stools, hemorrhoids, constipation, diarrhea. Abdominal pain, food intolerance, excessive belching or passing of gas. Jaundice, liver or gallbladder trouble, hepatitis. Urinary. Frequency of urination, polyuria, nocturia, urgency, burning or pain on urination, hematuria, urinary infections, kidney stones, incontinence; in males, reduced caliber or force of the urinary stream, hesitancy, dribbling. Genital. Male: Hernias, discharge from or sores on the penis, testicular pain or masses, history of sexually transmitted diseases and their treatments. Sexual habits, interest, function, satisfaction, birth control methods, condom use, and problems. Exposure to HIV infection. Female: Age at menarche; regularity, frequency, and duration of periods; amount of bleeding, bleeding between periods or after intercourse, last menstrual period; dysmenorrhea, premenstrual tension; age at menopause, menopausal symptoms, postmenopausal bleeding. If the patient was born before 1971, exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) from maternal use during pregnancy. Vaginal discharge, itching, sores, lumps, sexually transmitted diseases and treatments. Number of pregnancies, number and type of deliveries, number of abortions (spontaneous and induced); complications of pregnancy; birth control methods. Sexual preference, interest, function, satisfaction, any problems, including dyspareunia. Exposure to HIV infection. Peripheral Vascular. Intermittent claudication, leg cramps, varicose veins, past clots in the veins.


Musculoskeletal. Muscle or joint pains, stiffness, arthritis, gout, and backache. If present, describe location of affected joints or muscles, presence of any swelling, redness, pain, tenderness, stiffness, weakness, or limitation of motion or activity; include timing of symptoms (for example, morning or evening), duration, and any history of trauma. Neurologic. Fainting, blackouts, seizures, weakness, paralysis, numbness or loss of sensation, tingling or “pins and needles,” tremors or other involuntary movements. Hematologic. Anemia, easy bruising or bleeding, past transfusions and/or transfusion reactions. Endocrine. Thyroid trouble, heat or cold intolerance, excessive sweating, excessive thirst or hunger, polyuria, change in glove or shoe size. Psychiatric. Nervousness, tension, mood, including depression, memory change, suicide attempts, if relevant.




THE PHYSICAL EXAMINATION: APPROACH AND OVERVIEW In this section, we outline the comprehensive physical examination and provide an overview of all its components. You will conduct a comprehensive physical examination on most new patients or patients being admitted to the hospital. For more problem-oriented, or focused, assessments, the presenting complaints will dictate what segments of the examination you elect to perform. You will find a more extended discussion of the approach to the examination, its scope (comprehensive or focused), and a table summarizing the examination sequence in Chapter 3, Beginning the Physical Examination: General Survey, and Vital Signs. Information about anatomy and physiology, interview questions, techniques of examination, and important abnormalities are detailed in Chapters 3 through 16 for each of the segments of the physical examination described below. It is important to note that the key to a thorough and accurate physical examination is developing a systematic sequence of examination. At first, you may need notes to remember what to look for as you examine each region of the body; but with a few months of practice, you will acquire a routine sequence of your own. This sequence will become habit and often prompt you to return to an exam segment you may have inadvertently skipped, helping you to become thorough. As you develop your own sequence of examination, an important goal is to minimize the number of times you ask the patient to change position from supine to sitting, or standing to lying supine. Some segments of the physical examination are best obtained while the patient is sitting, such as examinations of the head and neck and of the thorax and lungs, whereas others are best obtained supine, as are the cardiovascular and abdominal examinations. Some suggestions for patient positioning during the different segments of the examination are indicated in the right-hand column in red.


Most patients view the physical examination with at least some anxiety. They feel vulnerable, physically exposed, apprehensive about possible pain, and uneasy about what the clinician may find. At the same time, they appreciate the clinician’s concern about their problems and respond to your attentiveness. With these considerations in mind, the skillful clinician is thorough without wasting time, systematic without being rigid, gentle yet not afraid to cause discomfort should this be required. In applying the techniques of inspection, palpation, auscultation, and percussion, the skillful clinician examines each region of the body, and at the same time senses the whole patient, notes the wince or worried glance, and shares information that calms, explains, and reassures. For an overview of the physical examination, study the following example of the sequence of examination now. Note that clinicians vary in where they place different segments of the examination, especially the examinations of the




THE PHYSICAL EXAMINATION: APPROACH AND OVERVIEW musculoskeletal system and the nervous system. Some of these options are indicated below. With practice, you will develop your own sequence, keeping the need for thoroughness and patient comfort in mind. After you complete your study and practice the techniques described in the regional examination chapters, reread this overview to see how each segment of the examination fits into an integrated whole.

The Comprehensive Physical Examination General Survey.

Observe the patient’s general state of health, height, build, and sexual development. Obtain the patient’s weight. Note posture, motor activity, and gait; dress, grooming, and personal hygiene; and any odors of the body or breath. Watch the patient’s facial expressions and note manner, affect, and reactions to persons and things in the environment. Listen to the patient’s manner of speaking and note the state of awareness or level of consciousness.

The survey continues throughout the history and examination.

Vital Signs.

The patient is sitting on the edge of the bed or examining table, unless this position is contraindicated. You should be standing in front of the patient, moving to either side as needed.

Measure height and weight. Measure the blood pressure. Count the pulse and respiratory rate. If indicated, measure the body temperature.


Observe the skin of the face and its characteristics. Identify any lesions, noting their location, distribution, arrangement, type, and color. Inspect and palpate the hair and nails. Study the patient’s hands. Continue your assessment of the skin as you examine the other body regions.


Head, Eyes, Ears, Nose, Throat (HEENT ). Head: Examine the hair, scalp, skull, and face. Eyes: Check visual acuity and screen the visual fields. Note the position and alignment of the eyes. Observe the eyelids and inspect the sclera and conjunctiva of each eye. With oblique lighting, inspect each cornea, iris, and lens. Compare the pupils, and test their reactions to light. Assess the extraocular movements. With an ophthalmoscope, inspect the ocular fundi. Ears: Inspect the auricles, canals, and drums. Check auditory acuity. If acuity is diminished, check lateralization (Weber test) and compare air and bone conduction (Rinne test). Nose and sinuses: Examine the external nose; using a light and a nasal speculum, inspect the nasal mucosa, septum, and turbinates. Palpate for tenderness of the frontal and maxillary sinuses. Throat (or mouth and pharynx): Inspect the lips, oral mucosa, gums, teeth, tongue, palate, tonsils, and pharynx. (You may wish to assess the cranial nerves during this portion of the examination.) Neck.

Inspect and palpate the cervical lymph nodes. Note any masses or unusual pulsations in the neck. Feel for any deviation of the trachea. Observe sound and effort of the patient’s breathing. Inspect and palpate the thyroid gland.

Back. 10

The room should be darkened for the ophthalmoscopic examination. This promotes papillary dilation and visibility of the fundi.

Move behind the sitting patient to feel the thyroid gland and to examine the back, posterior thorax, and the lungs.

Inspect and palpate the spine and muscles of the back.



Inspect and palpate the spine and muscles of the upper back. Inspect, palpate, and percuss the chest. Identify the level of diaphragmatic dullness on each side. Listen to the breath sounds; identify any adventitious (or added) sounds, and, if indicated, listen to the transmitted voice sounds (see p.___).

Breasts, Axillae, and Epitrochlear Nodes.

In a woman, inspect the breasts with her arms relaxed, then elevated, and then with her hands pressed on her hips. In either sex, inspect the axillae and feel for the axillary nodes. Feel for the epitrochlear nodes.

The patient is still sitting. Move to the front again.

A Note on the Musculoskeletal System: By this time, you have made some preliminary observations of the musculoskeletal system. You have inspected the hands, surveyed the upper back, and at least in women, made a fair estimate of the shoulders’ range of motion. Use these and subsequent observations to decide whether a full musculoskeletal examination is warranted. If indicated, with the patient still sitting, examine the hands, arms, shoulders, neck, and temporomandibular joints. Inspect and palpate the joints and check their range of motion. ( You may choose to examine upper extremity muscle bulk, tone, strength, and reflexes at this time, or you may decide to wait until later.) Palpate the breasts, while at the same time continuing your inspection.

Anterior Thorax and Lungs.

Inspect, palpate, and percuss the chest. Listen to the breath sounds, any adventitious sounds, and, if indicated, transmitted voice sounds.

The patient position is supine. Ask the patient to lie down. You should stand at the right side of the patient’s bed.

Observe the jugular venous pulsations, and measure the jugular venous pressure in relation to the sternal angle. Inspect and palpate the carotid pulsations. Listen for carotid bruits.

Elevate the head of the bed to about 30° for the cardiovascular examination, adjusting as necessary to see the jugular venous pulsations.

Inspect and palpate the precordium. Note the location, diameter, amplitude, and duration of the apical impulse. Listen at the apex and the lower sternal border with the bell of a stethoscope. Listen at each auscultatory area with the diaphragm. Listen for the first and second heart sounds, and for physiologic splitting of the second heart sound. Listen for any abnormal heart sounds or murmurs.

Ask the patient to roll partly onto the left side while you listen at the apex. Then have the patient roll back to the supine position while you listen to the rest of the heart. The patient should sit, lean forward, and exhale while you listen for the murmur of aortic regurgitation.

Abdomen. Inspect, auscultate, and percuss the abdomen. Palpate lightly,

Lower the head of the bed to the flat position. The patient should be supine.


Cardiovascular System.

then deeply. Assess the liver and spleen by percussion and then palpation. Try to feel the kidneys, and palpate the aorta and its pulsations. If you suspect kidney infection, percuss posteriorly over the costovertebral angles.

Lower Extremities.

Examine the legs, assessing three systems while the patient is still supine. Each of these three systems can be further assessed when the patient stands.



The patient is supine.


THE PHYSICAL EXAMINATION: APPROACH AND OVERVIEW Examination with the patient supine ■

Peripheral Vascular System. Palpate the femoral pulses, and if indicated, the popliteal pulses. Palpate the inguinal lymph nodes. Inspect for lower extremity edema, discoloration, or ulcers. Palpate for pitting edema.

Musculoskeletal System. Note any deformities or enlarged joints. If indicated, palpate the joints, check their range of motion, and perform any necessary maneuvers.

Nervous System. Assess lower extremity muscle bulk, tone, and strength; also sensation and reflexes. Observe any abnormal movements.

Examination with the patient standing

The patient is standing. You should sit on a chair or stool.

Peripheral Vascular System. Inspect for varicose veins.

Musculoskeletal System. Examine the alignment of the spine and its range of motion, the alignment of the legs, and the feet.

Genitalia and Hernias in Men. Examine the penis and scrotal contents and check for hernias.

Nervous System. Observe the patient’s gait and ability to walk heel-to-toe, walk on the toes, walk on the heels, hop in place, and do shallow knee bends. Do a Romberg test and check for pronator drift.

Nervous System.

The complete examination of the nervous system can also be done at the end of the examination. It consists of the five segments described below: mental status, cranial nerves (including funduscopic examination), motor system, sensory system, and reflexes.

The patient is sitting or supine.


Mental Status. If indicated and not done during the interview, assess the patient’s orientation, mood, thought process, thought content, abnormal perceptions, insight and judgment, memory and attention, information and vocabulary, calculating abilities, abstract thinking, and constructional ability. Cranial Nerves. If not already examined, check sense of smell, strength of the temporal and masseter muscles, corneal reflexes, facial movements, gag reflex, and strength of the trapezia and sternomastoid muscles. Motor System. Muscle bulk, tone, and strength of major muscle groups. Cerebellar function: rapid alternating movements (RAMs), point-to-point movements, such as finger-to-nose (F → N) and heel-to-shin (H → S); gait.

Sensory System. Pain, temperature, light touch, vibration, and discrimination. Compare right with left sides and distal with proximal areas on the limbs.



RECORDING YOUR FINDINGS Reflexes. Including biceps, triceps, brachioradialis, patellar, Achilles deep tendon reflexes; also plantar reflexes or Babinski reflex (see p. ___).

Additional Examinations. The rectal and genital examinations are often performed at the end of the physical examination. Patient positioning is as indicated. Rectal Examination in Men. Inspect the sacrococcygeal and perianal areas. Palpate the anal canal, rectum, and prostate. If the patient cannot stand, examine the genitalia before doing the rectal examination.

The patient is lying on his left side for the rectal examination.

Genital and Rectal Examination in Women. Examine the external genitalia, vagina, and cervix. Obtain a Pap smear. Palpate the uterus and adnexa. Do a rectovaginal and rectal examination.

The patient is supine in the lithotomy position. You should be seated during examination with the speculum, then standing during bimanual examination of the uterus, adnexa, and rectum.

RECORDING YOUR FINDINGS Now you are ready to review an actual written record documenting a patient’s history and physical findings, illustrated below using the example of “Mrs. N.” The history and physical examination form the database for your subsequent assessment(s) of the patient and your plan(s) with the patient for management and next steps. Your written record organizes the information from the history and physical examination and should clearly communicate the patient’s clinical issues to all members of the health care team. You will find that following a standardized format is often the most efficient and helpful way to transfer this information.


Your written record should also facilitate clinical reasoning and communicate essential information to the many health professionals involved in your patient’s care. Chapter 18, Clinical Reasoning, Assessment, and Plan, will provide more comprehensive information for formulating the assessment and plan, and additional guidelines for documentation.

If you are a beginner, organizing the Present Illness may be especially challenging, but do not get discouraged. Considerable knowledge is needed to cluster related symptoms and physical signs. If you are unfamiliar with hyperthyroidism, for example, it may not be apparent that muscular weakness, heat intolerance, excessive sweating, diarrhea, and weight loss, all represent a Present Illness. Until your knowledge and judgment grow, the patient’s story and the seven key attributes of a symptom (see p. ___) are helpful and necessary guides to what to include in this portion of the record. CHAPTER 1 ■




TIPS FOR A CLEAR AND ACCURATE WRITE-UP You should write the record as soon as possible, before the data fade from your memory. At first, you will probably prefer to take notes when talking with the patient. As you gain experience, however, work toward recording the Present Illness, the Past Medical History, the Family History, the Personal and Social History, and the Review of Systems in final form during the interview. Leave spaces for filling in details later. During the physical examination, make note immediately of specific measurements, such as blood pressure and heart rate. On the other hand, recording multiple items interrupts the flow of the examination, and you will soon learn to remember your findings and record them after you have finished. Several key features distinguish a clear and well-organized written record. Pay special attention to the order and the degree of detail as you review the record below and later when you construct your own write-ups. Remember that if handwritten, a good record is always legible!

Order of the Write-Up The order should be consistent and obvious so that future readers, including yourself, can easily find specific points of information. Keep items of history in the history, for example, and do not let them stray into the physical examination. Offset your headings and make them clear by using indentations and spacing to accent your organization. Create emphasis by using asterisks and underlines for important points. Arrange the present illness in chronologic order, starting with the current episode and then filling in the relevant background information. If a patient with long-standing diabetes is hospitalized in a coma, for example, begin with the events leading up to the coma and then summarize the past history of the patient’s diabetes.

Degree of Detail The degree of detail is also a challenge. It should be pertinent to the subject or problem but not redundant. Review the record of Mrs. N, then turn to the checklist in Chapter 18 on pp. _____. Decide if you think the order and detail included meet the standards of a good medical record.

The Case of Example of Mrs. N


8/30/02 Mrs. N is a pleasant, 54-year-old widowed saleswoman residing in Amarillo, Texas. Referral. None Source and Reliability. Self-referred; seems reliable.

Chief Complaint: “My head aches.” Present Illness For about 3 months, Mrs. N has had increasing problems with frontal headaches. These are usually bifrontal, throbbing, and mild to moderately severe. She has missed work on several occasions due to associated nausea and vomiting. Headaches now average once a week, usually related to stress, and last 4 to 6 hours. They are relieved by sleep and putting a damp towel over the forehead. There is little relief from aspirin. No associated visual changes, motor-sensory deficits, or paresthesias. “Sick headaches” with nausea and vomiting began at age 15, recurred throughout her mid-20s, then decreased to one every 2 or 3 months and almost disappeared.




The patient reports increased pressure at work from a new and demanding boss; she is also worried about her daughter (see Personal and Social History). Thinks her headaches may be like those in the past, but wants to be sure because her mother died of a stroke. She is concerned that they interfere with her work and make her irritable with her family. She eats three meals a day and drinks three cups of coffee per day; cola at night. ■

■ ■ ■

Medications. Aspirin, 1 to 2 tablets every 4 to 6 hours as needed. “Water pill” in the past for ankle swelling, none recently. *Allergies. Ampicillin causes rash. Tobacco. About 1 pack of cigarettes per day since age 18 (36 pack-years). Alcohol/drugs. Wine on rare occasions. No illicit drugs.

Past History Childhood Illnesses. Measles, chickenpox. No scarlet fever or rheumatic fever. Adult Illnesses. Medical: Pyelonephritis, 1982, with fever and right flank pain; treated with ampicillin; develop generalized rash with itching several days later. Reports kidney x-rays were normal; no recurrence of infection. Surgical: Tonsillectomy, age 6, appendectomy, age 13. Sutures for laceration, 1991, after stepping on glass. Ob/gyn: G3P3, with normal vaginal deliveries. 3 living children. Menarche age 12. Last menses 6 months ago. Little interest in sex, and not sexually active. No concerns about HIV infection. Psychiatric: None. Health Maintenance. Immunizations: Oral polio vaccine, year uncertain; tetanus shots × 2, 1991, followed with booster 1 year later; flu vaccine, 2000, no reaction. Screening tests: Last Pap smear, 1998, normal. No mammograms to date.

Family History


A note on recording the Family History. There are two methods of recording the Family History: a diagram or a narrative. The diagram format is more helpful than the narrative for tracing genetic disorders. The negatives from the family history should follow either format.


*Add an asterisk or underline important points.





or: Father died at age 43 in train accident. Mother died at age 67 of stroke; had varicose veins, headaches One brother, 61, with hypertension, otherwise well; one brother, 58, well except for mild arthritis; one sister, died in infancy of unknown cause Husband died at age 54 of heart attack Daughter, 33, with migraine headaches, otherwise well; son, 31, with headaches; son, 27, well No family history of diabetes, tuberculosis, heart or kidney disease, cancer, anemia, epilepsy, or mental illness.

Personal and Social History Born and raised in Lake City, finished high school, married at age 19. Worked as sales clerk for 2 years, then moved with husband to Amarillo, had 3 children. Returned to work 15 years ago because of financial pressures. Children all married. Four years ago Mr. N died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving little savings. Mrs. N has moved to small apartment to be near daughter, Dorothy. Dorothy’s husband, Arthur, has an alcohol problem. Mrs. N’s apartment now a haven for Dorothy and her 2 children, Kevin, 6 years, and Linda, 3 years. Mrs. N feels responsible for helping them; feels tense and nervous but denies depression. She has friends but rarely discusses family problems: “I’d rather keep them to myself. I don’t like gossip.” No church or other organizational support. She is typically up at 7:00 A.M., works 9:00 to 5:30, eats dinner alone. ■ ■

Exercise and diet. Gets little exercise. Diet high in carbohydrates. Safety measures. Uses seat belt regularly. Uses sunblock. Medications kept in an unlocked medicine cabinet. Cleaning solutions in unlocked cabinet below sink. Mr. N’s shotgun and box of shells in unlocked closet upstairs.

Review of Systems *General. Has gained about 10 lb in the past 4 years. Skin. No rashes or other changes. Head, Eyes, Ears, Nose, Throat (HEENT). See Present Illness. No history of head injury. Eyes: Reading glasses for 5 years, last checked 1 year ago. No symptoms. Ears: Hearing good. No tinnitus, vertigo, infections. Nose, sinuses: Occasional mild cold. No hay fever, sinus trouble. *Throat (or *mouth and pharynx): Some bleeding of gums recently. Last dental visit 2 years ago. Occasional canker sore.


Neck. No lumps, goiter, pain. No swollen glands. Breasts. No lumps, pain, discharge. Does self-breast exam sporadically. Respiratory. No cough, wheezing, shortness of breath. Last chest x-ray, 1986, St. Mary’s Hospital; unremarkable. Cardiovascular. No known heart disease or high blood pressure; last blood pressure taken in 1998. No dyspnea, orthopnea, chest pain, palpitations. Has never had an electrocardiogram (ECG). *Gastrointestinal. Appetite good; no nausea, vomiting, indigestion. Bowel movement about once daily, though sometimes has hard stools for 2 to 3 days when especially tense; no diarrhea or bleeding. No pain, jaundice, gallbladder or liver problems.

*Urinary. No frequency, dysuria, hematuria, or recent flank pain; nocturia × 1, large volume. Occasionally loses some urine when coughs hard.




Genital. No vaginal or pelvic infections. No dyspareunia. Peripheral Vascular. Varicose veins appeared in both legs during first pregnancy. For 10 years, has had swollen ankles after prolonged standing; wears light elastic pantyhose; tried “water pill” 5 months ago, but it didn’t help much; no history of phlebitis or leg pain. Musculoskeletal. Mild, aching, low-back pain, often after a long day’s work; no radiation down the legs; used to do back exercises but not now. No other joint pain. Neurologic. No fainting, seizures, motor or sensory loss. Memory good. Hematologic. Except for bleeding gums, no easy bleeding. No anemia. Endocrine. No known thyroid trouble, temperature intolerance. Sweating average. No symptoms or history of diabetes. Psychiatric. No history of depression or treatment for psychiatric disorders. See also Present Illness and Personal and Social History.

Physical Examination Mrs. N is a short, moderately obese, middle-aged woman, who is animated and responds quickly to questions. She is somewhat tense, with moist, cold hands. Her hair is fixed neatly and her clothes are immaculate. Her color is good and she lies flat without discomfort. Vital Signs. Ht (without shoes) 157 cm (5′2″). Wt (dressed) 65 kg (143 lb). BP 164/98 right arm, supine; 160/96 left arm, supine; 152/88 right arm, supine with wide cuff. Heart rate (HR) 88 and regular. Respiratory rate (RR) 18. Temperature (oral) 98.6°F. Skin. Palms cold and moist, but color good. Scattered cherry angiomas over upper trunk. Nails without clubbing, cyanosis.


Head, Eyes, Ears, Nose, Throat (HEENT ). Head: Hair of average texture. Scalp without lesions, normocephalic/atraumatic (NC/AT). Eyes: Vision 20/30 in each eye. Visual fields full by confrontation. Conjunctiva pink; sclera white. Pupils 4 mm constricting to 2 mm, round, regular, equally, reactive to light. Extraocular movements intact. Disc margins sharp, without hemorrhages, exudates. No arteriolar narrowing or AV nicking. Ears: Wax partially obscures right tympanic membrane (TM); left canal clear, TM with good cone of light. Acuity good to whispered voice. Weber midline. AC > BC. Nose: Mucosa pink, septum midline. No sinus tenderness. Mouth: Oral mucosa pink. Several interdental papillae red, slightly swollen. Dentition good. Tongue midline, with 3 × 4 mm shallow white ulcer on red base on undersurface near tip; tender but not indurated. Tonsils absent. Pharynx without exudates. Neck. Neck supple. Trachea midline. Thyroid isthmus barely palpable, lobes not felt. Lymph Nodes. Small (<1 cm), soft, nontender, and mobile tonsillar and posterior cervical nodes bilaterally. No axillary or epitrochlear nodes. Several small inguinal nodes bilaterally, soft and nontender. Thorax and Lungs. Thorax symmetric with good excursion. Lungs resonant. Breath sounds vesicular with no added sounds. Diaphragms descend 4 cm bilaterally. Cardiovascular. Jugular venous pressure 1 cm above the sternal angle, with head of examining table raised to 30°. Carotid upstrokes brisk, without bruits. Apical impulse discrete and tapping, barely palpable in the 5th left interspace,





8 cm lateral to the midsternal line. Good S1, S2; no S3 or S4. A II/VI medium-pitched midsystolic murmur at the 2nd right interspace; does not radiate to the neck. No diastolic murmurs. Breasts. Pendulous, symmetric. No masses; nipples without discharge. Abdomen. Obese. Well-healed scar, right lower quadrant. Bowel sounds active. No tenderness or masses. Liver span 7 cm in right midclavicular line; edge smooth, palpable 1 cm below right costal margin (RCM). Spleen and kidneys not felt. No costovertebral angle tenderness (CVAT). Genitalia. External genitalia without lesions. Mild cystocele at introitus on straining. Vaginal mucosa pink. Cervix pink, parous, and without discharge. Uterus anterior, midline, smooth, not enlarged. Adnexa not palpated due to obesity and poor relaxation. No cervical or adnexal tenderness. Pap smear taken. Rectovaginal wall intact. Rectal. Rectal vault without masses. Stool brown, negative for occult blood. Extremities. Warm and without edema. Calves supple, nontender. Peripheral Vascular. Trace edema at both ankles. Moderate varicosities of saphenous veins both lower extremities. No stasis pigmentation or ulcers. Pulses (2 + = brisk, or normal):





Dorsalis Pedis

Posterior Tibial

2+ 2+

2+ 2+

2+ 2+

2+ Absent

2+ 2+

Musculoskeletal. No joint deformities. Good range of motion in hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, spine, hips, knees, ankles.


Neurologic. Mental Status: Tense but alert and cooperative. Thought coherent. Oriented to person, place, and time. Cranial Nerves. II–XII intact. Motor: Good muscle bulk and tone. Strength 5/5 throughout (see p. ___ for grading system). Rapid alternating movements (RAMs), point-to-point movements intact. Gait stable, fluid. Sensory: Pinprick, light touch, position sense, vibration, and stereognosis intact. Romberg negative. Reflexes: Two methods of recording may be used, depending upon personal preference: a tabular form or a stick picture diagram, as shown below and at right. 2+ = brisk, or normal; see p. ___ for grading system.










2+ 2+

2+ 2+

2+ 2+

2+/2+ 2+

2+ 2+/2+

1+ 1+

↓ ↓




Learning History Taking and Physical Examination


Now that you have surveyed the tasks ahead, the overviews of the health history and physical examination, and the patient record of Mrs. N, you are ready to turn to the chapters on history taking and physical examination. Chapter 18, Clinical Reasoning, Assessment, and Plan, provides more comprehensive information on how to formulate your Assessment and Plan, the final steps of patient assessment, and the remaining two sections of the written record. In Chapter 18 you will also find guidelines for documentation and the assessment and plan for Mrs. N. The rewards of mastering the skills of patient assessment lie just ahead!





Interviewing and the Health History


The health history interview is a conversation with a purpose. As a clinician, you will draw on many of the interpersonal skills that you use every day, but with unique and important differences. Unlike social conversation, in which you express your own needs and interests with responsibility only for yourself, the primary goal of the clinician–patient interview is to improve the well-being of the patient. At its most basic level, the purpose of conversation with a patient is threefold: to establish a trusting and supportive relationship, to gather information, and to offer information. Communicating and relating therapeutically with patients are the most valued skills of clinical care. As a beginning clinician, you will focus your energies on gathering information. At the same time, by using techniques that promote trust and communication, you will allow the patient’s story to unfold in its most full and detailed form. Establishing a supportive interaction enhances information-gathering and itself becomes part of the therapeutic process of patient care.


As a clinician facilitating the patient’s story, you will come to generate a series of hypotheses about the nature of the patient’s concerns. You will then test these various hypotheses by asking for more detailed information. You will also explore the patient’s feelings and beliefs about his or her problem. Eventually, as your clinical experience grows, you will respond with your understanding of the patient’s concerns. Even if you discover that little can be done for the patient’s disease, discussing the patient’s experience of being ill can be therapeutic. In the example that follows, a research protocol made the patient ineligible for treatment of her long-standing and severe arthritis. The patient had never talked about what the symptoms meant to her. She had never said “This means that I can’t go to the bathroom by myself, put my clothes on, even get out of bed without calling for help.” When we finished the physical examination, I said something like “Rheumatoid arthritis really has not been nice to you.” She burst into tears, and so did her daughter, and I sat there, very close to losing it myself. She said “You know, no one has ever talked about it as a personal thing before. No one’s ever talked to me as if this were a thing that mattered, a personal event.” That was the significant thing about the encounter. I didn’t really have much else to offer . . . But something really significant had happened between us, something that she valued and would carry away with her.1


Hastings C: The lived experiences of the illness: Making contact with the patient. In Benne P, Wrubel J. The Primacy of Caring: Stress and Coping in Health and Illness. Menlo Park, CA, Addison-Wesley, 1989.




As you can see from this story, interviewing patients consists of much more than just asking a series of questions. You will find that the interviewing process differs significantly from the format for the health history presented in Chapter 1. Both are fundamental to your work with patients, but each serves a different purpose. The health history format is a structured framework for organizing patient information in written or verbal form: it focuses the clinician’s attention on specific pieces of information that must be obtained from the patient. The interviewing process that actually generates these pieces of information is more fluid. It requires knowledge of the information you need to obtain, the ability to elicit accurate and detailed information, and interpersonal skills that allow you to respond to the patient’s feelings. As you learned in Chapter 1, the kinds of questions you ask as you elicit the health history vary according to several factors. The scope and degree of detail depend on the patient’s needs and concerns, the clinician’s goals for the encounter, and the clinical setting (e.g., inpatient or outpatient, amount of time available, primary care or subspecialty). For new patients, regardless of the setting, you will do a comprehensive health history, described for adults in Chapter 1. For other patients who seek care for a specific complaint, such as a cough or painful urination, a more limited interview tailored to that specific problem may be indicated, sometimes known as a problem-oriented history. In a primary care setting, clinicians frequently choose to address issues of health promotion, such as tobacco cessation or reduction of high-risk sexual behaviors. A subspecialist may do an in-depth history to evaluate one problem that incorporates a wide range of areas of inquiry. Knowing the content and relevance of all the components of a comprehensive health history, reviewed for you below, enables you to select the kinds of information that will be most helpful for meeting both clinician and patient goals.



Identifying Data Source and Reliability of History Chief Complaint History of Present Illness Medications, Allergies, Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Past History Childhood Illness Adult Illness: Medical, Surgical, Ob/Gyn, Psychiatric, Health Maintenance Family History Personal and Social History Review of Systems

This chapter introduces you to the essential skills of interviewing for gathering the health history—skills that you will continually use and refine throughout your career. You will learn the guiding principles for how clinicians talk 22


GETTING REASY: THE APPROACH TO THE INTERVIEW with patients and forge trusting relationships with them. You will read about preparing for the interview, the sequence of the interviewing process, important interviewing techniques, and strategies for addressing a variety of challenges that frequently arise in encounters with patients.

Getting Ready: The Approach to the Interview Interviewing patients to obtain a health history requires planning. You are undoubtedly eager to begin your relationship with the patient, but you should first consider several points that are crucial to success.

Taking Time for Self-Reflection. As clinicians, we encounter a wide variety of people, each one of whom is unique. Establishing relationships with individuals from a broad spectrum of ages, social classes, races, ethnicities, and states of health or illness is an uncommon opportunity and privilege. Being consistently open and respectful toward individual differences is one of the clinician’s challenges. Because we bring our own values, assumptions, and biases to every encounter, we must look inward to clarify how our own expectations and reactions may affect what we hear and how we behave. Self-reflection is a continual part of professional development in clinical work. It brings a deepening personal awareness to our work with patients and is one of the most rewarding aspects of providing patient care.

Reviewing the Chart. Before seeing the patient, review his or her med-


ical record, or chart. The purpose of reviewing the chart is partly to gather information and partly to develop ideas about what to explore with the patient. Look closely at the identifying data (age, gender, address, health insurance), the problem list, the medication list, and other details, such as the documentation of allergies. The chart often provides valuable information about past diagnoses and treatments; however, you should not let the chart prevent you from developing new approaches or ideas. Remember that information in the chart comes from different observers, and that standardized forms reflect different institutional norms. Moreover, the chart often fails to capture the essence of the person you are about to meet. Data may be incomplete or even disagree with what you learn from the patient—understanding such discrepancies may prove helpful to the patient’s care.

Setting Goals for the Interview. Before you begin talking with a patient, it is important to clarify your goals for the interview. As a student, your goal may be to obtain a complete health history so that you can submit a writeup to your teacher. As a clinician, your goals can range from completing forms needed by the health care facility or insurance companies to testing hypotheses generated by your review of the chart. A clinician must balance these provider-centered goals with patient-centered goals. There can be tension between the needs of the provider, the institution, and the patient and family. Part of the clinician’s task is to consider these multiple agendas. By taking a few minutes to think through your goals ahead of time, you will find it easier to strike a healthy balance among the various purposes of the interview to come.




LEARNING ABOUT THE PATIENT: THE PROCESS OF INTERVIEWING Reviewing Clinician Behavior and Appearance. Just as you observe the patient throughout the interview, the patient will be watching you. Consciously or not, you send messages through both your words and your behavior. Be sensitive to those messages and manage them as well as you can. Posture, gestures, eye contact, and tone of voice can all express interest, attention, acceptance, and understanding. The skilled interviewer seems calm and unhurried, even when time is limited. Reactions that betray disapproval, embarrassment, impatience, or boredom block communication, as do behaviors that condescend, stereotype, criticize, or belittle the patient. Although these types of negative feelings are unavoidable at times, you must take pains not to express them. Guard against them not only when talking to patients but also when discussing patients with your colleagues. Your personal appearance can also affect your clinical relationships. Patients find cleanliness, neatness, conservative dress, and a name tag reassuring. Try to consider the patient’s perspective. Remember that you want the patient to trust you.

Improving the Environment. Try to make the setting as private and comfortable as possible. Although you may have to talk with the patient under difficult circumstances, such as a two-bed room or the corridor of a busy emergency department, a proper environment improves communication. If there are privacy curtains, ask permission to pull them shut. Suggest moving to an empty room rather than having a conversation in a waiting area. As the clinician, part of your job is to make adjustments to the location and seating that make the patient and you more comfortable. Doing so is always worth the time.

Taking Notes. As a novice you will need to write down much of what you


learn during the interview. Even though experienced clinicians seem to remember a great deal of the interview without taking notes, no one can remember all the details of a comprehensive history. Jot down short phrases, specific dates, or words rather than trying to put them into a final format. Do not, however, let note-taking or using written forms distract you from the patient. Maintain good eye contact, and whenever the patient is talking about sensitive or disturbing material, put down your pen. Most patients are accustomed to note-taking, but for those who find it uncomfortable, explore their concerns and explain your need to create an accurate record.

Learning About the Patient: The Process of Interviewing

Once you have devoted time and thought to preparing for the interview, you are fully ready to listen to the patient, elicit the patient’s concerns, and learn about the patient’s health. In general, an interview moves through several stages. Throughout this sequence, you, as the clinician, must always be attuned to the patient’s feelings, help the patient express them, respond to their content, and validate their significance. A typical sequence follows. 24




■ ■ ■

Greeting the patient and establishing rapport Inviting the patient’s story Establishing the agenda for the interview Expanding and clarifying the patient’s story; generating and testing diagnostic hypotheses Creating a shared understanding of the problem(s) Negotiating a plan (includes further evaluation, treatment, and patient education) Planning for follow-up and closing the interview.

As a student, you will concentrate primarily on gathering the patient’s story and creating a shared understanding of the problem. As you become a practicing clinician, negotiating a plan for further evaluation and treatment will become more important. Whether the interview is comprehensive or focused, you should move through this sequence while closely attending to the patient’s feelings and affect.

Greeting the Patient and Establishing Rapport.

The initial moments of your encounter with the patient lay the foundation for your ongoing relationship. How you greet the patient and other visitors in the room, provide for the patient’s comfort, and arrange the physical setting all shape the patient’s first impressions. As you begin, greet the patient by name and introduce yourself, giving your own name. If possible, shake hands with the patient. If this is the first contact, explain your role, including your status as a student and how you will be involved in the patient’s care. Repeat this part of the introduction on subsequent meetings until you are confident that the patient knows who you are. “Good morning, Mr. Peters. I’m Susan Jones, a 3rd-year medical student. You may remember me. I was here yesterday talking with you about your heart problems. I’m part of the medical team that’s taking care of you.”


Using a title to address the patient (e.g., Mr. O’Neil, Ms. Washington) is always best. Except with children or adolescents, avoid first names unless you have specific permission from the patient or family. Addressing an unfamiliar adult as “granny” or “dear” tends to depersonalize and demean. If you are unsure how to pronounce the patient’s name, don’t be afraid to ask. You can say “I’m afraid of mispronouncing your name. Could you say it for me?” Then repeat it to make sure that you heard it correctly. When visitors are in the room, be sure to acknowledge and greet each one in turn, inquiring about each person’s name and relationship to the patient. Whenever visitors are present, it is important for you to maintain confidentiality. Let the patient decide if visitors or family members should remain in the room, and ask for the patient’s permission before conducting the interview in front of them. For example, “I’m comfortable with having your sister stay for the interview, Mrs. Jones, but I want to make sure that this is also what




LEARNING ABOUT THE PATIENT: THE PROCESS OF INTERVIEWING you want” or “Would you prefer if I spoke to you alone or with your sister present?” It is important to be attuned to the patient’s comfort. In the office or clinic, be sure there is a suitable place other than the patient’s lap for coats and belongings. In the hospital, after greeting the patient, ask how the patient is feeling and if you are coming at a convenient time. Look for signs of discomfort, such as frequent changes of position or facial expressions that show pain or anxiety. Arranging the bed to make the patient more comfortable or allowing a few minutes for the patient to say goodbye to visitors or finish using the bedpan may be the shortest route to a good history. Consider the best way to arrange the room and how far you should be from the patient. Remember that cultural background and individual taste influence preferences about interpersonal space. Choose a distance that facilitates conversation and good eye contact. You should probably be within several feet, close enough to be intimate but not intrusive. Pull up a chair and, if possible, try to sit at eye level with the patient. Move any physical barriers between you and the patient, such as desks or bedside tables, out of the way. In an outpatient setting, sitting on a rolling stool, for example, allows you to change distances in response to patient cues. Avoid arrangements that connote disrespect or inequality of power, such as interviewing a woman already positioned for a pelvic examination. Such arrangements are unacceptable. Lighting also makes a difference. If you sit between a patient and a bright light or window, although your view might be fine, the patient may have to squint uncomfortably to see you, making the interaction more like an interrogation than a supportive interview. Give the patient your undivided attention. Try not to look down to take notes or read the chart, and spend enough time on small talk to put the patient at ease.

Inviting the Patient’s Story. Now that you have established rapport,


you are ready to pursue the patient’s reason for seeking health care, or chief complaint. Begin with open-ended questions that allow full freedom of response. “What concerns bring you here today?” or “How can I help you?” Note that these questions encourage the patient to express any possible concerns and do not restrict the patient to a limited and minimally informative “yes” or “no” answer. Listen to the patient’s answers without interrupting. After you have given the patient the opportunity to respond fully, inquire again or even several times, “Anything else?” You may need to lead the patient back several times to additional concerns or issues he or she may want to tell you about. Some patients may want only a blood pressure check or routine examination, without having a specific complaint or problem. Others may say they just want a physical examination but feel uncomfortable bringing up an underlying concern. In all these situations, it is still important to start with the patient’s story. Helpful open-ended questions are “Was there a specific health concern that prompted you to schedule this appointment?” and “What made you decide to come in for health care now?”



LEARNING ABOUT THE PATIENT: THE PROCESS OF INTERVIEWING It is important to train yourself to follow the patient’s leads. Good interviewing techniques include using verbal and nonverbal cues that prompt patients to recount their stories spontaneously. If you intervene too early and ask specific questions prematurely, you risk trampling on the very information you are seeking. Your role, however, is far from passive. You should listen actively and make use of continuers, especially at the outset. Examples include nodding your head and using phrases such as “uh huh,” “go on,” and “I see.” Additional facilitative techniques (p. ___) help keep you from missing any of the patient’s concerns.

Establishing the Agenda for the Interview. The clinician often approaches the interview with specific goals in mind. The patient also has specific questions and concerns. It is important to identify all these issues at the beginning of the encounter. Doing so allows you to use the time available effectively and to make sure that you address all the patient’s issues. As a student, you may have enough time to cover the breadth of both your concerns and the patient’s in one visit. For a clinician, however, time management is almost always an issue. As a clinician, you may need to focus the interview by asking the patient which problem is most pressing. For example, “You have told me about several different problems that are important for us to discuss. I also wanted to review your blood pressure medication. We need to decide which problems to address today. Can you tell me which one you are most concerned about?” Then you can proceed with questions such as, “Tell me about that problem.” Once you have agreed upon a manageable list, stating that the other problems are also important and will be addressed during a future visit gives the patient confidence in your ongoing collaboration.

Expanding and Clarifying the Health History (the Patient’s Perspective). You can then guide the patient into elaborating areas of the health history that seem most significant. For the clinician, each symptom has attributes that must be clarified, including context, associations, and chronology, especially for complaints of pain. For all symptoms, it is critical to fully understand their essential characteristics. Always pursue the following elements. THE SEVEN ATTRIBUTES OF A SYMPTOM


1. Location. Where is it? Does it radiate? 2. Quality. What is it like? 3. Quantity or severity. How bad is it? (For pain, ask for a rating on a scale of 1 to 10.) 4. Timing. When did (does) it start? How long did (does) it last? How often did (does) it come? 5. Setting in which it occurs. Include environmental factors, personal activities, emotional reactions, or other circumstances that may have contributed to the illness. 6. Remitting or exacerbating factors. Does anything make it better or worse? 7. Associated manifestations. Have you noticed anything else that accompanies it?

As you explore these attributes, be sure that you use language that is understandable and appropriate to the patient. Although you might ask a trained CHAPTER 2



LEARNING ABOUT THE PATIENT: THE PROCESS OF INTERVIEWING health professional about “dyspnea,” the customary term to use for patients is “shortness of breath.” It is easy to slip into using medical language with patients, but beware. Technical language confuses the patient and often blocks communication. Appropriate questions about symptoms are suggested in each of the chapters on the regional physical examinations. Whenever possible, however, use the patient’s words, making sure you clarify their meaning. To fill in specific details, learn to facilitate the patient’s story by using different types of questions and the techniques of skilled interviewing described on pp. ___–___. Often you will need to use directed questions (see p. ___) that ask for specific information the patient has not already offered. In general, an interview moves back and forth from an open-ended question to a directed question and then on to another open-ended question. Establishing the sequence and time course of the patient’s symptoms is important. You can encourage a chronologic account by asking such questions as “What then?” or “What happened next?”

Generating and Testing Diagnostic Hypotheses (the Clinician’s Perspective). As you listen to the patient’s concerns, you will begin to generate and test diagnostic hypotheses about what disease process might be the cause. Identifying the various attributes of the patient’s symptoms and pursuing specific details are fundamental to recognizing patterns of disease and differentiating one disease from another. As you learn more about diagnostic patterns, listening for and asking about these attributes will become more automatic. For additional data that will contribute to your analysis, use items from relevant sections of the Review of Systems. In these ways you build evidence for and against the various diagnostic possibilities. This kind of clinical thinking is illustrated by the tables on symptoms found in the regional examination chapters and further discussed in Chapter 18, Clinical Reasoning, Assessment, and Plan.

Creating a Shared Understanding of the Problem. Recent litera-


ture makes clear that delivering effective health care requires exploring the deeper meanings patients attach to their symptoms. While the “seven attributes of a symptom” add important details to the patient’s history, the disease/illness distinction model helps you understand the full range of what every good interview needs to cover. This model acknowledges the dual but very different perspectives of the clinician and the patient. Disease is the explanation that the clinician brings to the symptoms. It is the way that the clinician organizes what he or she learns from the patient into a coherent picture that leads to a clinical diagnosis and treatment plan. Illness can be defined as how the patient experiences symptoms. Many factors may shape this experience, including prior personal or family health, the effect of symptoms on everyday life, individual outlook and style of coping, and expectations about medical care. The health history interview needs to take into account both of these views of reality. Even a chief complaint as straightforward as sore throat can illustrate these divergent views. The patient may be most concerned about pain and difficulty swallowing, a cousin who was hospitalized with tonsillitis, or missing time 28


LEARNING ABOUT THE PATIENT: THE PROCESS OF INTERVIEWING from work. The clinician, however, may focus on specific points in the history that differentiate streptococcal pharyngitis from other etiologies or on a questionable history of allergy to penicillin. To understand the patient’s expectations, the clinician needs to go beyond just the attributes of a symptom. Learning about the patient’s perception of illness means asking patient-centered questions in the six domains listed below. Doing so is crucial to patient satisfaction, effective health care, and patient follow-through.


The patient’s thoughts about the nature and the cause of the problem The patient’s feelings, especially fears, about the problem The patient’s expectations of the clinician and health care The effect of the problem on the patient’s life Prior personal or family experiences that are similar Therapeutic responses the patient has already tried

The clinician should ask about the cause of the problem by saying, for example, “Why do you think you have this stomachache?” To uncover the patient’s feelings, you might ask, “What concerns you most about the pain?” A patient may worry that the pain is a symptom of serious disease and want reassurance. Alternatively, the patient may be less concerned about the cause of the pain and just want relief. You need to find out what the patient expects from you, the clinician, or from health care in general . . . “I’m glad that the pain is almost gone. How specifically can I help you now?” Even if the stomach pain is almost gone, the patient may need a work excuse to take to an employer. It may be helpful to ask the patient about previous experiences, what he or she has tried so far, and any related changes in daily activities. Clinician: “Has anything like this happened to you or your family before?” Patient: “I was worried that I might have appendicitis. My Uncle Charlie died from a ruptured appendix.”


Explore what the patient has done so far to take care of the problem. Most patients will have tried over-the-counter medications, traditional remedies, or advice from friends or family. Ask how the illness has affected the patient’s lifestyle and level of activity. This question is especially important for a patients with chronic illness. “What can’t you do now that you could do before?” “How has your backache (shortness of breath, etc.) affected your ability to work?” . . . “Your life at home?” . . . “Your social activities?” . . . “Your role as a parent?” . . . “Your role as a husband or wife?” . . . “The way you feel about yourself as a person?”

Negotiating a Plan. Learning about the disease and conceptualizing the illness give you and the patient the opportunity to create a complete picture of the problem. This multifaceted picture then forms the basis for planning further evaluation (physical examination, laboratory tests, consultations, etc.) CHAPTER 2



FACILITATING THE PATIENT’S STORY: THE TECHNIQUES OF SKILLED INTERVIEWING and negotiating a treatment plan. More specific techniques for negotiating a plan can be found in Chapter 18. Advanced skills, such as steps for motivating change and the therapeutic use of the clinician–patient relationship, are beyond the scope of this book.

Planning for Follow-Up and Closing.

You may find that ending the interview is difficult. Patients often have many questions and, if you have done your job well, they are enjoying talking with you. Giving notice that the end of the interview is approaching allows time for the patient to ask any final questions. Make sure the patient understands the agreed-upon plans you have developed. For example, before gathering your papers or standing to leave the room, you can say “We need to stop now. Do you have any questions about what we’ve covered?” As you close, reviewing future evaluation, treatments, and follow-up is helpful. “So, you will take the medicine as we discussed, get the blood test before you leave today, and make a follow-up appointment for 4 weeks. Do you have any questions about this?” Address any related concerns or questions that the patient brings up. The patient should have a chance to ask any final questions; however, the last few minutes are not the time to bring up new topics. If that happens (and the concern is not life-threatening), simply reassure the patient of your interest and make plans to address the problem at a future time. “That knee pain sounds concerning. Why don’t you make an appointment for next week so we can discuss it?” Reaffirming that you will continue working to improve the patient’s health is always appreciated.

Facilitating the Patient’s Story: The Techniques of Skilled Interviewing


Skilled interviewing requires the use of specific learnable techniques. You need to practice these techniques and find ways to be observed or recorded so that you can receive feedback on your progress. Several of these fundamental skills are listed in the following box and described in more detail throughout this section.



Active listening Adaptive questioning Nonverbal communication Facilitation Echoing Empathic responses Validation Reassurance Summarization Highlighting transitions



Underlying all these specific techniques is the practice of active listening. Active listening is the process of fully attending to what the patient is communicating, being aware of the patient’s emotional state, and using verbal and nonverbal skills to encourage the speaker to continue and expand. Active listening takes practice. It is easy to drift into thinking about your next question or the differential diagnosis; however, you and the patient are best served by your concentration on listening.

Adaptive Questioning. There are several ways you can ask questions that add detail to the patient’s story yet facilitate the flow of the interview. Learn to adapt your questioning to the patient’s verbal and nonverbal cues. ADAPTIVE QUESTIONING: OPTIONS FOR CLARIFYING THE PATIENT’S STORY ■ ■ ■ ■ ■

Directed questioning—from general to specific Questioning to elicit a graded response Asking a series of questions, one at a time Offering multiple choices for answers Clarifying what the patient means

Directed questioning is useful for drawing the patient’s attention to specific areas of the history. It should follow several principles to be effective. Directed questioning should proceed from the general to the specific. A possible sequence, for example, might be “Tell me about your chest pain?” (Pause) “What else?” (Pause) “Where did you feel it?” (Pause) “Show me. Anywhere else?” (Pause) “Did it travel anywhere?” (Pause) “To which arm?” Directed questions should not be leading questions that call for a “yes” or “no” answer. If a patient says yes to “Did your stools look like tar?” you run the risk of turning your words into the patient’s words. A better phrasing is “Please describe your stools.”


If necessary, ask questions that require a graded response rather than a single answer. “What physical activity do you do that makes you short of breath?” is better than “How many steps can you climb before you get short of breath?” which is better than “Do you get short of breath climbing stairs?” Be sure to ask one question at a time. “Any tuberculosis, pleurisy, asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia?” may lead to a negative answer out of sheer confusion. Try “Do you have any of the following problems?” Be sure to pause and establish eye contact as you list each problem. Sometimes patients seem quite unable to describe their symptoms without help. To minimize bias, offer multiple-choice answers. “Is your pain aching, sharp, pressing, burning, shooting, or what?” Almost any direct question can provide at least two possible answers. “Do you bring up any phlegm with your cough, or is it dry?” At times patients use words that are ambiguous or have unclear associations. To understand their meaning, you need to request clarification, as in “Tell me exactly what you meant by ‘the flu’” or “You said you were behaving just like your mother. What did you mean?”





Communication that does not involve speech occurs continuously and provides important clues to feelings and emotions. Becoming more sensitive to nonverbal messages allows you to both “read the patient” more effectively and to send messages of your own. Pay close attention to eye contact, facial expression, posture, head position and movement such as shaking or nodding, interpersonal distance, and placement of the arms or legs, such as crossed, neutral, or open. Matching your position to the patient’s can be a sign of increasing rapport. Moving closer or engaging in physical contact (like placing your hand on the patient’s arm) can convey empathy or help the patient gain control of feelings. Bringing nonverbal communication to the conscious level is the first step to using this crucial form of patient interaction. You also can mirror the patient’s paralanguage, or qualities of speech such as pacing, tone, and volume, to increase rapport.

Facilitation. You use facilitation when, by posture, actions, or words, you encourage the patient to say more but do not specify the topic. Pausing with a nod of the head or remaining silent, yet attentive and relaxed, is a cue for the patient to continue. Leaning forward, making eye contact, and using continuers like “Mm-hmm,” “Go on,” or “I’m listening” all maintain the flow of the patient’s story.

Echoing. Simple repetition of the patient’s words encourages the patient to express both factual details and feelings, as in the following example: Patient: The pain got worse and began to spread. (Pause) Response: Spread? (Pause) Patient: Yes, it went to my shoulder and down my left arm to the fingers. It was so bad that I thought I was going to die. (Pause) Response: Going to die? Patient: Yes, it was just like the pain my father had when he had his heart attack, and I was afraid the same thing was happening to me.


This reflective technique has helped to reveal not only the location and severity of the pain but also its meaning to the patient. It did not bias the story or interrupt the patient’s train of thought.

Empathic Responses.

Conveying empathy is part of establishing and strengthening rapport with patients. As patients talk with you, they may express—with or without words—feelings they have not consciously acknowledged. These feelings are crucial to understanding their illnesses and to establishing a trusting relationship. To empathize with your patient you must first identify his or her feelings. When you sense important but unexpressed feelings from the patient’s face, voice, words, or behavior, inquire about them rather than assume how the patient feels. You may simply ask “How did you feel about that?” Unless you let patients know that you are interested in feelings as well as in facts, you may miss important insights.



FACILITATING THE PATIENT’S STORY: THE TECHNIQUES OF SKILLED INTERVIEWING Once you have identified the feelings, respond with understanding and acceptance. Responses may be as simple as “I understand,” “That sounds upsetting,” or “You seem sad.” Empathy may also be nonverbal—for example, offering a tissue to a crying patient or gently placing your hand on the patient’s arm to show understanding. When you give an empathic response, be sure that you are responding correctly to what the patient is feeling. If your response acknowledges how upset a patient must have been at the death of a parent, when, in fact, the death relieved the patient of a long-standing financial and emotional burden, you have misunderstood the situation.


Another important way to make a patient feel accepted is to legitimize or validate his or her emotional experience. A patient who has been in a car accident but has no significant physical injury may still be experiencing distress. Stating something like “Being in that accident must have been very scary. Car accidents are always unsettling because they remind us of our vulnerability and mortality. That could explain why you still feel upset” reassures the patient. It helps the patient feel that such emotions are legitimate and understandable.

Reassurance. When you are talking with patients who are anxious or upset, it is tempting to reassure them. You may find yourself saying “Don’t worry. Everything is going to be all right.” While this may be appropriate in nonprofessional relationships, in your role as a clinician such comments are usually counterproductive. You may fall into reassuring the patient about the wrong thing. Moreover, premature reassurance may block further disclosures, especially if the patient feels that exposing anxiety is a weakness. Such admissions require encouragement, not a cover-up. The first step to effective reassurance is identifying and accepting the patient’s feelings without offering reassurance at that moment. Doing so promotes a feeling of security. The actual reassurance comes much later after you have completed the interview, the physical examination, and perhaps some laboratory studies. At that point, you can interpret for the patient what you think is happening and deal openly with the real concerns.



Giving a capsule summary of the patient’s story in the course of the interview can serve several different functions. It indicates to the patient that you have been listening carefully. It can also identify what you know and what you don’t know. “Now, let me make sure that I have the full story. You said you’ve had a cough for 3 days, it’s especially bad at night, and you have started to bring up yellow phlegm. You have not had a fever or felt short of breath, but you do feel congested, with difficulty breathing through your nose.” Following with an attentive pause or “Anything else?” lets the patient add other information and confirms that you have heard the story correctly. You can use summarization at different points in the interview to structure the visit, especially at times of transition (see below). This technique also allows you, the clinician, to organize your clinical reasoning and to convey your thinking to the patient, which makes the relationship more collaborative.

Highlighting Transitions.

Patients have many reasons to feel worried and vulnerable. To put them more at ease, tell them when you are changing




ADAPTING INTERVIEWING TECHNIQUES TO SPECIFIC SITUATIONS directions during the interview. This gives patients a greater sense of control. As you move from one part of the history to another and on to the physical examination, orient the patient with brief transitional phrases like “Now I’d like to ask some questions about your past health.” Make clear what the patient should expect or do next . . . “Now I’d like to examine you. I’ll step out for a few minutes. Please get completely undressed and put on this gown.” Specifying that the gown should open in the back may earn the patient’s gratitude and save you some time.

Adapting Interviewing Techniques to Specific Situations Interviewing patients may precipitate several behaviors and situations that seem particularly vexing or perplexing. Your skill at handling these situations will evolve throughout your career. Always remember the importance of listening to the patient and clarifying the patient’s agenda.

The Silent Patient.

Novice interviewers may be uncomfortable with periods of silence and feel obligated to keep the conversation going. Silence has many meanings and many purposes. Patients frequently fall silent for short periods to collect thoughts, remember details, or decide whether they can trust you with certain information. The period of silence usually feels much longer to the clinician than it does to the patient. The clinician should appear attentive and give brief encouragement to continue when appropriate (see facilitative techniques on pp ___–___ and pp. ___–___). During periods of silence, watch the patient closely for nonverbal cues, such as difficulty controlling emotions. Alternatively, patients with depression or dementia may lose their usual spontaneity of expression, give short answers to questions, then quickly become silent afterwards. You may need to shift your inquiry to the symptoms of depression or begin an exploratory mental status examination (see Chapter 16, The Nervous System, pp. ___–___).


At times, silence may be the patient’s response to how you are asking questions. Are you asking too many direct questions in rapid sequence? Have you offended the patient in any way, for example, by signs of disapproval or criticism? Have you failed to recognize an overwhelming symptom such as pain, nausea, or dyspnea? If so, you may need to ask the patient directly, “You seem very quiet. Have I done something to upset you?” Finally, some patients are naturally laconic. Be accepting and try asking the patient for suggestions about other sources to help you gather more information. With the patient’s permission, talking with family members or friends may be worthwhile.

The Talkative Patient.

The garrulous, rambling patient may be just as difficult. Faced with limited time and the need to “get the whole story,” you may grow impatient, even exasperated. Although this problem has no perfect solutions, several techniques are helpful. Give the patient free rein for the first 5 or 10 minutes and listen closely to the conversation. Perhaps the patient sim-



ADAPTING INTERVIEWING TECHNIQUES TO SPECIFIC SITUATIONS ply has lacked a good listener and is expressing pent-up concerns. Maybe the patient’s style is to tell stories. Does the patient seem obsessively detailed or unduly anxious? Is there a flight of ideas or disorganized thought process that suggests a psychosis or confabulation? Try to focus on what seems most important to the patient. Show your interest by asking questions in those areas. Interrupt if you must, but courteously. Remember that part of your task is to structure the interview. It is acceptable to be directive and set limits when necessary. A brief summary may help you change the subject yet validate any concerns (see p. ___). “Let me make sure that I understand. You’ve described many concerns. In particular, I heard about two different kinds of pain, one on your left side that goes into your groin and is fairly new, and one in your upper abdomen after you eat that you’ve had for months. Let’s focus just on the side pain first. Can you tell me what it feels like?” Finally, do not show your impatience. If there is no more time, explain the need for a second meeting. Setting a time limit for the next appointment may be helpful. “I know we have much more to talk about. Can you come again next week? We’ll have a full hour then.”

The Anxious Patient.

Anxiety is a frequent and normal reaction to sickness, treatment, and the health care system itself. For some patients, anxiety is a filter for all their perceptions and reactions; for others it may be part of their illness. Again, watch for nonverbal and verbal cues. Anxious patients may sit tensely, fidgeting with their fingers or clothes. They may sigh frequently, lick dry lips, sweat more than average, or actually tremble. Carotid pulsations may betray a rapid heart rate. Some anxious patients fall silent, unable to speak freely or confide. Others try to cover their feelings with words, busily avoiding their own basic problems. When you detect anxiety, reflect your impression back to the patient and encourage him or her to talk about any underlying concerns. Be careful not to transmit your own anxieties about completing the interview to the patient!

The Crying Patient.


Crying signals strong emotions, ranging from sadness to anger or frustration. If the patient is on the verge of tears, pausing, gentle probing, or responding with empathy allows the patient to cry. Usually crying is therapeutic, as is your quiet acceptance of the patient’s distress or pain. Offer a tissue and wait for the patient to recover. Make a facilitating or supportive remark like “I’m glad that you got that out.” Most patients will soon compose themselves and resume their story. Aside from cases of acute grief or loss, it is unusual for crying to escalate and become uncontrollable. Crying makes many people uncomfortable. If this is true for you, as a clinician, you will need to work through your feelings so that you can support patients at these significant times.

The Confusing Patient.

Some patients are confusing because they have multiple symptoms. They seem to have every symptom that you ask about, or “a positive review of systems.” Although they may have multiple medical illnesses, a somatization disorder is more likely. With these patients, focus on the meaning or function of the symptom and guide the interview




ADAPTING INTERVIEWING TECHNIQUES TO SPECIFIC SITUATIONS into a psychosocial assessment. There is little profit to exploring each symptom in detail. At other times you may be baffled, frustrated, and confused yourself. The history is vague and difficult to understand, ideas are poorly related to one another, and language is hard to follow. Even though you word your questions carefully, you cannot seem to get clear answers. The patient’s manner of relating to you may also seem peculiar, distant, aloof, or inappropriate. Patients may describe symptoms in bizarre terms: “My fingernails feel too heavy” or “My stomach knots up like a snake.” Using various facilitative techniques, try to learn more about the unusual qualities of the symptoms. Perhaps there is a mental status change such as psychosis or delirium, a mental illness such as schizophrenia, or a neurologic disorder (see Chapter 16, The Nervous System). Watch for delirium in acutely ill or intoxicated patients and for dementia in the elderly. Such patients give histories that are inconsistent and cannot provide a clear chronology about what has happened. Some may even confabulate to fill in the gaps in their memories. When you suspect a psychiatric or neurologic disorder, do not spend too much time trying to get a detailed history. You will only tire and frustrate both the patient and yourself. Shift to the mental status examination, focusing on level of consciousness, orientation, and memory. You can work in the initial questions smoothly by asking “When was your last appointment at the clinic? Let’s see . . . that was about how long ago?” “Your address now is . . . ? . . . and your phone number?” You can check these responses against the chart, assuming that the chart is accurate, or by getting permission to speak with family members or friends and then doing so.

The Angry or Disruptive Patient.

Many patients have reasons to be angry: they are ill, they have suffered a loss, they lack their accustomed control over their own lives, and they feel relatively powerless in the health care system. They may direct this anger toward you. It is possible that hostility toward you is justified . . . were you late for your appointment, inconsiderate, insensitive, or angry yourself? If so, acknowledge the fact and try to make amends. More often, however, patients displace their anger onto the clinician as a reflection of their pain.


Accept angry feelings from patients and allow them to express such emotions without getting angry in return. Beware of joining such patients in their hostility toward another provider, the clinic, or the hospital, even when you are privately in sympathy. You can validate their feelings without agreeing with their reasons. “I understand that you felt very frustrated by the long wait and answering the same questions over and over. The complex nature of our health care system can seem very unsupportive when you’re not feeling well.” After the patient has calmed down, you can help find steps that will avert such situations in the future. Rational solutions to emotional problems are not always possible, however, and people need time to express and work through their angry feelings. Some angry patients become hostile and disruptive. Few people can disrupt the clinic or emergency department more quickly than patients who are angry, belligerent, or uncontrolled. Before approaching such patients, alert the



ADAPTING INTERVIEWING TECHNIQUES TO SPECIFIC SITUATIONS security staff—as a clinician, you have the right to feel and be safe. It is especially important to stay calm, appear accepting, and avoid being challenging in return. Keep your posture relaxed and nonthreatening and your hands loosely open. At first, do not try to make disruptive patients lower their voices or stop if they are cursing you or the staff. Listen carefully and try to understand what they are saying. Once you have established rapport, gently suggest moving to a different location that is not upsetting to other patients or families.

The Patient With a Language Barrier.

Nothing will convince you more surely of the importance of the history than having to do without one. When your patient speaks a different language, make every possible effort to find an interpreter. A few broken words and gestures are no substitute for the full story. The ideal interpreter is a neutral objective person who is familiar with both languages and cultures. Beware of using family members or friends as interpreters—confidentiality may be violated, meanings may be distorted, and transmitted information may be incomplete. Untrained interpreters may try to speed up the interview by telescoping lengthy replies into a few words, losing much of what may be significant detail. As you begin working with the interpreter, establish rapport and review what information would be most useful. Explain that you need the interpreter to translate everything, not to condense or summarize. Make your questions clear, short, and simple. You can also help the interpreter by outlining your goals for each segment of the history. After going over your plans with the interpreter, arrange the room so that you have easy eye contact and nonverbal communication with the patient. Then speak directly to the patient, asking “How long have you been sick?” rather than “How long has the patient been sick?” Having the interpreter close by keeps you from moving your head back and forth as though you were watching a tennis match! When available, bilingual written questionnaires are invaluable, especially for the Review of Systems. First be sure patients can read in their language; otherwise, ask for help from the interpreter. Some clinical settings have speakerphone translators; use them if there are no better options.



■ ■

Choose a professional interpreter in preference to a hospital worker, volunteer, or family member. Use the interpreter as a resource for cultural information. Orient the interpreter to the components you plan to cover in the interview; include reminders to translate everything the patient says. Arrange the room so that you and the patient have eye contact and can read each other’s nonverbal cues. Seat the interpreter next to you and allow the interpreter and the patient to establish rapport. Address the patient directly. Reinforce your questions with nonverbal behaviors. Keep sentences short and simple. Focus on the most important concepts to communicate. Verify mutual understanding by asking the patient to repeat back what he or she has heard. Be patient. The interview will take more time and may provide less information.





Before giving written instructions, it is wise to assess the patient’s ability to read. Literacy levels are highly variable, and marginal reading skills are more prevalent than commonly believed. People cannot read for many reasons, including language barriers, learning disorders, poor vision, or lack of education. Some people may try to hide their inability to read. Asking about educational level may be helpful but can be misleading. “I understand that this may be difficult to discuss, but do you have any trouble with reading?” Ask the patient to read whatever instructions you have written. Literacy skills may be the reason the patient has not followed through on taking medications or adhered to recommended treatments. Simply handing the patient written material upside-down to see if the patient turns it around may settle the question. Respond sensitively, and remember that illiteracy and lack of intelligence are not synonymous.

The Patient With Impaired Hearing.

Communicating with the deaf presents many of the same challenges as communicating with patients who speak a different language. Even individuals with partial hearing may define themselves as Deaf, a distinct cultural group. Find out the patient’s preferred method of communicating. Patients may use American Sign Language, which is a unique language with its own syntax, or various other communication forms combining signs and speech. Thus, communication is often truly crosscultural. Ask when hearing loss occurred relative to the development of speech and other language skills and the kinds of schools that the patient has attended. These questions help you determine whether the patient identifies with the Deaf or the Hearing culture. If the patient prefers sign language, make every effort to find an interpreter and use the principles identified above. Although very time-consuming, handwritten questions and answers may be the only solution, though literacy skills may also be an issue. When patients have partial hearing impairment or can read lips, face them directly, in good light. Speak at a normal volume and rate, and do not let your voice trail off at the ends of sentences. Avoid covering your mouth or looking down at papers while speaking. Remember that even the best lip readers comprehend only a percentage of what is said, so having patients repeat what you have said is important.


Hearing deficits vary. If the patient has a unilateral hearing loss, sit on the hearing side. If the patient has a hearing aid, find out if he or she is using it. Make sure it is working. Eliminate background noise such as television or hallway conversation as much as possible. Patients who wear glasses should use them so that they can pick up visual cues that will help them understand you better. Written questionnaires are also useful. When closing, supplement any oral instructions with written ones. A person who is hard of hearing may or may not be aware of the problem, a situation you will have to tactfully address.

The Patient With Impaired Vision.

When meeting with a blind patient, shake hands to establish contact and explain who you are and why you are there. If the room is unfamiliar, orient the patient to the surroundings and report if anyone else is present. Remember to use words whenever you respond to such patients, because postures and gestures are unseen.



ADAPTING INTERVIEWING TECHNIQUES TO SPECIFIC SITUATIONS Encourage visually impaired patients to wear glasses, if available, to ease communication.

The Patient With Limited Intelligence. Patients of moderately limited intelligence can usually give adequate histories. In fact, you may even overlook their limitations and omit their dysfunction from disability evaluations or give them instructions they cannot understand. If you suspect such problems, pay special attention to the patient’s schooling and ability to function independently. How far have such patients gone in school? If they didn’t finish, why not? What kinds of courses are (were) they taking? How did they do? Have they had any testing done? Are they living alone? Do they get help with any activities, for example, transportation or shopping? The sexual history is equally important and often overlooked. Find out if the patient is sexually active and provide any information needed about pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. If you are unsure about the patient’s level of intelligence, you can make a smooth transition to the mental status examination and assess simple calculations, vocabulary, memory, and abstract thinking (see Chapter 16). For patients with severe mental retardation, you will have to obtain the history from the family or caregivers. Identify the person who accompanies them, but always show interest first in the patient. Establish rapport, make eye contact, and engage in simple conversation. As with children, avoid “talking down” or using affectations of speech or condescending behavior. The patient, family members, caretakers, or friends will notice and appreciate your respect.

The Poor Historian.

Some patients are totally unable to give their own histories because of age, dementia, or other limitations. Others may be unable to relate certain parts of the history, such as events during a seizure. Under these circumstances, you must try to find a third person who can give you the story. Even when you have a reasonably comprehensive knowledge of the patient, other sources may offer surprising and important information. A spouse, for example, may report significant family strains, depressive symptoms, or drinking habits that the patient has denied.


For patients who are mentally competent, you must obtain their consent before you talk about their health with others. Assure patients that any information he or she has already told you is confidential, and clarify what can be shared. Even if patients can communicate only by facial expressions or gestures, you must maintain confidentiality and elicit their input. It is usually possible to divide the interview into two parts—one with the patient alone and the other with both the patient and the second person. Each part has its own value. Remember that data from others are also confidential. The basic principles of interviewing apply to your conversations with relatives or friends. Find a private place to talk. Introduce yourself, state your purpose, inquire how they are feeling under the circumstances, and recognize and acknowledge their concerns. As you listen to their versions of the history, be alert to the quality of their relationship with the patient. It may color their credibility or give you helpful ideas for planning the patient’s care. It is also im-




SPECIAL ASPECTS OF INTERVIEWING portant to establish how they know the patient. For example, when a child is brought in for health care, the accompanying adult may not be the primary or even frequent caregiver, just the most available ride. Always seek out the bestinformed source. Occasionally, a relative or friend insists on being with the patient during your evaluation. Try to find out why and also the patient’s wishes.

The Patient With Personal Problems. Patients may ask you for advice about personal problems outside the range of their health care. For example, should the patient quit a stressful job, move out of state, or have an abortion? Before responding, explore the different approaches the patient has considered and their pros and cons, whom else they have discussed the problem with, and what supports are available for different choices. Letting the patient talk through the problem with you is usually much more valuable and therapeutic than any answer you could give.

Special Aspects of Interviewing Clinicians talk with patients about various subjects that are emotionally laden or sensitive. These discussions can be particularly difficult for inexperienced clinicians or during evaluations of patients clinicians do not know well. Even seasoned clinicians have some discomfort with certain topics: abuse of alcohol or drugs, sexual orientation or activities, death and dying, financial concerns, racial and ethnic experiences, family interactions, domestic violence, psychiatric illnesses, physical deformities, bowel function, and others. These areas are difficult to explore in part because of societal taboos. We all know, for example, that talking about bowel habits is not “polite table talk.” In addition, many of these topics evoke strong cultural, societal, and personal values. Race, drug use, and homosexual practices are three obvious examples of issues that can raise biased attitudes and pose barriers during the interview. This section explores challenges to the clinician in these and other important and sometimes sensitive areas, including domestic violence, the dying patient, and mental illness.


Several basic principles can help guide your response to sensitive topics. The single most important rule is to be nonjudgmental. The clinician’s role is to learn about the patient and help the patient achieve better health. Disapproval of behaviors or elements in the health history will only interfere with this goal. Explain why you need to know certain information—doing so makes patients less apprehensive. For example, say to patients “Because sexual practices put people at risk for certain diseases, I ask all of my patients the following questions.” You should use specific language. Refer to genitalia with explicit words such as penis or vagina and avoid phrases like “private parts.” Choose words that the patient understands. “By intercourse, I mean when a man inserts his penis into a woman’s vagina.” Find opening questions for sensitive topics and learn the specific kinds of data needed for your assessments. Other strategies for becoming more comfortable with sensitive areas include general reading about these topics in medical and lay literature; talking to selected colleagues and teachers openly about your concerns; taking special 40


SPECIAL ASPECTS OF INTERVIEWING courses that help you explore your own feelings and reactions; and ultimately, reflecting on your own life experience. Take advantage of all these resources. Whenever possible, listen to experienced clinicians, then practice similar discussions with your own patients. The range of topics that you can explore with comfort will widen progressively.

Cultural Competence.

Developing the ability to interact and communicate effectively with patients from many backgrounds is a lifelong professional goal. The following examples illustrate how communication barriers, cultural differences, and unconscious biases can influence patient care. A 28-year-old taxi driver from Ghana who had recently moved to the United States complained to a friend about U.S. medical care. He had gone to the clinic because of fever and fatigue. He described being weighed, having his temperature taken, and having a cloth wrapped tightly, to the point of pain, around his arm. The clinician, a 36-year-old from Washington, DC, had asked the patient many questions, examined him, and wanted to take blood—which the patient had refused. The patient’s final comment was “ . . . and she didn’t even give me chloroquine!”—his primary reason for seeking care. The man from Ghana was expecting few questions, no examination, and treatment for malaria, which is what fever usually means in Ghana.


In this example, cross-cultural miscommunication is understandable and unthreatening. Bias and miscommunication, however, occur in many clinical interactions and are usually subtler. A 16-year-old high school student came to the local teen health center because of painful menstrual cramps that were interfering with school. She was dressed in a tight top and short skirt and had multiple piercings, including in her eyebrow. The 30-year-old male clinician asked the following questions: “Are you passing all of your, classes?” . . . “What kind of job do you want after high school?” . . . “What kind of birth control do you want?” The teenager felt pressured into accepting birth control pills, even though she had clearly stated that she had never had intercourse and planned to postpone it until she got married. She was an honor student, planning to go to college, but the clinician did not elicit these goals. The clinician glossed over her cramps by saying “Oh, you can just take some ibuprofen. Cramps usually get better as you get older.” The patient will not take the birth control pills that were prescribed, nor will she seek health care soon again. She experienced the encounter as an interrogation, so failed to gain trust in her clinician. In addition, the questions implied incorrect assumptions about her health. She has received ineffective health care because of conflicting cultural values and clinician bias.

In both of these cases, the failure arises from the clinician’s mistaken assumptions or biases. In the first case, the clinician did not consider the many variables that shape patient beliefs about health and expectations for medical care. In the second case, the clinician allowed stereotypes to dictate the agenda instead of listening to the patient and respecting her as an individual. Each of us has our own cultural background and our own biases. These do not simply fade away as we become clinicians. As you provide care for an ever-expanding and diverse group of patients, it is increasingly important to understand how culture shapes not just the patient’s CHAPTER 2



SPECIAL ASPECTS OF INTERVIEWING beliefs, but your own. Culture is a system of shared ideas, rules, and meanings that influences how we view the world, experience it emotionally, and behave in relation to other people. It can be understood as the “lens” through which we perceive and make sense out of the world we inhabit. This definition of culture is broader than the term “ethnicity.” The influence of culture is not limited to minority groups—it is relevant to everyone. While learning about specific cultural groups is important, without a framework, this may lead to its opposite, group stereotypes. For example, you may think that Asians have more rice in their diets than those from other cultural groups. For people of Asian descent in the United States, however, this may not be the case at all. Work on an appropriate and informed clinical approach to all patients by becoming aware of your own values and biases, developing communication skills that transcend cultural differences, and building therapeutic partnerships based on respect for each patient’s life experience. This type of framework, described in the following section, will allow you to approach each patient as unique and distinct. CLINICIAN GOALS FOR CULTURAL COMPETENCE ■ ■

Self-awareness. Learn about your own biases . . . we all have them. Enhanced communication. Work to eliminate assumptions about what is “normal.” Learn directly from your patients—they are the experts on their culture and illness. Collaborative partnerships. Build your relationships with patients on respect and mutually acceptable plans.

Self-awareness. Start by exploring your own cultural identity. How do you describe yourself in terms of ethnicity, class, region or country of origin, religion, and political affiliation? Don’t forget the characteristics that we often take for granted—gender, life roles, sexual orientation, physical ability, and race—especially if you are from majority groups in these areas. What aspects of your family of origin do you identify with and how are you different from your family of origin? How do these identities influence your beliefs and behaviors?


Another more challenging aspect of learning about ourselves is the task of bringing our own values and biases to a conscious level. Values are the standards we use to measure our own and others’ beliefs and behaviors. These may appear to be absolutes. Biases are the attitudes or feelings that we attach to perceived differences. Being attuned to difference is normal; in fact, in the distant past, detecting differences may have preserved life. Intuitively knowing members of one’s own group is a survival skill that we have outgrown as a society but it is still actively at work. We often feel so guilty about our biases that it is hard to recognize and acknowledge them. Start with less threatening constructs, such as the way an individual relates to time, which can be a culturally determined phenomenon. Are you always on time—a positive value in the dominant Western culture? Or do you tend to run a little late? How do you feel about people whose habits are opposite to yours? Next time you attend a meeting or class, notice who is early, on time, or late. Is it predictable? Think 42


SPECIAL ASPECTS OF INTERVIEWING about the role of physical appearance. Do you consider yourself thin, mid size, or heavy? How do you feel about your weight? What does prevailing U.S. culture teach us to value in physique? How do you feel about people who have different weights? Enhanced Communication and Learning from the Patient. Given the complexity of culture, no one can possibly know the health beliefs and practices of every culture and subculture. Therefore, remember that your patients are the experts on their own unique cultural perspectives. Patients may not be able to identify or define their values or beliefs in the abstract but should be able to respond to specific questions. Find out about the patient’s cultural background. Use some of the same questions discussed in “Expanding and Clarifying the Health History” (see p. ___). Maintain an open, respectful, and inquiring attitude. “What did you hope to get from this visit?” If you have established rapport and trust, patients will be willing to teach you. Be ready to acknowledge your ignorance or bias. “I know very little about Ghana. What would have happened at a clinic there if you had these concerns?” Or, with the second patient and with much more difficulty, “I mistakenly made assumptions about you that are not right. I apologize. Would you be willing to tell me more about yourself and your future goals?” Learning about specific cultures is still valuable because it broadens what you, as a clinician, identify as areas you need to explore. Do some reading about the life experiences of individuals in ethnic or racial groups in your region. Go to movies that are made in different countries or explicitly present the perspective of different groups. Learn about the concerns of different consumer groups with visible health agendas. Seek out and establish collegial relationships with healers of different disciplines. Most importantly, be open to learning from your patients.


Collaborative Partnerships. Through continual work on self-awareness and seeing through the “lens” of others, the clinician lays the foundation for the collaborative relationship that best supports the patient’s health. Communication based on trust, respect, and a willingness to reexamine assumptions helps allow patients to express concerns that may run counter to the dominant culture. These concerns may be associated with strong feelings such as anger or shame. You, the clinician, must be willing to listen to and to validate these feelings, and not let your own feelings prevent you from exploring painful areas. You must also be willing to reexamine your beliefs about what is the “right approach” to clinical care in a given situation. Make every effort to be flexible and creative in your plans, respectful of patients’ knowledge about their own best interests, and consciously committed to clarifying the truly acute or life-threatening risks to the patient’s health. Remember that if the patient stops listening, fails to follow your advice, or does not return, your health care has not been successful.

The Alcohol and Drug History. One difficult area for many clinicians is asking patients about their use of alcohol and drugs, either illegal or prescribed. Use of alcohol and drugs often directly contributes to symptoms and the need for care and treatment. Despite their high lifetime prevalence (in the United




SPECIAL ASPECTS OF INTERVIEWING States, more than 13% for alcohol and 4% for illegal drugs), substance abuse disorders are under diagnosed. Do not let personal feelings interfere with your role as a clinician. It is your job to gather data, assess the impact on the patient’s health, and plan a therapeutic response. Clinicians should routinely ask about current and past use of alcohol or drugs, patterns of use, and family history. Questions about alcohol and other drugs follow naturally after questions about caffeine and cigarettes. “What do you like to drink?” or “Tell me about your use of alcohol” are good opening questions that avoid the easy yes or no response. Remember to ask what patients mean by alcohol, since for some patients the term does not include wine or beer. Asking about alcohol use may not be that helpful for detecting problem drinking, but you can make use of several well-validated short screening tools that do not take much time. Try two additional questions: “Have you ever had a drinking problem?” and “When was your last drink?” An affirmative answer to the first question, along with a drink within 24 hours, has been shown to suggest problem drinking. The most widely used screening questions are the CAGE questions about Cutting down, Annoyance if criticized, Guilty feelings, and Eye-openers.


Have you ever felt the need to Cut down on drinking? Have you ever felt Annoyed by criticism of drinking? Have you ever felt Guilty about drinking? Have you ever taken a drink first thing in the morning (Eye-opener) to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?

Adapted from Mayfield D, MeLeod G, Hall P: The CAGE questionnaire: Validation of a new alcoholism screening instrument. Am J Psychiatry 131:1121–1123, 1974.


Two or more affirmative answers to the CAGE Questionnaire suggest alcoholism. They indicate that you need to ask more questions about blackouts (loss of memory for events during drinking), seizures, accidents or injuries while drinking, job loss, marital conflict, or legal problems. Also ask specifically about drinking while driving or operating machinery. Questions about drugs are similar. “How much marijuana do you use? Cocaine? Heroin? Amphetamines? (ask about each one by name). “How about prescription drugs such as sleeping pills?” “Diet pills?” “Pain-killers?” Another approach is to adapt the CAGE questions to screening for substance abuse by adding “or drugs” to each question. If the patient is using illegal substances, ask further questions such as “How do you feel when you take it?” . . . “Have you had any bad reactions?” “What happened?” . . . “Any drug-related accidents, injuries, or arrests?” “Job or family problems?” . . . “Have you ever tried to quit? Tell me about it.” Talking about drug use with adolescents can be even more challenging. It may be helpful to ask about substance use by friends or family members first. 44


SPECIAL ASPECTS OF INTERVIEWING “A lot of young people are using drugs these days. How about at your school? Any of your friends?” Once patients realize you are concerned and nonjudgmental, they may be more open about their own patterns of use. Remember that alcohol and drug use can start at young ages. These topics should be introduced, along with tobacco use, in front of the parent with children at ages 6 or 7.

The Sexual History. Asking questions about sexual function and practices can be life-saving. Sexual practices determine risks for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including AIDS—good interviewing helps prevent or reduce these risks. Sexual practices may be directly related to the patient’s symptoms and integral to both diagnosis and treatment. Many patients have questions or concerns about sexuality that they would discuss more freely if you have asked about sexual health. Finally, sexual dysfunction may result from use of medication or from misinformation that, if recognized, may be readily addressed. You can introduce questions about sexual function and practices at multiple points in a patient’s history. If the Chief Complaint involves genitourinary symptoms, include the sexual history in the Present Illness. Chronic illness or serious symptoms such as pain or shortness of breath may also affect sexual function. For women, you can ask these questions as part of the Obstetric/Gynecologic section of the Past Medical History. You can include them during discussions about Health Maintenance, along with diet, exercise, and screening tests, or as part of the lifestyle issues or important relationships covered in the Personal and Social History. Or, in a comprehensive history, you can query about sexual practices during the Review of Systems. An orienting sentence or two is often helpful. “Now I’d like to ask you some questions about your sexual health and practices.” or “I routinely ask all patients about their sexual function.” For more specific complaints, you might state “To figure out why you have this discharge and what we should do about it, I need to ask some questions about your sexual activity.”


In general, ask about both specific sexual behaviors and satisfaction with sexual function. Specific questions are included in the chapters on Male Genitalia and Hernias (pp. ___–___) and Female Genitalia (pp. ___–___). Be sure to ask such questions as:

“When was the last time you had intimate physical contact with anyone?” “Did that contact include sexual intercourse?” Using the term “sexually active” can be ambiguous. Patients have been known to reply “No, I just lie there.”

“Do you have sex with men, women, or both?” The health implications of heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual experiences are significant. Individuals may have sex with persons of the same gender, yet they may not consider themselves gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

“How many sexual partners have you had in the last 6 months?” “In the last 5 years?” “In your lifetime?” Again, these questions give the patient an easy opportunity to acknowledge multiple partners.





It is important to ask all patients “Do you have any concerns about HIV disease or AIDS?” because no explicit risk factors may be present. Ask also about routine use of condoms.

Note that these questions make no assumptions about marital status, sexual preference, or attitudes toward pregnancy or contraception. Listen to each of the patient’s responses and ask additional questions as indicated. When patients are uncomfortable using sexual terminology, you may have to initiate more of the discussion. Remember that sexual behavior, too, can start at a young age. Encourage parents to talk to their children about sexuality during their early years. It is frequently easier to discuss normal physiologic functions before children have been heavily socialized outside the home. For adolescents, because they often keep sexual behaviors from parents, be sensitive to the need for confidentiality (see p. ___ “Talking With Adolescents”).

Domestic and Physical Violence.

Because of the high prevalence of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, many authorities recommend the routine screening of all female patients for domestic violence. Some men are also at risk. As with other sensitive topics, start this part of the interview with general “normalizing” questions: “Because abuse is common in many women’s lives, I’ve begun to ask about it routinely.” “Are there times in your relationships that you feel unsafe or afraid?” “Many women tell me that someone at home is hurting them in some way. Is this true for you?” “Within the last year, have you been hit, kicked, punched, or otherwise hurt by someone you know? If so, by whom?” As in other parts of the history, use a pattern that goes from general to specific, less difficult to more difficult. Physical abuse—often not mentioned by either victim or perpetrator— should be considered in the following settings: If injuries are unexplained, seem inconsistent with the patient’s story, are concealed by the patient, or cause embarrassment

If the patient has delayed getting treatment for trauma

If there is a past history of repeated injuries or “accidents”

If the patient or a person close to the patient has a history of alcohol or drug abuse.


Also be suspicious if a partner tries to dominate the interview, will not leave the room, or seems unusually anxious or solicitous. When you suspect abuse, it is important to spend part of the encounter alone with the patient. You can use the transition to the physical examination as an excuse to ask the other person to leave the room. If the patient is also resistant, you should not force the situation, potentially placing the victim in jeopardy. Be aware that certain diagnoses have a higher association with abuse, such as pregnancy and somatization disorder. 46


SPECIAL ASPECTS OF INTERVIEWING Child abuse is also common. Asking parents about their approach to discipline is a routine part of well-child care. You can also ask parents how they cope with a baby who will not stop crying or a child who misbehaves. “Most parents get very upset when their baby cries (or their child has been naughty). How do you feel when your baby cries?” “What do you do when your baby won’t stop crying?” “Do you have any fears that you might hurt your child?” You should also inquire about how other caretakers or companions handle these situations.

The Mental Health History. Many cultures make ingrained distinctions between mental and physical illnesses causing marked differences in social acceptance and attitudes. Think how easily people talk about diabetes and taking insulin compared to discussing schizophrenia and using psychotropic medication. Use both open-ended and directed questions to elicit the individual and family history of mental illness. For example, you might begin by asking “Have you ever had any problem with emotional or mental illnesses?” Then move to more specific questions such as “Have you ever visited a counselor or psychotherapist?” . . . “Have you or has anyone in your family ever been hospitalized for an emotional or mental health problem?” For patients with depression or thought disorders such as schizophrenia, a careful history is in order. Depression is common worldwide but still remains underdiagnosed and undertreated. For such patients, be open to their changes in mood or symptoms such as fatigue, unusual tearfulness, weight loss, insomnia, and vague somatic complaints. Two opening questions are “How have your mood or spirits been over the past month?” and “What about your level of interest or pleasure in each day’s activities?” For serious depression, be sure to ask about thoughts of suicide . . . “Have you ever thought about hurting yourself or ending your life?” As with chest pain, you must evaluate severity— both are potentially lethal. For further approaches, turn to the mental status sections of Chapter 16, The Nervous System.


Many patients with schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders can function in the community and tell you about their diagnoses, symptoms, hospitalizations, and current medications. You should feel free to ask about symptoms and assess any impact on mood or daily activities.

Death and the Dying Patient. There is a growing and important focus in professional education and the literature on the need to address the issues of death and dying. Topics such as end-of-life decision-making, grief and bereavement, and advance directives are beyond the scope of this chapter. Basic concepts are appropriate even for beginning students, however, since you will care for patients near the end of their lives. Many clinicians avoid the subject of death because of their own discomforts and anxieties. You will need to work through your own feelings with the help of reading and discussion. Kubler-Ross has described five stages in a person’s response to loss or the anticipatory grief of impending death:





Denial and isolation



Depression or sadness


These stages may occur sequentially or overlap in different combinations. At each stage, follow the same approach. Be alert to patients’ feelings and to cues that they want to talk about them. Use facilitative techniques to help them to bring out their concerns. Make openings for them to ask questions: “I wonder if you have any concerns about the procedure?” . . . “Your illness?” . . . “What it will be like when you go home?” Explore these concerns and provide whatever information the patient requests. Be wary of inappropriate reassurance. If you can explore and accept patients’ feelings, answer their questions, and demonstrate your commitment to staying with them throughout their illness, reassurance will grow where it really matters—within the patients themselves. Dying patients rarely want to talk about their illnesses all the time, nor do they wish to confide in everyone they meet. Give them opportunities to talk and then listen receptively, but if they prefer to stay at a social level, you need not feel like a failure. Remember that illness—even a terminal one—is only one small part of the total person. A smile, a touch, an inquiry after a family member, a comment on the day’s events, or even some gentle humor all recognize and affirm other areas of the patient’s individuality and help sustain the living person. To communicate appropriately, you have to get to know the patient; that is part of the helping process.


Understanding the patient’s wishes about treatment at the end of life is an important part of a clinician’s role. Failing to establish this communication is widely viewed as a flaw in clinical care. Even if discussions of death and dying are difficult for you, you must learn to ask specific questions. The condition of the patient and the health care setting often determine what needs to be discussed. For patients who are acutely ill and in the hospital, discussing what the patient wants to have done in the event of a cardiac or respiratory arrest is usually mandatory. Asking about “DNR status” (Do Not Resuscitate) is often difficult when the clinician has no previous relationship with the patient and lacks knowledge of the patient’s values or life experience. Patients may also be unrealistic about the effectiveness of resuscitation based on information in the media. Find out about the patient’s frame of reference. “What experiences have you had with the death of a close friend or relative?” “What do you know about cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)?” Educate patients about the likely success of CPR, especially if they are chronically ill or advanced in age. Assure them that relieving pain and taking care of their other spiritual and physical needs will be a priority. 48


ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS In general, it is important to encourage any adult, but especially the elderly or chronically ill, to establish a health proxy, an individual who can act for the patient in life-threatening situations. This can be part of the interview aimed at a “values history” that identifies what is important to the patient and makes life worth living, and the point when living would no longer be worthwhile. Ask about how patients spend their time every day, what brings them joy, and what they look forward to. Make sure to clarify the meaning of statements like “You said that you don’t want to be a burden to your family. What exactly do you mean by that?” In addition, explore the patient’s religious or spiritual frame of reference so you and the patient can make the most appropriate decisions about health care.

Sexuality in the Clinician–Patient Relationship.

Clinicians occasionally find themselves physically attracted to their patients. The emotional and physical intimacy of the clinician–patient relationship may lead to sexual feelings. If you become aware of such feelings, accept them as a normal human response and bring them to the conscious level so they will not affect your behavior. Denying these feelings makes it more likely for you to act inappropriately. Any sexual contact or romantic relationship with patients is unethical; keep your relationship with the patient within professional bounds and seek help if you need it. Occasionally, clinicians meet patients who are frankly seductive or make sexual advances. Calmly but firmly make it clear that your relationship is professional, not personal. You may also wish to reflect on your image. Have you been overly warm with the patient? Expressed your affection physically? Sought his or her emotional support? Has your clothing or demeanor been unconsciously seductive? It is your responsibility to avoid these problems.

Ethical Considerations


You may wonder why an introductory chapter on interviewing contains a section on ethics. What is it about the process of talking with patients that calls for responses beyond our innate sense of morality? Ethics are a set of principles that have been created through reflection and discussion to guide our behavior. Medical ethics, which guide our professional behavior, are not static, but several principles have guided clinicians throughout the ages. Usually our ethical approach is instinctive, but even as students you will face situations that call for applications of ethical principles. Some of the traditional and still fundamental maxims are as follows: ■

Nonmaleficence or primum non nocere is commonly stated as “First, do no harm.” In the context of an interview, giving information that is incorrect or not really related to the patient’s problem can do harm. Avoiding relevant topics or creating barriers to open communication can also do harm. Your success in facilitating the patient’s full expression of experiences, thoughts, and feelings determines the quality of your assessment.





Beneficence is the dictum that the clinician needs to “do good” for the patient. As clinicians, our actions need to be motivated by what is in the patient’s best interest.

Autonomy reminds us that patients have the right to determine what is in their own best interest. This principle has become increasingly important over time and is consistent with collaborative rather than paternalistic patient relationships.

Confidentiality can be one of the most challenging principles. As clinicians, we are obligated not to tell others what we learn from our patients. This privacy is fundamental to our professional relationships with patients. In the daily flurry of activity in a hospital, it must be carefully guarded.

Issues in health care that extend beyond our direct care of individual patients to complicated choices about the distribution of resources and the well-being of society continue to emerge. A broadly representative group that initially met in Tavistock Square in London in 1998 has continued to work on an evolving document of ethical principles to guide behavior in health care for both individuals and institutions. A current iteration of the Tavistock Principles is provided below.

THE TAVISTOCK PRINCIPLES Rights: People have a right to health and health care. Balance: Care of individual patients is central, but the health of populations is also our concern. Comprehensiveness: In addition to treating illness, we have an obligation to ease suffering, minimize disability, prevent disease, and promote health. Cooperation: Health care succeeds only if we cooperate with those we serve, each other, and those in other sectors. Improvement: Improving health care is a serious and continuing responsibility. Safety: Do no harm. Openness: Being open, honest, and trustworthy is vital in health care.


As students you will learn about some of the ethical challenges that will confront you later as a practicing clinician. However, there are dilemmas unique to the role of student that you will face from the time that you begin taking care of patients. The following vignettes capture some of the most common experiences. They raise a variety of ethical and practical issues that are overlapping.


Scenario #1 You are a 3rd-year medical student on your first clinical rotation in the hospital. It is late in the evening when you are finally assigned to the patient that you are responsible for “working up” and presenting the next day at preceptor rounds. You go to the patient’s room and find the patient exhausted from the day’s events and clearly ready to settle down for the night. You know that your intern and attending have already done their evaluations. Do you proceed with a hisBATES’ GUIDE TO PHYSICAL EXAMINATION AND HISTORY TAKING

ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS tory and physical examination that is likely to take 1 to 2 hours? Is this process only for your education? Do you ask permission before you start? What do you include?

Here you are confronted with the tension between the need to learn by doing and doing no harm to patients. There is a utilitarian ethical principle that reminds us that if clinicians-in-training do not learn, then there will be no future caregivers. Yet the dictums to do no harm and prioritize what is in the patient’s best interests are clearly in conflict with that future need. As a student this dilemma will arise often. Obtaining informed consent is the process for addressing this ethical dilemma. Making sure the patient realizes that you are in training and new at patient evaluation is always important. It is impressive how often patients willingly let students be involved in their care. It is an opportunity for patients to give back to their caregivers. Even when clinical activities appear to be purely for educational purposes, there may be a benefit to the patient. Multiple caregivers provide multiple perspectives. This scenario invokes the Tavistock Principles of openness, balance, and safety. Scenario #2 You and your supervisor are on your way to draw an urgent blood sample from a patient. The patient was admitted with hypernatremia (a high sodium level) and needs to have his electrolytes monitored closely. It is already past the time for a repeat blood draw. Just then your supervisor is paged to an emergency and asks you to draw the sample on your own. You have seen several done but have only done one yourself and that was a few weeks ago.


In this situation you are being asked to be responsible for clinical care that exceeds your capability. This can happen in a number of situations, such as being asked to evaluate a clinical situation without proper backup or to complete DNR forms with a patient before you have been taught how. In the setting above, you may have the following thoughts: the patient will benefit by having a test that needs to be obtained; or, the risk to the patient from a venipuncture is more one of discomfort or pain rather than one that threatens his or her life, and you have already drawn blood once before. There is educational value to the learner in being pushed to the limits of his or her knowledge to solve problems and to gain confidence in functioning independently. But what is the right thing to do in this situation? In this scenario, think about the Tavistock Principles of openness, cooperation, and safety. You may need to find another person who is more qualified to do the procedure; or you may choose to attempt the venipuncture after alerting the patient to your inexperience and obtaining the patient’s consent. Scenario #3 You are assigned to a clinical team taking care of 25 patients who must be seen and have notes written on them before other commitments start at 7 A.M. There are four of you: the resident, an intern, a 4th-year medical student, and you, a mid-year clinical clerk. It is now 5:30 A.M. After the patients are divided among the three more senior members of the team, with time allowed for writing orders




INTERVIEWING PATIENTS OF DIFFERENT AGES and notes, there are barely 5 minutes to assess each patient at the bedside. After seeing nine patients with the resident, you are asked to write three of the notes. You have questions about the care of several of the patients but realize that there is no time to ask. Feeling uncomfortable, you write the notes to the best of your ability.

This situation relates to the Tavistock Principles of comprehensiveness, cooperation, openness, and improvement. As these scenarios illustrate, clinical students are under pressure to go along with practices already in place. The context may be the way a team works on an in-patient service or the standard approach to patients in an emergency room or an outpatient clinic. You may find yourself choosing between cooperating as a member of a team and delivering care that is not consistent with your individual sense of quality. In addition, often you are working with clinicians who are evaluating your performance as a student. You may find yourself doing tasks that make you uncomfortable because of pressures to be a “team player.” As you can see, ethical dilemmas frequently occur in the life of clinical students. Because, as a student, you are often in a hierarchical situation where you have relatively less power, ethical conflicts that you have no control over may arise more often than when you are a practicing clinician. You can also see that often there are no clear or easy answers in such situations. What responses are available to you to address these and other quandaries?


You need to reflect on your beliefs and assess your level of comfort with a given situation. In some situations there may be alternative solutions. For example, in Scenario #1, the patient may really be willing to have the history and physical examination done at that hour, or perhaps you can renegotiate the time for the next morning. In Scenario #2, you might look for an alternative supervisor for the venipuncture. You will need to choose which situations warrant voicing your concerns, even at the risk of a bad evaluation. Seek out coaching on how to express your reservations in a way that maximizes that they will be heard. As a clinical student, you will need settings for discussing these immediately relevant ethical issues with other students and with more senior trainees and faculty. Small groups that are structured to address these kinds of issues are particularly useful in providing validation and support. Avail yourself of these opportunities whenever possible.

Interviewing Patients of Different Ages

As patients move through different stages of life, you will need to make certain adaptations in your interviewing style. This section provides suggestions for talking with children, adolescents, and the elderly.

Talking With Children.

Unlike adults, children usually are accompanied by a parent or caregiver. Even when adolescents are alone, they are often seeking health care at the request of their parents—indeed, the parent is usually sitting in the waiting room. When interviewing a child, you need to consider the needs and perspectives of both the child and the caregivers. In



INTERVIEWING PATIENTS OF DIFFERENT AGES addition, the dictates of “well child care” may preset the clinician’s agenda toward immunizations, anticipatory guidance, or developmental assessment. Establishing Rapport. Begin the interview by greeting and establishing rapport with each person present. Refer to the infant or child by name rather than by “him,” “her,” or “the baby.” Clarify the role or relationship of all the adults and children. “Now, are you Jimmy’s grandmother?” “Please help me by telling me Jimmy’s relationship to everyone here.” Address the parents as “Mr. Smith” and “Ms. Smith” rather than by their first names or “Mom” or “Dad.” When the family structure is not immediately clear, you may avoid embarrassment by asking directly about other members. “Who else lives in the home?” “Who is Jimmy’s father?” “Do you live together?” Do not assume that just because parents are separated that only one parent is actively involved in the child’s life. To establish rapport, the key is to meet children on their own level. Use your personal experiences with children to guide how you interact in a health care setting. Maintaining eye contact at their level (for example, sit on the floor if needed), participating in playful engagement, and talking about what interests them are always good strategies. Ask children about their clothes, one of their toys, what book or TV show they like, or their adult companion in an enthusiastic but gentle style. Spending time at the beginning of the interview to calm down and connect with an anxious child or crying infant can put both the child and the caregiver at ease.


Working With Families. One of the biggest challenges when several people are present is deciding to whom to direct your questions. While eventually you need to get information from both the child and the parent(s), it is useful to start with the child if he or she can talk. Even at age 3 years, some children can tell you about the specific problem. Asking simple open-ended questions such as “Are you sick? . . . Tell me about it.” followed by more specific questions often provides much of the History of the Present Illness. The parents can then verify the information, add details that give you the larger context, and identify other issues you need to address. You need to characterize symptom attributes the same way you do with adults. Sometimes children are embarrassed to begin, but once the parent has started the conversation, you can direct the questions back to the child.

“Your mother tells me that you get a lot of stomachaches. Tell me about them.”

“Show me where you get the pain. What does it feel like?”

“Is it sharp like a pinprick, or does it ache?”

“Does it stay in the same spot, or does it move around?”

“Anything else about feeling sick?”

“What helps make it go away?”





“What do you think causes it?”

“How about missing school a lot?”

The presence of family members also provides a rich opportunity to observe how they interact with the child. As you talk with the parent, see how a young child relates to a new environment. It is normal for a toddler to open drawers, pull at paper, and wander around the room. An older child may be able to sit still or may get restless and start fidgeting. Watch how the parents set limits on the child or fail to set limits when appropriate. MULTIPLE AGENDAS. Each individual in the room, including the clinician, may have a different idea about the nature of the problem and what needs to be done about it. It is your job to discover as many of these perspectives and agendas as possible. Family members who are not present (the absent parent or grandparent) may also have concerns. It is a good idea to ask about those concerns too. “If Suzie’s father were here today, what questions or concerns would he have?” “Have you, Mrs. Jones, discussed this with your mother or anyone else?” “What does she think?” Mrs. Jones brings Suzie in for abdominal pain because she is worried that Suzie may have an ulcer. She is also worried about Suzie’s eating habits. Suzie is not worried about the belly pain—it rarely interferes with what she wants to do. She is uneasy about the changes in her body, especially her belief that she is getting fat. Mr. Jones thinks that Suzie’s schoolwork is not getting enough attention. You, as the clinician, need to balance these concerns with what you see as a healthy 12-year-old girl in early puberty with some mild functional abdominal pain. Your goals need to include helping the family to be realistic about the range of “normal” and uncovering the concerns of Mr. and Mrs. Jones and Suzie.


THE FAMILY AS A RESOURCE. Much of the information you obtain about a child comes from the family. In general, family members provide most of the care and are your natural allies in promoting the child’s health. Being open to a wide range of parenting behaviors helps to make this alliance. Raising a child reflects cultural, socioeconomic, and family practices. It is important to respect the tremendous variation in these practices. A good strategy is to view the parents as experts in the care of their child and you as their consultant. This demonstrates respect for the parents’ care and minimizes their likelihood of discounting or ignoring your advice. Most parents face many challenges raising children, so practitioners need to be supportive, not judgmental. Comments like “Why didn’t you bring him in sooner?” or “What did you do that for!” do not improve your rapport with the parent. Statements acknowledging the hard work of parenting and praising successes are always appreciated. HIDDEN AGENDAS. Finally, as with adults, the chief complaint may not relate to the real reason the parent has brought the child to see you. The complaint may be a “ticket to care” or bridge to concerns that may not seem legitimate. Try to create a trusting atmosphere that allows parents to be open about all their concerns. Ask facilitating questions like the following:




“Do you have any other concerns about Randy that you would like to tell me about?”

“What did you hope I would be able to do for you today?”

“Was there anything else that you wanted to tell or ask me today?”

Talking With Adolescents. Adolescents, like most other people, usually respond positively to anyone who demonstrates a genuine interest in them. It is important to show interest early and then sustain the connection if communication is to be effective. Adolescents are more likely to open up when the interview is focused on them rather than on their problems. In contrast to most other interviews, start with specific directed questions to build trust and rapport and start the conversation. You may have to do more talking than usual. A good way to begin is to chat informally about friends, school, hobbies, and family. Using silence in an attempt to get adolescents to talk or asking about feelings directly is usually not a good idea. It is particularly important to use summarization (see p. ___) and transitional statements (see p. ___) and to explain what you are going to do during the physical examination. The physical examination can also be an opportunity to get the young person talking. Once you have established rapport, return to more open-ended questions. At that point, make sure to ask what concerns or questions the adolescent may have. Remember also that adolescents’ behavior is related to their developmental stage and not necessarily to chronologic age or physical maturation. Their age and appearance may fool you into assuming that they are functioning on a more future-oriented and realistic level. The reverse also can be true, especially in teens with delayed puberty or chronic illness.


Issues of confidentiality are important in adolescence. Explain to both parents and adolescents that the best health care allows adolescents some degree of independence and confidentiality. It helps if the clinician starts asking the parent to leave the room for part of the interview when the child is age 10 or 11 years. This prepares both caregivers and young people for future visits when the patient spends time alone with the clinician. Before the parent leaves the room, get any relevant medical history from the parent, for example, certain elements of Past History, and clarify the parent’s agenda for the visit. Also discuss the need for confidentiality. Explain that the purpose of confidentiality is to improve health care, not to keep secrets. Adolescents need to know that you will hold in confidence what they discuss with you. However, never make confidentiality unlimited. Always state explicitly that you may need to act on information that makes you concerned about safety . . . “I will not tell your parents what we talk about unless you give me permission or I am concerned about your safety—for example, if you were to talk to me about killing yourself and I thought there were a risk that you would actually try it.”




INTERVIEWING PATIENTS OF DIFFERENT AGES Your goal is to help adolescents bring their concerns or questions to their parents. Encourage adolescents to discuss sensitive issues with their parents and offer to be present or help. While young people may believe that their parents would “kill them if they only knew,” you may be able to promote more open dialogue. This entails a careful assessment of the parents’ perspective and the young person’s full and explicit consent.

Talking With Aging Patients.

At the other end of the life cycle, aging patients also have special needs and concerns. Their hearing and vision may be impaired, their responses and explanations may be slow or lengthy, and they may have chronic illnesses with associated disabilities. Elderly people may not report their symptoms. Some may be afraid or embarrassed; others may be trying to avoid the medical expenses or the discomforts of diagnosis and treatment. They may think their symptoms are merely part of aging, or they may simply have forgotten about them. They may be inhibited by fears of losing their independence. As you proceed with the interview, give elderly patients time to respond to your questions. Speak slowly and clearly but do not shout or raise your voice. A comfortable room, free of distractions and noise, is helpful. Ask about turning off the radio or television. Remember that visual cues may be important, so make sure that your face is well lit. If they wear glasses, make sure they put them on. Do not try to accomplish everything in one visit. Several visits may be less fatiguing and more productive. From middle age on, people begin to measure their lives in terms of the years left rather than years lived. Older people often reminisce about the past and reflect upon previous experiences. Listening to this process of life review can give you important insights and help you support patients as they work through painful feelings or recapture joys or accomplishments.


Although some generalizations are useful, learn to recognize and avoid stereotypes that block your appreciation of each individual patient. Find out how patients see themselves and their situation, as well as each patient’s unique priorities, goals, and patterns for handling problems. This knowledge will help you as you collaborate on treatment plans. For example, “Can you tell me how you feel about getting older?” “What kinds of things do you find most satisfying?” “What kinds of things worry you?” “What would you change if you could?” Functional Assessment. Learning how the elderly, and those with chronic illness, function in terms of daily activities is essential and provides a baseline for future comparisons. There are two standard categories of assessment: physical activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). Can the patients perform the ADLs independently, do they need some help, or are they entirely dependent? Instead of asking about each area separately, have the patient go through a typical day, in detail. Start with an open-ended





Instrumental ADLs

Bathing Dressing Toileting Transfers Continence Feeding Managing money

Using the telephone Shopping Preparing food Housekeeping Laundry Transportation Taking medicine


request—“Tell me about your day yesterday”—and then guide the story to a greater level of detail. “You got up at 8? How is it getting out of bed?” “What did you do next?” Ask how things have changed, who is available for help, and what helpers actually do. Remember that increasing dependence on others is very difficult for most people to accept, but promoting safety is one of your important priorities.





Beginning the Physical Examination: General Survey and Vital Signs


Once you understand the patient’s concerns and have elicited a careful history, you are ready to begin the physical examination. At first you may feel unsure of how the patient will relate to you. With practice, your skills in physical examination will grow, and you will gain confidence. Through study and repetition the examination will flow more smoothly, and you will soon shift your attention from technique and how to handle instruments to what you hear, see, and feel. Touching the patient’s body will seem more natural, and you will learn to minimize any discomfort to the patient. You will become more responsive to the patient’s reactions and provide reassurance when needed. Before long, as you gain proficiency, what once took between 1 and 2 hours will take considerably less time. This chapter addresses skills and techniques needed for initial assessment as you begin the physical examination. Under “Anatomy and Physiology” you will find information on how to measure height, weight, and Body Mass Index (BMI), and guidelines for nutritional assessment. There is clinical information on the relevant health history, health promotion and counseling (“The General Survey”), and a preview of how to record the patient’s overall appearance (“The Vital Signs”). The section on “Techniques of Examination” describes the initial steps of the physical examination: preparing for the examination, conducting the general survey, and taking the vital signs.



As you begin the physical examination, you will survey the patient’s general appearance and measure the patient’s height and weight. These data provide information about the patient’s nutritional status and amount of body fat. Body fat consists primarily of adipose in the form of triglyceride and is stored in subcutaneous, intra-abdominal, and intramuscular fat depots. These stores are inaccessible and difficult to measure, so it will be important to compare your measurements of height and weight to standardized ranges of normal. In the past, tables of desirable weight-for-height have been based on life insurance data, which often did not adjust for the effects of smoking and selected weight-inducing medical conditions such as diabetes, and tended to overstate desirable weight. For those wishing to continue using such tables, see Table 3-1, p. ___. More recently, however, many government and scientific health organizations have promoted use of the Body Mass Index, which incorporates estimated but CHAPTER 3



ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY more accurate measures of body fat than weight alone. BMI standards are derived from two surveys: the National Health Examination Survey, consisting of three survey cycles between 1960 and 1970, and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, with three cycles from the 1970s to the 1990s. More than half of U.S. adults are overweight (BMI >25), and nearly one fourth are obese (BMI >30), so assessing and educating patients about their BMI are vital for promoting health. Being overweight or obese are proven risk factors for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, osteoarthritis, and some forms of cancer. Remember that these BMI criteria are not rigid cutpoints but guidelines for increasing risks for health and well-being. Note that persons over age 65 have a disproportionate risk of undernutrition when compared to younger adults. Height and weight in childhood and adolescence reflect the many behavioral, cognitive, and physiologic changes of growth and development. Developmental milestones, markers for growth spurts, and sexual maturity ratings can be found in Chapter 17, Assessing Children: Infancy Through Adolescence. With aging, some of these changes reverse—height may decrease, posture may become more stooping from kyphosis of the thoracic spine, and extension of the knees and hips may diminish. The abdominal muscles may relax, changing the abdominal contour, and fat may accumulate at the hips and lower abdomen. Be alert to these changes and those described in the sections called “Changes With Aging” in the upcoming chapters.

Calculating the BMI.

There are a number of ways to calculate the BMI. Choose the method most suited to your practice. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases cautions that people who are very muscular may have a high BMI but still be healthy. Likewise, the BMI for elderly or other individuals with low muscle mass and reduced nutrition may appear inappropriately “normal.” If you find the BMI difficult to use, you can use the nomogram on p. ___, which gives BMI values for weight in pounds or kilograms and height in feet or centimeters. Methods to Calculate Body Mass Index (BMI) Method of Calculation

Weight in pounds, height in inches

(1) Body Mass Index Chart (see table on p. ___)


Unit of Measure

(2) Body Mass Index Nomogram (see table on p. ___) (3)  Height (lbs) × 700*     Height (inches)  Height (inches)

Weight in kilograms, height in meters squared

(4) Weight (kg) Height (m2 )


(5) “BMI Calculator” at website

*Several organizations use 704.5, but the variation in BMI is negligible. Conversion formulas: 2.2 lbs = 1 kg; 1.0 inch = 2.54 cm; 100 cm = 1 meter Source: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. statobes.htm, Accessed 2/1/01.





Another option is to measure the patient’s waist circumference. With the patient standing, measure the waist just above the hip bones. The patient may have excess body fat if the waist measures: ■

≥35 inches for women

≥40 inches for men

Interpreting and Acting on the BMI. If the BMI falls above 25, or the weight is greater than the upper limit of recommended weight for height, a nutrition assessment is in order. Engage the patient in a 24-hour dietary recall and compare the intake of food groups and number of servings per day with current recommendations. Or choose a screening tool and provide appropriate counseling or referral. You may wish to review the types of foods in different food groups, using the helpful diagram found in Table 3-5, “Food Guide Pyramid: A Guide to Daily Food Choices” (p. ___). Remember that carbohydrates and protein furnish 4 calories per gram, and fat yields 9 calories per gram. If the BMI falls below 17, or the weight is less than the low end of the range of weight for height, be concerned about possible anorexia nervosa, bulimia, or other medical conditions. These conditions are summarized in Table 3-6, Eating Disorders and Excessively Low BMI, p. ___. (See also p. ___ for health promotion and counseling for overweight or underweight patients.)

See also Table 3-1, Height and Weight Tables for Adults Age 25 and Over, p. ___. See Table 3-2, Healthy Eating: Food Groups and Servings per Day, p. ___. For screening tools, see Table 3-3, Rapid Screen for Dietary Intake, p. ___, and Table 3-4, Nutrition Screening Checklist, p. ___.



Source: Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults, National Institutes of Health and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. June 1998.







Source: Katz DL: Nutrition in Clinical Practice. Philadelphia, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2001:340.

THE HEALTH HISTORY Common or Concerning Symptoms Changes in weight Weakness and fatigue ■ Fever, chills, night sweats ■


Changes in Weight.

Changes in weight result from changes in body tissues or body fluid. Weight gain occurs when caloric intake exceeds caloric expenditure over a period of time and typically appears as increased body fat. Weight gain may also reflect abnormal accumulation of body fluids. When the retention of fluid is relatively mild, it may not be visible, but several pounds of fluid usually appear as edema.

Rapid changes in weight (over a few days) suggest changes in body fluids, not tissues.

Good opening questions include “How often do you check your weight?” “How is it compared to a year ago?” For changes, ask “Why do you think it has changed?” “What would you like to weigh?” If weight gain or loss appears to be a problem, ask about the amount of change, its timing, the setting in which it occurred, and any associated symptoms. 62




In the overweight patient, for example, when did the weight gain begin? Was the patient heavy as an infant or a child? Using milestones appropriate to the patient’s age, inquire about weight at the following times: birth, kindergarten, high school or college graduation, discharge from military service, marriage, after each pregnancy, menopause, and retirement. What were the patient’s life circumstances during the periods of weight gain? Has the patient tried to lose weight? How? With what results?

Causes of weight loss include: gastrointestinal diseases, endocrine disorders (diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, adrenal insufficiency), chronic infections; malignancy; chronic cardiac, pulmonary, or renal failure; depression; and anorexia nervosa or bulimia (see Table 3-6, Eating Disorders and Excessively Low BMI, p. ___).

Try to determine if the drop in weight is proportional to any change in food intake, or whether it has remained normal or even increased.

Weight loss with relatively high food intake suggests diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, or malabsorption. Consider also binge eating (bulimia) with clandestine vomiting.

Symptoms associated with weight loss often suggest a cause, as does a good psychosocial history. Who cooks and shops for the patient? Where does the patient eat? With whom? Are there any problems with obtaining, storing, preparing, or chewing food? Does the patient avoid or restrict certain foods for medical, religious, or other reasons?

Poverty, old age, social isolation, physical disability, emotional or mental impairment, lack of teeth, ill-fitting dentures, alcoholism, and drug abuse increase the likelihood of malnutrition.

Throughout the history, be alert for signs of malnutrition. Symptoms may be subtle and nonspecific, such as weakness, easy fatigability, cold intolerance, flaky dermatitis, and ankle swelling. Securing a good history of eating patterns and quantities is mandatory. It is important to ask general questions about intake at different times throughout the day, such as “Tell me what you typically eat for lunch.” “What do you eat for a snack?” “When?”

See Table 3-4, Nutrition Screening Checklist, p. ___.

Fatigue and Weakness.

Fatigue is a common symptom of depression and anxiety states, but also consider infections (such as hepatitis, infectious mononucleosis, and tuberculosis); endocrine disorders (hypothyroidism, adrenal insufficiency, diabetes mellitus,


Weight loss is an important symptom that has many causes. Mechanisms include one or more of the following: decreased intake of food for reasons such as anorexia, dysphagia, vomiting, and insufficient supplies of food; defective absorption of nutrients through the gastrointestinal tract; increased metabolic requirements; and loss of nutrients through the urine, feces, or injured skin. A person may also lose weight when a fluid-retaining state improves or responds to treatment.

Like weight loss, fatigue is a relatively nonspecific symptom with many causes. It refers to a sense of weariness or loss of energy that patients describe in various ways. “I don’t feel like getting up in the morning” . . . “I don’t have any energy” . . . “I just feel blah”. . . . “I’m all done in” . . . “I can hardly get through the day” . . . “By the time I get to the office I feel as if I’ve done a day’s work.” Because fatigue is a normal response to hard work, sustained stress, or grief, try to elicit the life cir-






cumstances in which it occurs. When fatigue is unrelated to such situations, further investigation is needed.

panhypopituitarism); heart failure; chronic disease of the lungs, kidneys, or liver; electrolyte imbalance; moderate to severe anemia; malignancies; nutritional deficits; medications.

Use open-ended questions to explore the attributes of the patient’s fatigue, and encourage the patient to fully describe what he or she is experiencing. Important clues about etiology are often found in a good psychosocial history, exploration of sleep patterns, and a thorough review of systems. Infants and children cannot describe fatigue verbally, so inquire about any changes in behavior, such as withdrawal from normal activities, irritability, loss of interest in their surroundings, and excessive sleeping. Weakness is different from fatigue. It denotes a demonstrable loss of muscle power and will be discussed later with other neurologic symptoms (see pp. ___–___).

Weakness, especially if localized in a neuroanatomic pattern, suggests possible neuropathy or myopathy.

Fever and Chills.

Fever refers to an abnormal elevation in body temperature (see p. ___ for definitions of normal). Ask about fever if patients have an acute or chronic illness. Find out whether the patient has used a thermometer to measure the temperature. (Errors in technique can lead to unreliable information.) Has the patient felt feverish or unusually hot, noted excessive sweating, or felt chilly and cold? Try to distinguish between subjective chilliness and a shaking chill, with shivering throughout the body and chattering of teeth.


Feeling cold, goosebumps, and shivering accompany a rising temperature, while feeling hot and sweating accompany a falling temperature. Normally the body temperature rises during the day and falls during the night. When fever exaggerates this swing, night sweats occur. Malaise, headache, and pain in the muscles and joints often accompany fever.

Recurrent shaking chills suggest more extreme swings in temperature and systemic bacteremia. Feelings of heat and sweating also accompany menopause. Night sweats occur in tuberculosis and malignancy.

Fever has many causes. Focus your questions on the timing of the illness and its associated symptoms. Become familiar with patterns of infectious diseases that may affect your patient. Inquire about travel, contact with sick persons, or other unusual exposures. Be sure to inquire about medications, since they may cause fever. In contrast, recent ingestion of aspirin, acetaminophen, corticosteroids, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may mask it and affect the temperature recorded at the time of the physical examination.





HEALTH PROMOTION AND COUNSELING Important Topics for Health Promotion and Counseling ■ ■ ■

Optimal weight and nutrition Exercise Blood pressure and diet

Optimal Weight and Nutrition.

Less than half of U.S. adults maintain a healthy weight (BMI ≥19 but ≤25). Obesity has increased in every segment of the population, regardless of age, gender, income, ethnicity, or socioeconomic group. More than half of people with non-insulindependent diabetes and roughly 20% of those with hypertension or elevated cholesterol are overweight or obese. Increasing obesity in children has been linked to rising rates of childhood diabetes. Once excess weight or unhealthy nutritional patterns are detected, take advantage of the excellent materials available to promote weight loss and good nutrition. Even reducing weight by 5% to 10% can improve blood pressure, lipid levels, and glucose tolerance and reduce the risk of developing diabetes or hypertension. Once you have assessed food intake and nutritional status and the patient’s motivation to change eating behaviors, you are ready to begin health counseling. First, explain the components of a healthy diet and encourage patients to select appropriately sized servings from each of the five major food groups: grains such as bread, cereal, rice, and pasta; fruits; vegetables; dairy products; and meat and beans. Be prepared to help adolescents and adults over age 50 identify foods rich in calcium. Advise pregnant women to increase intake of iron and folic acid, and older adults to increase intake of vitamin D.

See Table 3-2, Healthy Eating: Food Groups and Servings per Day, p. ___, and Table 3-5. Food Guide Pyramid, p. ___. See Table 3-7, Nutrition Counseling: Sources of Nutrients, p. ___.



Fitness is a key component of both weight control and weight loss. Currently, 30 minutes of moderate activity, defined as walking 2 miles in 30 minutes on most days of the week or its equivalent, is recommended. Patients can increase exercise by such simple measures as parking further away from their place of work or using stairs instead of elevators. A safe goal for weight loss is 1⁄2 to 2 pounds per week.

Blood Pressure and Diet.

With respect to blood pressure, there is reliable evidence that regular and frequent exercise, decreased sodium intake and increased potassium intake, and maintaining a healthy weight will reduce risk of developing hypertension as well as lower blood pressure in adults who are already hypertensive. Explain to patients that most of the sodium in our diet comes from salt (sodium chloride). Inform your patients that the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of sodium is


See Table 3-8, Patients With Hypertension: Recommended Changes in Diet, p. ___.



HEALTH PROMOTION AND COUNSELING <2400 mg, or 1 teaspoon, per day. Patients need to read food labels closely, especially the Nutrition Facts panel. Low sodium foods are those with sodium listed at less than 5% of the RDA of <2400 mg. For nutritional interventions to reduce risk of cardiac disease, turn to pp. ___ and pp. ___.

Preview: Recording the Physical Examination— The General Survey and Vital Signs


Your write-up of the physical examination begins with a general description of the patient’s appearance, based on the General Survey. Note that initially you may use sentences to describe your findings; later you will use phrases. The style below contains phrases appropriate for most write-ups. Unfamiliar terms are explained in the next section, “Techniques of Examination.” Choose vivid and graphic adjectives, as if you are painting a picture in words. Avoid cliches such as “well-developed” or “well-nourished” or “in no acute distress,” since they could apply to any patient and do not convey the special features of the patient before you. Record the vital signs taken at the time of your examination. They are preferable to those taken earlier in the day by other providers. (Common abbreviations for blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate are selfexplanatory.) “Mrs. Scott is a young, healthy-appearing woman, well-groomed, fit, and in good spirits. Height is 5′4″, weight 135 lbs, BP 120/80, HR 72 and regular, RR 16, temperature 37.5°C.” OR: “Mr. Jones is an elderly male who looks pale and chronically ill. He is alert, with good eye contact but unable to speak more than two or three words at a time due to shortness of breath. He has intercostal muscle retraction when breathing and sits upright in bed. He is thin, with diffuse muscle wasting. Height is 6′2″, weight 175 lbs, BP 160/95, HR 108 and irregular, RR 32 and labored, temperature 101.2°F.”





Reflect on your approach to the patient Decide on the scope of the examination Choose the examination sequence Adjust the lighting and the environment Make the patient comfortable

Before you begin the physical examination, take time to prepare for the tasks ahead. Think through your approach to the patient, your professional demeanor, and how to make the patient feel comfortable and relaxed. Review the measures that promote the patient’s physical comfort and make any adjustments needed in the lighting and the surrounding environment. Make sure that you wash your hands in the presence of the patient before beginning the examination. This is a subtle yet much appreciated gesture of concern for the patient’s welfare.

Approaching the Patient.

When first examining patients, feelings of insecurity are inevitable, but these will soon diminish with experience. Be straightforward. Let the patient know you are a student and try to appear calm, organized, and competent, even when you feel differently. If you forget to do part of the examination, this is not uncommon, especially at first! Simply examine those areas out of sequence, but smoothly. It is not unusual to go back to the bedside and ask to check one or two items that you might have overlooked.


As a beginner, you will need to spend more time than experienced clinicians on selected portions of the examination, such as the ophthalmoscopic examination or cardiac auscultation. To avoid alarming the patient, warn the patient ahead of time by saying, for example, “I would like to spend extra time listening to your heart and the heart sounds, but this doesn’t mean I hear anything wrong.” Over time, you will begin sharing your findings with the patient. Clinicians have different approaches as to how and when this occurs. As a beginner, you should avoid interpreting your findings. You are not the patient’s primary caretaker, and your views may be conflicting or in error. As you grow in experience and responsibility, sharing findings will become more appropriate. If the patient has specific concerns, you may even provide reassurance as you finish examining the relevant area. Be selective, however—if you find an unexpected abnormality, you may wish you had kept a judicious silence. At times,




TECHNIQUES OF EXAMINATION you may discover abnormalities such as an ominous mass or a deep oozing ulcer. Always avoid showing distaste, alarm, or other negative reactions.

Scope of the Examination: How Complete Should It Be? There is no simple answer to this common question. Chapter 1 provided some guidelines to help you choose whether to do a comprehensive or focused examination. As a general principle, a new patient warrants a complete examination, regardless of chief complaint or setting. You may choose to abbreviate the examination for patients making routine office visits or seeking urgent care. A more limited examination may also be appropriate for patients with symptoms restricted to a specific body system or with patients you know well. A comprehensive examination does more than assess the body systems. The physical examination is a source of fundamental and personalized knowledge about the patient and strengthens the clinician–patient relationship. Most people seeking health care have specific worries or symptoms. The physical examination helps to identify or rule out related physical causes. It gives information for answering patient questions and serves as a baseline for future comparisons. The physical examination also provides important opportunities for health promotion through education and counseling, and increases the credibility and conviction of the clinician’s reassurance and advice. Furthermore, students must repeatedly perform such examinations to gain proficiency, and clinicians need ongoing practice to maintain their skills. How to best divide the usually limited time allotted to a patient visit between listening, discussion, or counseling on the one hand, and the physical examination on the other, takes both judgment and experience. For the focused examination, select the methods relevant to assessing the problem as precisely and carefully as possible. The patient’s symptoms, age, and health history help determine the scope of your examination, as does your knowledge of disease patterns. Out of all the patients with sore throat, for example, you will need to decide who may have infectious mononucleosis and warrants careful palpation of the liver and spleen and who, in contrast, has a common cold and does not need this examination. The clinical thinking that underlies and guides such decisions is discussed in Chapter 18.


What about the need for a periodic physical examination for screening and prevention? The utility of the comprehensive physical examination for the purposes of screening and prevention of illness, in contrast to evaluation of symptoms, has been scrutinized in a number of studies. Studies have validated a number of physical examination techniques: blood pressure measurement, assessment of central venous pressure from the jugular venous pulse, listening to the heart for evidence of valvular disease, the clinical breast examination, detection of hepatic and splenic enlargement, and the pelvic examination with Papanicolaou smears. Recommendations for examination and screening have been further expanded by various consensus panels and expert advisory groups. Bear in mind, however, that when used for screening (rather than assessment of complaints), not all components of the examination have been validated as ways to reduce future morbidity and mortality.

Choosing the Examination Sequence, Examining Position, and Handedness. Remember that the sequence of the comprehensive or 68


TECHNIQUES OF EXAMINATION focused examination should maximize the patient’s comfort, avoid unnecessary changes in position, and enhance the clinician’s efficiency. In general, move from “head to toe.” An important goal for you as a student is to develop your own sequence of examination with these principles in mind. For example, avoid examining the patient’s feet or genital areas before checking the face or mouth. Turn back to Chapter 1, pp. ___, to review a suggested examination sequence, and look over the outline of such a sequence below. THE PHYSICAL EXAMINATION: SUMMARY OF SUGGESTED SEQUENCE






TECHNIQUES OF EXAMINATION This book recommends examining the patient from the patient’s right side, moving to the opposite side or foot of the bed or examining table as necessary. This is the standard position for the physical examination and has several advantages compared to the left side: It is more reliable to estimate jugular venous pressure from the right, the palpating hand rests more comfortably on the apical impulse, the right kidney is more frequently palpable than the left, and examining tables are frequently positioned to accommodate a righthanded approach. Left-handed students are encouraged to adopt right-sided positioning, even though at first it may seem awkward. It still may be easier to use the left hand for percussing or for holding instruments such as the otoscope or reflex hammer. Often you will need to examine the supine patient. This may dictate changes in your sequence of examination. Some patients, for example, are unable to sit up in bed or stand. You can examine the head, neck, and anterior chest with the patient lying supine. Then roll the patient onto each side to listen to the lungs, examine the back, and inspect the skin. Roll the patient back and finish the rest of the examination with the patient again in the supine position.

Adjusting Lighting and the Environment.

Surprisingly, a number of environmental factors affect the calibre and reliability of your physical findings. To achieve superior techniques of examination, it is important to “set the stage” so that both you and the patient are comfortable. As the examiner, you will find that awkward positions impair the quality of your observations. Take the time to adjust the bed to a convenient height (but be sure to lower it when finished!), and ask the patient to move toward you if this makes it easier to examine a region of the body more carefully.


Good lighting and a quiet environment make important contributions to what you see and hear but may be hard to arrange. Do the best you can. If a television interferes with listening to heart sounds, politely ask the nearby patient to lower the volume. Most people cooperate readily. Be courteous and remember to thank them as you leave. Tangential lighting is optimal for inspecting a number of structures such as the jugular venous pulse, the thyroid gland, and the apical impulse of the heart. It casts light across body surfaces that throws contours, elevations, and depressions, whether moving or stationary, into sharper relief. When light is perpendicular to the surface or diffuse, as shown on the next page, shadows are reduced and subtle undulations across the surface are lost. Experiment with focused, tangential lighting across the tendons on the back of your hand; try to see the pulsations of the radial artery at your wrist.






Promoting the Patient’s Comfort.

Your access to the patient’s body is a unique and time-honored privilege of your role as a clinician. Showing concern for privacy and patient modesty must be ingrained in your professional behavior. These attributes help the patient feel respected and at ease. Be sure to close nearby doors and draw the curtains in the hospital or examining room before the examination begins. You will acquire the art of draping the patient with the gown or draw sheet as you learn each segment of the examination in the chapters ahead. Your goal is to visualize one area of the body at a time. This preserves the patient’s modesty but also helps you to focus on the area being examined. With the patient sitting, for example, untie the gown in back to better listen to the lungs. For the breast examination, uncover the right breast but keep the left chest draped. Redrape the right chest, then uncover the left chest and proceed to examine the left breast and heart. For the abdominal examination, only the abdomen should be exposed. Adjust the gown to cover the chest and place the sheet or drape at the inguinal area.


To help the patient prepare for segments that might be awkward, it is considerate to briefly describe your plans before starting the examination. As you proceed with the examination, keep the patient informed, especially when you anticipate embarrassment or discomfort, as when checking for the femoral pulse. Also try to gauge how much the patient wants to know. Is the patient curious about the lung findings or your method for assessing the liver or spleen? Make sure your instructions to the patient at each step in the examination are courteous and clear. For example, “I would like to examine your heart now, so please lie down.” As in the interview, be sensitive to the patient’s feelings and physical comfort. Watching the patient’s facial expressions and even asking “Is it okay?”




TECHNIQUES OF EXAMINATION as you move through the examination often reveals unexpressed worries or sources of pain. To ease discomfort, it may help to adjust the slant of the patient’s bed or examining table. Rearranging the pillows or adding blankets for warmth shows your attentiveness to the patient’s well-being. When you have completed the examination, tell the patient your general impressions and what to expect next. For hospitalized patients, make sure the patient is comfortable and rearrange the immediate environment to the patient’s satisfaction. Be sure to lower the bed to avoid risk of falls, reapply any restraints you may have removed, and raise the bedrails if needed. As you leave, wash your hands, clean your equipment, and dispose of any waste materials.

THE GENERAL SURVEY The General Survey of the patient’s build, height, and weight begins with the opening moments of the patient encounter, but you will find that your observations of the patient’s appearance crystallize as you start the physical examination. The best clinicians continually sharpen their powers of observation and description, like naturalists identifying birds from silhouettes backlit against the sky. It is important to heighten the acuity of your clinical perceptions of the patient’s mood, build, and behavior. These details enrich and deepen your emerging clinical impression. A skilled observer can depict distinguishing features of the patient’s general appearance so well in words that a colleague could spot the patient in a crowd of strangers.


Many factors contribute to the patient’s body habitus—socioeconomic status, nutrition, genetic makeup, degree of fitness, mood state, early illnesses, gender, geographic location, and age cohort. Recall that many of the characteristics you scrutinize during the General Survey are affected by the patient’s nutritional status: height and weight, blood pressure, posture, mood and alertness, facial coloration, dentition and condition of the tongue and gingiva, color of the nail beds, and muscle bulk, to name a few. Be sure to make the assessment of height, weight, BMI, and risk of obesity a routine part of your clinical practice. You should now recapture the observations you have been making since the first moments of your interaction and sharpen them throughout your assessment. Does the patient hear you when greeted in the waiting room or examination room? Rise with ease? Walk easily or stiffly? If hospitalized when you first meet, what is the patient doing—sitting up and enjoying television? . . . or lying in bed? . . . What occupies the bedside table— a magazine? . . . a flock of “get well” cards? . . . a Bible or a rosary? . . . an emesis basin? . . . or nothing at all? Each of these observations should raise one or more tentative hypotheses about the patient for you to consider during future assessments. 72




Apparent State of Health.

Try to make a general judgment based on observations made throughout the encounter. Support it with the significant details.

Acutely or chronically ill, frail, feeble, robust, vigorous

Level of Consciousness.

If not, promptly assess the level of consciousness (see p. ___).

Is the patient awake, alert, and responsive to you and others in the environment?

Signs of Distress.

For example, does the patient show evidence of these

problems? ■

Cardiac or respiratory distress

Clutching the chest, pallor, diaphoresis; labored breathing, wheezing, cough


Wincing, sweating, protectiveness of painful area

Anxiety or depression

Anxious face, fidgety movements, cold moist palms; inexpressive or flat affect, poor eye contact, psychomotor slowing Very short stature is seen in Turner’s syndrome, childhood renal failure, achondroplastic and hypopituitary dwarfism. Long limbs in proportion to the trunk is seen in hypogonadism and Marfan’s syndrome


Is the patient emaciated, slender, plump, obese, or somewhere in between? If the patient is obese, is the fat distributed evenly or concentrated over the trunk, the upper torso, or around the hips?

Generalized fat in simple obesity; truncal fat with relatively thin limbs in Cushing’s syndrome and syndrome X

Whenever possible, weigh the patient with shoes off. Weight provides one index of caloric intake, and changes over time yield other valuable diagnostic data. Remember that changes in weight can occur with changes in body fluid status, as well as in fat or muscle mass.

Causes of weight loss include malignancy, diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, chronic infection, depression, diuresis, and successful dieting

Skin Color and Obvious Lesions. See Chapter 4, The Skin, for details.

Pallor, cyanosis, jaundice, rashes, bruises

Dress, Grooming, and Personal Hygiene.

Excess clothing may reflect the cold intolerance of hypothyroidism, hide skin rash or needle marks, or signal personal lifestyle preferences.


Height and Build. If possible, measure the patient’s height in stocking feet. Is the patient unusually short or tall? Is the build slender and lanky, muscular, or stocky? Is the body symmetric? Note the general body proportions and look for any deformities.

How is the patient dressed? Is clothing appropriate to the temperature and weather? Is it clean, properly buttoned, and zipped? How does it compare with clothing worn by people of comparable age and social group?





Glance at the patient’s shoes. Have holes been cut in them? Are the laces tied? Or is the patient wearing slippers?

Cut-out holes or slippers may indicate gout, bunions, or other painful foot conditions. Untied laces or slippers also suggest edema.

Is the patient wearing any unusual jewelry? Where? Is there any body piercing?

Copper bracelets are sometimes worn for arthritis. Body piercing may appear on any part of the body.

Note the patient’s hair, fingernails, and use of cosmetics. They may be clues to the patient’s personality, mood, or lifestyle. Nail polish and hair coloring that have “grown out” may signify decreased interest in personal appearance.

“Grown-out” hair and nail polish can help you estimate the length of an illness if the patient cannot give a history. Fingernails chewed to the quick may reflect stress.

Do personal hygiene and grooming seem appropriate to the patient’s age, lifestyle, occupation, and socioeconomic group? These are norms that vary widely, of course.

Unkempt appearance may be seen in depression and dementia, but this appearance must be compared with the patient’s probable norm.

Facial Expression.

Observe the facial expression at rest, during conversation about specific topics, during the physical examination, and in interaction with others. Watch for eye contact. Is it natural? Sustained and unblinking? Averted quickly? Absent?

The stare of hyperthyroidism; the immobile face of parkinsonism; the flat or sad affect of depression. Decreased eye contact may be cultural, or may suggest anxiety, fear, or sadness.

Odors of the Body and Breath.

Odors can be important diagnostic clues, such as the fruity odor of diabetes or the scent of alcohol. (For the scent of alcohol, the CAGE questions, p. ___, will help you determine possible misuse.)

Breath odors of alcohol, acetone (diabetes), pulmonary infections, uremia, or liver failure

Never assume that alcohol on a patient’s breath explains changes in mental status or neurologic findings.

Alcoholics may have other serious and potentially correctable problems such as hypoglycemia, subdural hematoma, or post-ictal state

Posture, Gait and Motor Activity.

Preference for sitting up in leftsided heart failure, and for leaning forward with arms braced in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease



What is the patient’s preferred


Is the patient restless or quiet? How often does the patient change position? How fast are the movements?


Fast, frequent movements of hyperthyroidism; slowed activity of hypothyroidism




Is there any apparent involuntary motor activity? Are some body parts immobile? Which ones?

Tremors or other involuntary movements; paralyses. See Table 16-8, Involuntary Movements, (pp. ___–___).

Does the patient walk smoothly, with comfort, self-confidence, and balance, or is there a limp or discomfort, fear of falling, loss of balance, or any movement disorder?

See Table 16-13, Abnormalities of Gait and Posture (pp. ___–___).

THE VITAL SIGNS Now you are ready to measure the Vital Signs—the blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature. You may find that the vital signs are already taken and recorded in the chart; if abnormal, you may wish to repeat them yourself. (You can also make these important measurements later as you start the cardiovascular and thorax and lung examinations, but often they provide important initial information that influences the direction of your evaluation.) Check either the blood pressure or the pulse first. If the blood pressure is high, measure it again later in the examination. Count the radial pulse with your fingers, or the apical pulse with your stethoscope at the cardiac apex. Continue either of these techniques and count the respiratory rate without alerting the patient. (Breathing patterns may change if patient becomes aware that someone is watching.) The temperature is taken with glass thermometers, tympanic thermometers, or digital electronic probes. Further details on techniques for ensuring accuracy of the vital signs are provided in the following pages.

See Table 3-9, Abnormalities of the Arterial Pulse and Pressure Waves (p. ___). See Table 3-12 Abnormalities in Rate and Rhythm of Breathing (p. ___).

BLOOD PRESSURE Choice of Blood Pressure Cuff (Sphygmomanometer).


As many as 50 million Americans have elevated blood pressure. To measure blood pressure accurately, you must carefully choose a cuff of appropriate size. The guidelines below will help you advise patients wishing to purchase blood pressure cuffs as well.

Cuffs that are too short or too narrow may give falsely high readings. Using a regular-size cuff on an obese arm may lead to a false diagnosis of hypertension.


Width of the inflatable bladder of the cuff should be about 40% of upper arm circumference (about 12–14 cm in the average adult) Length of inflatable bladder should be about 80% of upper arm circumference (almost long enough to encircle the arm) If anaeroid, recalibrate periodically before use






The blood pressure cuff may be either the aneroid or the mercury type. Because an aneroid instrument often becomes inaccurate with repeated use, it should be recalibrated regularly. Bladder



Before assessing the blood pressure, you should take several steps to make sure your measurement will be accurate. Once these steps are taken, you are ready to measure the blood pressure. Proper technique is important and reduces the inherent variability arising from the patient or examiner, the equipment, and the procedure itself.


■ ■


■ ■

Ideally, ask the patient to avoid smoking or drinking caffeinated beverages for 30 minutes before the blood pressure is taken and to rest for at least 5 minutes. Check to make sure the examining room is quiet and comfortably warm. Make sure the arm selected is free of clothing. There should be no arteriovenous fistulas for dialysis, scarring from prior brachial artery cutdowns, or signs of lymphedema (seen after axillary node dissection or radiation therapy). Palpate the brachial artery to confirm that it has a viable pulse. Position the arm so that the brachial artery, at the antecubital crease, is at heart level—roughly level with the 4th interspace at its junction with the sternum. If the patient is seated, rest the arm on a table a little above the patient’s waist; if standing, try to support the patient’s arm at the midchest level.

Now you are ready to measure the blood pressure. Center the inflatable bladder over the brachial artery. The lower border of the cuff should be about 2.5 cm above the antecubital crease. Secure the cuff snugly. Position the patient’s arm so that it is slightly flexed at the elbow.

If the brachial artery is much below heart level, blood pressure appears falsely high. The patient’s own effort to support the arm may raise the blood pressure. A loose cuff or a bladder that balloons outside the cuff leads to falsely high readings.

To determine how high to raise the cuff pressure, first estimate the systolic pressure by palpation. As you feel the radial artery with the fingers of one hand,



TECHNIQUES OF EXAMINATION rapidly inflate the cuff until the radial pulse disappears. Read this pressure on the manometer and add 30 mm Hg to it. Use of this sum as the target for subsequent inflations prevents discomfort from unnecessarily high cuff pressures. It also avoids the occasional error caused by an auscultatory gap—a silent interval that may be present between the systolic and the diastolic pressures. Deflate the cuff promptly and completely and wait 15 to 30 seconds. Now place the bell of a stethoscope lightly over the brachial artery, taking care to make an air seal with its full rim. Because the sounds to be heard (Korotkoff sounds) are relatively low in pitch, they are heard better with the bell.


An unrecognized auscultatory gap may lead to serious underestimation of systolic pressure (e.g., 150 ⁄ 98 in the example on p. ___) or overestimation of diastolic pressure.


If you find an auscultatory gap, record your findings completely (e.g., 200 ⁄ 98 with an auscultatory gap from 170–150).

Inflate the cuff rapidly again to the level just determined, and then deflate it slowly at a rate of about 2 to 3 mm Hg per second. Note the level at which you hear the sounds of at least two consecutive beats. This is the systolic pressure. Continue to lower the pressure slowly until the sounds become muffled and then disappear. To confirm the disappearance of sounds, listen as the pressure falls another 10 to 20 mm Hg. Then deflate the cuff rapidly to zero. The disappearance point, which is usually only a few mm Hg below the muffling point, enables the best estimate of true diastolic pressure in adults.


In some people, the muffling point and the disappearance point are farther apart. Occasionally, as in aortic regurgitation, the sounds never disappear. If there is more than 10 mm Hg difference, record both figures (e.g., 154/80/68).





160 Artery occluded; no flow


Systolic pressure


mm Hg

Artery compressed; blood flow audible

Sounds of turbulent flow

Diastolic pressure


Artery not compressed; flow free and audible


Arterial pulse tracing

Effect of cuff on arterial blood flow


Auscultatory findings

Read both the systolic and the diastolic levels to the nearest 2 mm Hg. Wait 2 or more minutes and repeat. Average your readings. If the first two readings differ by more than 5 mm Hg, take additional readings. By making the sounds less audible, venous congestion may produce artificially low systolic and high diastolic pressures.

Blood pressure should be taken in both arms at least once. Normally, there may be a difference in pressure of 5 mm Hg and sometimes up to 10 mm Hg. Subsequent readings should be made on the arm with the higher pressure.

Pressure difference of more than 10–15 mm Hg suggests arterial compression or obstruction on the side with the lower pressure. A fall in systolic pressure of 20 mm Hg or more, especially when accompanied by symptoms, indicates orthostatic (postural) hypotension. Causes include drugs, loss of blood, prolonged bed rest, and diseases of the autonomic nervous system.


When using a mercury sphygmomanometer, keep the manometer vertical (unless you are using a tilted floor model) and make all readings at eye level with the meniscus. When using an aneroid instrument, hold the dial so that it faces you directly. Avoid slow or repetitive inflations of the cuff, because the resulting venous congestion can cause false readings.

In patients taking antihypertensive medications or patients with a history of fainting, postural dizziness, or possible depletion of blood volume, take the blood pressure in three positions—supine, sitting, and standing (unless contraindicated). Normally, as the patient rises from the horizontal to a standing position, systolic pressure drops slightly or remains unchanged while diastolic pressure rises slightly. Another measurement after 1 to 5 minutes of standing may identify orthostatic hypotension missed by earlier readings. This repetition is especially useful in the elderly.

Definitions of Normal and Abnormal Levels.

In 1997, the Joint National Committee on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure recommended that hypertension should be diagnosed only





when a higher than normal level has been found on at least two or more visits after initial screening. Either the diastolic blood pressure (DBP) or the systolic blood pressure (SBP) may be considered high. For adults (aged 18 or over), the Committee has categorized six levels of DBP and SBP: Blood Pressure Classification (Adults)* Category

Systolic (mm Hg)

Diastolic (mm Hg)

Hypertension Stage 3 (severe) Stage 2 (moderate) Stage 1 (mild)

≥180 160–179 140–159

≥110 100–109 90–99

High Normal









Assessment of hypertension also includes its effects on target organs—the eyes, the heart, the brain, and the kidneys. Look for evidence of hypertensive retinopathy, left ventricular hypertrophy, and neurologic deficits suggesting a stroke. (Renal assessment requires urinalysis and blood tests.)

*When the systolic and diastolic levels indicate different categories, use the higher category. For example, 170/92 mm Hg is moderate hypertension and 170/120 mm Hg is severe hypertension. In isolated systolic hypertension, systolic pressure is 140 mm Hg or more and diastolic pressure is less than 90 mm Hg.

Relatively low levels of blood pressure should always be interpreted in the light of past readings and the patient’s present clinical state.


A pressure of 110/70 would usually be normal, but could also indicate significant hypotension if past pressures have been high.

The Apprehensive Patient.

Anxiety is a frequent cause of high blood pressure, especially during an initial visit. Try to relax the patient. Repeat your measurements later in the encounter. Some patients will say their blood pressure is only elevated in the office (“white coat hypertension”) and may need to have their blood pressure measured several times at home or in a community setting.

The Obese or Very Thin Arm.


For the obese arm, it is important to use a wide cuff (15 cm). If the arm circumference exceeds 41 cm, use a thigh cuff (18 cm wide). For the very thin arm, a pediatric cuff may be indicated.

Leg Pulses and Pressures.

To rule out coarctation of the aorta, two observations should be made at least once with every hypertensive patient:

Compare the volume and timing of the radial and femoral pulses.

Compare blood pressures in the arm and leg.

To determine blood pressure in the leg, use a wide, long thigh cuff that has a bladder size of 18 × 42 cm, and apply it to the midthigh. Center the bladder over the posterior surface, wrap it securely, and listen over the popliteal artery. If possible, the patient should be prone. Alternatively, ask the supine patient to flex one leg slightly, with the heel resting on the bed. When cuffs of the proper size are used for both the leg and the arm, blood pressures CHAPTER 3

A femoral pulse that is smaller and later than the radial pulse suggests coarctation of the aorta or occlusive aortic disease. Blood pressure is lower in the legs than in the arms in these conditions.





should be equal in the two areas. (The usual arm cuff, improperly used on the leg, gives a falsely high reading.) A systolic pressure lower in the legs than in the arms is abnormal.

Weak or Inaudible Korotkoff Sounds.

Consider technical problems such as erroneous placement of your stethoscope, failure to make full skin contact with the bell, and venous engorgement of the patient’s arm from repeated inflations of the cuff. Consider also the possibility of shock. When you cannot hear Korotkoff sounds at all, you may be able to estimate the systolic pressure by palpation. Alternative methods such as Doppler techniques or direct arterial pressure tracings may be necessary. To intensify Korotkoff sounds, one of the following methods may be helpful:

Raise the patient’s arm before and while you inflate the cuff. Then lower the arm and determine the blood pressure.

Inflate the cuff. Ask the patient to make a fist several times, and then determine the blood pressure.

Arrhythmias. Irregular rhythms produce variations in pressure and therefore unreliable measurements. Ignore the effects of an occasional premature contraction. With frequent premature contractions or atrial fibrillation, determine the average of several observations and note that your measurements are approximate.

HEART RATE AND RHYTHM By examining arterial pulses, you can count the rate of the heart and determine its rhythm, assess the amplitude and contour of the pulse wave, and sometimes detect obstructions to blood flow.

Heart Rate.


The radial pulse is commonly used to assess the heart rate. With the pads of your index and middle fingers, compress the radial artery until a maximal pulsation is detected. If the rhythm is regular and the rate seems normal, count the rate for 15 seconds and multiply by 4. If the rate is unusually fast or slow, however, count it for 60 seconds. When the rhythm is irregular, the rate should be evaluated by cardiac auscultation, because beats that occur earlier than others may not be detected peripherally and the heart rate can thus be seriously underestimated.


Irregular rhythms include atrial fibrillation and atrial or ventricular premature contractions.




Rhythm. To begin your assessment of rhythm, feel the radial pulse. If there are any irregularities, check the rhythm again by listening with your stethoscope at the cardiac apex. Is the rhythm regular or irregular? If irregular, try to identify a pattern: (1) Do early beats appear in a basically regular rhythm? (2) Does the irregularity vary consistently with respiration? (3) Is the rhythm totally irregular?

Palpation of an irregularly irregular rhythm reliably indicates atrial fibrillation. For all other irregular patterns, an ECG is needed to identify the arrhythmia. See Table 3-10, Selected Heart Rates and Rhythms (p. ___) and Table 3-11, Selected Irregular Rhythms (p. ___).

RESPIRATORY RATE AND RHYTHM Observe the rate, rhythm, depth, and effort of breathing. Count the number of respirations in 1 minute either by visual inspection or by subtly listening over the patient’s trachea with your stethoscope during your examination of the head and neck or chest. Normally, adults take 14 to 20 breaths a minute in a quiet regular pattern. An occasional sigh is normal. Check to see if expiration is prolonged.

See Table 3-12, Abnormalities in Rate and Rhythm of Breathing (p. ___) Prolonged expiration suggests narrowing in the bronchioles.

TEMPERATURE Fever or pyrexia refers to an elevated body temperature. Hyperpyrexia refers to extreme elevation in temperature, above 41.1°C (106°F), while hypothermia refers to an abnormally low temperature, below 35°C (95°F) rectally.

Most patients prefer oral to rectal temperatures. However, taking oral temperatures is not recommended when patients are unconscious, restless, or unable to close their mouths. Temperature readings may be inaccurate and thermometers may be broken by unexpected movements of the patient’s jaws.

Rapid respiratory rates tend to increase the discrepancy between oral and rectal temperatures. In this situation, rectal temperatures are more reliable.

For oral temperatures, you may choose either a glass or electronic thermometer. When using a glass thermometer, shake the thermometer down to 35°C (96°F) or below, insert it under the tongue, instruct the patient to close both lips, and wait 3 to 5 minutes. Then read the thermometer, reinsert it for a minute, and read it again. If the temperature is still rising, repeat this procedure until the reading remains stable. Note that hot or cold liquids, and even smoking, can alter the temperature reading. In these situations it is best to delay measuring the temperature for 10 to 15 minutes.

Causes of fever include infection, trauma (such as surgery or crush injuries), malignancy, blood disorders (such as acute hemolytic anemia), drug reactions, and immune disorders (such as collagen vascular disease).


Although you may choose to omit measuring the temperature in ambulatory patients, it should be checked whenever you suspect an abnormality. The average oral temperature, usually quoted at 37°C (98.6°F), fluctuates considerably. In the early morning hours it may fall as low as 35.8°C (96.4°F), and in the late afternoon or evening it may rise as high as 37.3°C (99.1°F). Rectal temperatures are higher than oral temperatures by an average of 0.4 to 0.5°C (0.7 to 0.9°F), but this difference is also quite variable. (In contrast, axillary temperatures are lower than oral temperatures by approximately 1 degree, but take 5 to 10 minutes to register and are generally considered less accurate than other measurements.)






If using an electronic thermometer, carefully place the disposable cover over the probe and insert the thermometer under the tongue. Ask the patient to close both lips, and then watch closely for the digital readout. An accurate temperature recording usually takes about 10 seconds.

The chief cause of hypothermia is exposure to cold. Other predisposing causes include reduced movement as in paralysis, interference with vasoconstriction as from sepsis or excess alcohol, starvation, hypothyroidism, and hypoglycemia. Elderly people are especially susceptible to hypothermia and also less likely to develop fever.

For a rectal temperature, ask the patient to lie on one side with the hip flexed. Select a rectal thermometer with a stubby tip, lubricate it, and insert it about 3 cm to 4 cm (11⁄2 inches) into the anal canal, in a direction pointing to the umbilicus. Remove it after 3 minutes, then read. Alternatively, use an electronic thermometer after lubricating the probe cover. Wait about 10 seconds for the digital temperature recording to appear.


Taking the tympanic membrane temperature is an increasingly common practice and is quick, safe, and reliable if performed properly. Make sure the external auditory canal is free of cerumen. Position the probe in the canal so that the infrared beam is aimed at the tympanic membrane (otherwise the measurement will be invalid). Wait 2 to 3 seconds until the digital temperature reading appears. This method measures core body temperature, which is higher than the normal oral temperature by approximately 0.8°C (1.4°F).



TABLE 3-1 ■ Height and Weight Tables for Adults Age 25 and Over

TABLE 3-1 ■ Height and Weight Tables for Adults Age 25 and Over Weight in Pounds (without clothing) Height (without shoes)

Small Frame

Medium Frame

Large Frame

111–122 114–126 117–129 120–132 123–136 127–140 131–145 135–149 139–153 143–158 147–163 151–168 155–173 160–178 165–183

119–134 122–137 125–141 128–145 131–149 135–154 140–159 144–163 148–167 152–172 157–177 161–182 168–187 171–192 175–197

94–106 97–109 100–112 103–116 106–118 109–122 112–126 116–131 120–136 124–139 128–143 132–147 136–151 140–155

102–118 106–121 108–124 111–127 114–130 117–134 121–138 125–142 129–146 133–150 137–154 141–159 145–164 149–169

Men 5′1″ 5′2″ 5′3″ 5′4″ 5′5″ 5′6″ 5′7″ 5′8″ 5′9″ 5′10″ 5′11″ 6′0″ 6′1″ 6′2″ 6′3″

105–113 108–116 111–119 114–122 117–126 121–130 125–134 129–138 133–143 137–147 141–151 145–155 149–160 153–164 157–168


Women 4′9″ 4′10″ 4′11″ 5′0″ 5′1″ 5′2″ 5′3″ 5′4″ 5′5″ 5′6″ 5′7″ 5′8″ 5′9″ 5′10″

90–97 92–100 95–103 98–106 101–109 104–112 107–115 110–119 114–123 118–127 122–131 126–136 130–140 134–144

From Clinician’s Handbook of Preventive Services. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1994:142–143. These data are derived from an insured population. Note that assessment of the size of the body frame is subjective and must be estimated visually. Weights at the lower end of the range of normal may be advisable for patients with cardiovascular disease and diabetes.




TABLE 3-2 ■ Healthy Eating: Food Groups and Servings per Day

TABLE 3-2 ■ Healthy Eating: Food Groups and Servings per Day Women, Some Older Adults, Children Ages 2–6 yrs (about 1,600 cal)*

Active Women, Most Men, Older Children, Teen Girls (about 2,200 cal)*

Active Men, Teen Boys (about 2,800 cal)*

Bread, rice, cereal, pasta (grains) group, especially whole grain




Vegetable group




Food Group

Fruit group Milk, yogurt, and cheese (dairy) group— preferably fat free or low fat Dry beans, eggs, nuts, fish, and meat and poultry group— preferably lean or low fat







2, for a total of 5 oz

2, for a total of 6 oz

3, for a total of 7 oz

Source: Adapted from U.S. Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. The Food Guide Pyramid, Home and Garden Bulletin Number 252, 1996. *These are the calorie levels if low-fat, lean foods are chosen from the 5 major food groups and foods from the fats, oil, and sweets group are used sparingly. **Older children and teenagers (ages 9–18 yrs) and adults over the age of 50 need 3 servings daily. During pregnancy and lactation, the recommended number of dairy group servings is the same as for nonpregnant women.


TABLE 3-3 ■ Rapid Screen for Dietary Intake

Grains, cereals, bread group Fruit group Vegetable group Meat/meat substitute group Dairy group Sugars, fats, snack foods Soft drinks Alcoholic beverages

Portions Consumed by Patient _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____ _____

Recommended 6–11 2–4 3–5 2–3 2–3 — — <2

Instructions. Ask the patient for a 24-hour dietary recall (perhaps two of these) before completing the form. Source: Nestle M. Nutrition. In: Woolf SH, Jonas S, Lawrence RS, eds. Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in Clinical Practice. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1996.



TABLE 3-4 ■ Nutrition Screening Checklist

TABLE 3-4 ■ Nutrition Screening Checklist I have an illness or condition that made me change the kind and/or amount of food I eat.

Yes (2 pts) _____

I eat fewer than 2 meals per day.

Yes (3 pts) _____

I eat few fruits or vegetables, or milk products.

Yes (2 pts) _____

I have 3 or more drinks of beer, liquor, or wine almost every day.

Yes (2 pts) _____

I have tooth or mouth problems that make it hard for me to eat.

Yes (2 pts) _____

I don’t always have enough money to buy the food I need.

Yes (4 pts) _____

I eat alone most of the time.

Yes (1 pt) _____

I take 3 or more different prescribed or over-thecounter drugs each day.

Yes (1 pt) _____

Without wanting to, I have lost or gained 10 pounds in the last 6 months.

Yes (2 pts) _____

I am not always physically able to shop, cook and/or feed myself.

Yes (2 pts) _____ TOTAL


Instructions. Check “yes” for each condition that applies, then total the nutritional score. For total scores between 3–5 points (moderate risk) or ≥6 points (high risk), further evaluation is needed (especially for the elderly).


Source: The Nutrition Screening Initiative, American Academy of Family Physicians. e-check1.html. Accessed 7/22/01.






TABLE 3-5 ■ Food Guide Pyramid: A Guide to Daily Food Choices


TABLE 3-5 ■ Food Guide Pyramid: A Guide to Daily Food Choices




1 piece fruit or melon wedge 3 ⁄4 c fruit juice 1 ⁄2 c chopped, cooked or canned fruit 1 ⁄4 c dried fruit


⁄2 c chopped raw or cooked vegetables 1 c raw, leafy vegetables 3 ⁄4 c vegetable juice 1 ⁄2 c scalloped potatoes 1 ⁄2 c potato salad 10 French fries


Vegetable 1 c milk or yogurt 11⁄2 oz natural cheese 2 oz process cheese 11⁄2 c ice cream or ice milk 1 c frozen yougurt

Milk, Yogurt, & Cheese

Eye of round Top round Round tip Top sirloin Bottom round Top loin Tenderloin

Lean Beef Choices

2 1⁄2 to 3 oz cooked lean beef, pork, lamb, veal, poultry or fish 1 ⁄2 c cooked beans or 1 egg or 2 T peanut butter or 1⁄3 c nuts count as 1 oz of meat

Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, & Nuts

Use sparingly

Fats, Oils & Sweets

6 ounces. Those with higher calorie needs should select the higher number of servings from each food group. Their diet should include 3 servings of protein for a total of 7 ounces. Also, pregnant or breast-feeding women, teens, and young adults up to age 24 should consume 3 servings of dairy foods daily. The amount of food that counts as one serving is listed below. If you eat a larger portion, it is more than one serving. For example a slice of bread is one serving. A hamburger bun is two servings. For mixed foods, estimate the food group servings of the main ingredients. For example, a large piece of sausage pizza would count in the bread group (crust), the milk group (cheese), the meat group (sausage), and the vegetable group (tomato sauce). Likewise, a helping of beef stew would count in the meat group and the vegetable group.

Adapted from U.S. Department of Agriculture, Human Nutrition Service. The Food Guide Pyramid, Home and Garden Bulletin Number 252, 1996.

slice bread tortilla c cooked rice, pasta or cereal 1 oz ready-to-eat cereal 1 ⁄2 hamburger roll, bagel or English muffin 3– 4 plain crackers (sm) 1 pancake (4″) 1 ⁄2 croissant (lg) 1 ⁄2 doughnut or danish (med) 1 ⁄16 cake (average) 2 cookies (med) 1 ⁄12 pie (2-crust, 8″)

1 1 1 ⁄2

Bread, Cereal, Rice, & Pasta

What Counts as a Serving?

The Food Guide Pyramid shows a range of daily servings for each food group. The number of servings that is right for you depends on how many calories you need. Calories are a way to measure food energy. The energy your body needs depends on your age, sex, and size. It also depends on how active you are. In general, daily intake should be: ■ 1,600 calories for most women and older adults ■ 2,200 calories for children, teen girls, active women, and most men ■ 2,800 calories for teen boys and active men. Those with lower calorie needs should select the lower number of servings from each food group. Their diet should include 2 servings of protein for a total of 5 ounces. Those with average calorie needs should select the middle number of servings from each food group. They should include 2 servings of protein for a total of

  How Many Servings Do You Need?

TABLE 3-5 ■ Food Guide Pyramid: A Guide to Daily Food Choices


TABLE 3-6 ■ Eating Disorders and Excessively Low BMI

TABLE 3-6 ■ Eating Disorders and Excessively Low BMI In the United States an estimated 5 to 10 million women and one million men suffer from eating disorders. These severe disturbances of eating behavior are often difficult to detect, especially in teens wearing baggy clothes, or in individuals who binge then induce vomiting or evacuation. Be familiar with the two principal eating disorders, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Both conditions are characterized by distorted perceptions of body image and weight. Early detection is important, since prognosis improves when treatment occurs in the early stages of these disorders.

Clinical Features Anorexia Nervosa ■

Refusal to maintain minimally normal body weight (or BMI above 17.5 kg/m2)

Afraid of appearing fat

Frequently starving but in denial; lacking insight

Often brought in by family members

May present as failure to make expected weight gains in childhood or adolescence, amenorrhea in women, loss of libido or potency in men

Associated with depressive symptoms such as depressed mood, irritability, social withdrawal, insomnia, decreased libido

Additional features supporting diagnosis: self-induced vomiting or purging, excessive exercise, use of appetite suppressants and/or diuretics

Biological complications ■

Neuroendocrine changes: amenorrhea, increased corticotropin-releasing factor, cortisol, growth hormone, serotonin; decreased diurnal cortisol fluctuation, luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, thyroid-stimulating hormone Cardiovascular disorders: bradycardia, hypotension, arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy

Metabolic disorders: hypokalemia, hypochloremic metabolic alkalosis, increased BUN, edema

Other: dry skin, dental caries, delayed gastric emptying, constipation, anemia, osteoporosis


Bulimia Nervosa ■

Repeated binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, diuretics or other medications, fasting; or excessive exercise

Overeating at least twice a week during 3-month period; large amounts of food consumed in short period (∼2 hrs)

Preoccupation with eating; craving and compulsion to eat; lack of control over eating; alternating with periods of starvation

Dread of fatness but may be obese

Subtypes of

Purging: bulimic episodes accompanied by self-induced vomiting or use of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas

Nonpurging: bulimic episodes accompanied by compensatory behavior such as fasting, exercise but without purging.

Biological complications See changes listed for anorexia nervosa, especially weakness, fatigue, mild cognitive disorder; also erosion of dental enamel, parotitis, pancreatic inflammation with elevated amylase, mild neuropathies, seizures, hypokalemia, hypochloremic metabolic acidosis, hypomagnesemia

Sources: World Health Organization: The ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavorial Disorders: Diagnostic Criteria for Research. At World Health Organization, Geneva, 1993. American Psychiatric Association: DSM-IV-TR: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. American Psychiatric Association, Washington, DC, 1994. Halmi, KA: Eating Disorders: In: Kaplan, HI, Sadock BJ, eds. Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, 7th ed. Philadelphia, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2000:1663–1676.



TABLE 3-7 ■ Nutrition Counseling: Sources of Nutrients

TABLE 3-7 ■ Nutrition Counseling: Sources of Nutrients Nutrient

Food Source


Dairy foods such as yogurt, milk, and natural cheeses Breakfast cereal, fruit juice with calcium supplements Dark green leafy vegetables such as collards, turnip greens


Shellfish Lean meat, dark turkey meat Cereals with iron supplements Spinach, peas, lentils Enriched and whole-grain bread


Cooked dried beans and peas Oranges, orange juice Dark-green leafy vegetables

Vitamin D

Milk (fortified) Eggs, butter, margarine Cereals (fortified)

Source: Adapted from Dietary Guidelines Committee, 2000 Report. “Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” Washington, DC, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

TABLE 3-8 ■ Patients With Hypertension: Recommended Changes in Diet Food Source

Increase foods high in potassium

Baked white or sweet potatoes, cooked greens such as spinach Bananas, plantains, many dried fruits, orange juice

Decrease foods high in sodium

Canned foods (soups, tuna fish) Pretzels, potato chips, pickles, olives Many processed foods (frozen dinners, ketchup, mustard) Batter-fried foods Table salt, including for cooking


Dietary Change

Source: Adapted from Dietary Guidelines Committee, 2000 Report. “Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” Washington, DC, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.




90 The pulse pressure is about 30–40 mm Hg. The pulse contour is smooth and rounded. (The notch on the descending slope of the pulse wave is not palpable.) The pulse pressure is diminished, and the pulse feels weak and small. The upstroke may feel slowed, the peak prolonged. Causes include (1) decreased stroke volume, as in heart failure, hypovolemia, and severe aortic stenosis, and (2) increased peripheral resistance, as in exposure to cold and severe congestive heart failure. The pulse pressure is increased and the pulse feels strong and bounding. The rise and fall may feel rapid, the peak brief. Causes include (1) an increased stroke volume, a decreased peripheral resistance, or both, as in fever, anemia, hyperthyroidism, aortic regurgitation, arteriovenous fistulas, and patent ductus arteriosus, (2) an increased stroke volume due to slow heart rates, as in bradycardia and complete heart block, and (3) decreased compliance (increased stiffness) of the aortic walls, as in aging or atherosclerosis. A bisferiens pulse is an increased arterial pulse with a double systolic peak. Causes include pure aortic regurgitation, combined aortic stenosis and regurgitation, and, though less commonly palpable, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The pulse alternates in amplitude from beat to beat even though the rhythm is basically regular (and must be for you to make this judgment). When the difference between stronger and weaker beats is slight, it can be detected only by sphygmomanometry. Pulsus alternans indicates left ventricular failure and is usually accompanied by a left-sided S3. This is a disorder of rhythm that may masquerade as pulsus alternans. A bigeminal pulse is caused by a normal beat alternating with a premature contraction. The stroke volume of the premature beat is diminished in relation to that of the normal beats, and the pulse varies in amplitude accordingly. A paradoxical pulse may be detected by a palpable decrease in the pulse’s amplitude on quiet inspiration. If the sign is less pronounced, a blood-pressure cuff is needed. Systolic pressure decreases by more than 10 mm Hg during inspiration. A paradoxical pulse is found in pericardial tamponade, constrictive pericarditis (though less commonly), and obstructive lung disease.


Small, Weak Pulses

Large, Bounding Pulses

Bisferiens Pulse

Pulsus Alternans

Bigeminal Pulse

Paradoxical Pulse

TABLE 3-9 ■ Abnormalities of the Arterial Pulse and Pressure Waves

  TABLE 3-9 ■ Abnormalities of the Arterial Pulse and Pressure Waves





SLOW (<60)





NORMAL (60–100)

FAST (>100)

    

Atrial flutter with varying block

Atrial fibrillation

Sinus arrhythmia

Early beats

Complete heart block

Second-degree AV block

Atrial or nodal (supraventricular)   premature contractions   Ventricular premature  contractions  See Table 3-11     





Atrial flutter with a regular ventricular response Sinus bradycardia



Normal sinus rhythm Second-degree AV block


Ventricular tachycardia


Supraventricular (atrial or nodal) tachycardia



Sinus tachycardia Atrial flutter with a regular ventricular response

Usual Resting Rate

ECG Pattern

Cardiac rhythms may be classified as regular or irregular. When rhythms are irregular or rates are fast or slow, an ECG is required to identify the origin of the beats (sinus node, AV node, atrium, or ventricle) and the pattern of conduction. Note that with AV (atrioventricular) block, arrhythmias may have a fast, normal, or slow ventricular rate.

TABLE 3-10 ■ Selected Heart Rates and Rhythms


TABLE 3-10 ■ Selected Heart Rates and Rhythms


92 A beat of ventricular origin comes earlier than the next expected normal beat. A pause follows and the rhythm resumes.

The heart varies cyclically, usually speeding up with inspiration and slowing down with expiration.

The ventricular rhythm is totally irregular, although short runs of the irregular ventricular rhythm may seem regular.

Ventricular Premature Contractions

Sinus Arrhythmia

Atrial Fibrillation and Atrial Flutter With Varying AV Block

Rhythm A beat of atrial or nodal origin comes earlier than the next expected normal beat. A pause follows and then the rhythm resumes.

ECG Waves and Heart Sounds

Atrial or Nodal Premature Contractions (Supraventricular)

Type of Rhythm

TABLE 3-11 ■ Selected Irregular Rhythms


S1 varies in intensity.

Normal, although S1 may vary with the heart rate.

S1 may differ in intensity from the S1 of the normal beats, and S2 may be decreased. Both sounds are likely to be split.

S1 may differ in intensity from the S1 of normal beats, and S2 may be decreased. Both sounds are otherwise similar to those of normal beats.

Heart Sounds

TABLE 3-11 ■ Selected Irregular Rhythms



Periods of deep breathing alternate with periods of apnea (no breathing). Children and aging people normally may show this pattern in sleep. Other causes include heart failure, uremia, drug-induced respiratory depression, and brain damage (typically on both sides of the cerebral hemispheres or diencephalon).

Cheyne–Stokes Breathing

The respiratory rate is about 14–20 per min in normal adults and up to 44 per min in infants.


Ataxic breathing is characterized by unpredictable irregularity. Breaths may be shallow or deep, and stop for short periods. Causes include respiratory depression and brain damage, typically at the medullary level.

Ataxic Breathing (Biot’s Breathing)

Rapid shallow breathing has a number of causes, including restrictive lung disease, pleuritic chest pain, and an elevated diaphragm.

Rapid Shallow Breathing (Tachypnea)

Breathing punctuated by frequent sighs should alert you to the possibility of hyperventilation syndrome—a common cause of dyspnea and dizziness. Occasional sighs are normal.

Sighing Respiration

Rapid deep breathing has several causes, including exercise, anxiety, and metabolic acidosis. In the comatose patient, consider infarction, hypoxia, or hypoglycemia affecting the midbrain or pons. Kussmaul breathing is deep breathing due to metabolic acidosis. It may be fast, normal in rate, or slow.

Rapid Deep Breathing (Hyperpnea, Hyperventilation)

When observing respiratory patterns, think in terms of rate, depth, and regularity of the patient’s breathing. Describe what you see in these terms. Traditional terms, such as tachypnea, are given below so that you will understand them, but simple descriptions are recommended for use.

TABLE 3-12 ■ Abnormalities in Rate and Rhythm of Breathing


In obstructive lung disease, expiration is prolonged because narrowed airways increase the resistance to air flow. Causes include asthma, chronic bronchitis, and COPD.

Obstructive Breathing

Slow breathing may be secondary to such causes as diabetic coma, druginduced respiratory depression, and increased intracranial pressure.

Slow Breathing (Bradypnea)

TABLE 3-12 ■ Abnormalities in Rate and Rhythm of Breathing





The Skin

ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY The major function of the skin is to keep the body in homeostasis despite the daily assaults of the environment. It provides boundaries for body fluids while protecting underlying tissues from microorganisms, harmful substances, and radiation. It modulates body temperature and synthesizes vitamin D. The skin is the heaviest single organ of the body, accounting for approximately 16% of body weight and covering an area of roughly 1.2 to 2.3 meters squared. It contains three layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutaneous tissues. The most superficial layer, the epidermis, is thin, devoid of blood vessels, and itself divided into two layers: an outer horny layer of dead keratinized cells and an inner cellular layer where both melanin and keratin are formed.

Hair shaft Duct of sweat gland



Horny layer Cellular layer Sebaceous gland Muscle that erects hair shaft Sweat gland Hair follicle Vein


The epidermis depends on the underlying dermis for its nutrition. The dermis is well supplied with blood. It contains connective tissue, sebaceous glands, sweat glands, and hair follicles. It merges below with subcutaneous tissue, or adipose, also known as fat.

Subcutaneous tissue

Nerve Artery

Hair, nails, and sebaceous and sweat glands are considered appendages of the skin. Adults have two types of hair: vellus hair, which is short, fine, inconspicuous, and relatively unpigmented; and terminal hair, which is coarser, thicker, more conspicuous, and usually pigmented. Scalp hair and eyebrows are examples of terminal hair.




ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY Nails protect the distal ends of the fingers and toes. The firm, rectangular, and usually curving nail plate gets its pink color from the vascular nail bed to which the plate is firmly attached. Note the whitish moon (lunula) and the free edge of the nail plate. Roughly a fourth of the nail plate (the nail root) is covered by the proximal nail fold. The cuticle extends from this fold and, functioning as a seal, protects the space between the fold and the plate from external moisture. Lateral nail folds cover the sides of the nail plate. Note that the angle between the proximal nail fold and the nail plate is normally less than 180°. Lateral nail fold


Proximal nail fold

Nail root Proximal nail fold Nail plate

Cross section of nail plate Nail bed Distal phalanx

Free edge

Nail plate


Fingernails grow at about 0.1 mm daily; toenails grow more slowly. Sebaceous glands produce a fatty substance that is secreted to the skin surface through the hair follicles. These glands are present on all skin surfaces except the palms and soles. Sweat glands are of two types: eccrine and apocrine. The eccrine glands are widely distributed, open directly onto the skin surface, and by their sweat production help to control body temperature. In contrast, the apocrine glands are found chiefly in the axillary and genital regions, usually open into hair follicles, and are stimulated by emotional stress. Bacterial decomposition of apocrine sweat is responsible for adult body odor.


The color of normal skin depends primarily on four pigments: melanin, carotene, oxyhemoglobin, and deoxyhemoglobin. The amount of melanin, the brownish pigment of the skin, is genetically determined and is increased by sunlight. Carotene is a golden yellow pigment that exists in subcutaneous fat and in heavily keratinized areas such as the palms and soles. Hemoglobin, which circulates in the red cells and carries most of the oxygen of the blood, exists in two forms. Oxyhemoglobin, a bright red pigment, predominates in the arteries and capillaries. An increase in blood flow through the arteries to the capillaries of the skin causes a reddening of the skin, while the opposite change usually produces pallor. The skin of light-colored persons is normally redder on the palms, soles, face, neck, and upper chest. As blood passes through the capillary bed, some of the oxyhemoglobin loses its oxygen to the tissues and changes to deoxyhemoglobin—a darker and 96


ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY somewhat bluer pigment. An increased concentration of deoxyhemoglobin in cutaneous blood vessels gives the skin a bluish cast known as cyanosis. Cyanosis is of two kinds, depending on the oxygen level in the arterial blood. If this level is low, cyanosis is central. If it is normal, cyanosis is peripheral. Peripheral cyanosis occurs when cutaneous blood flow decreases and slows, and tissues extract more oxygen than usual from the blood. Peripheral cyanosis may be a normal response to anxiety or a cold environment. Skin color is affected not only by pigments but also by the scattering of light as it is reflected back through the turbid superficial layers of the skin or vessel walls. This scattering makes the color look more blue and less red. The bluish color of a subcutaneous vein is a result of this effect; it is much bluer than the venous blood obtained on venipuncture.

Changes With Aging As people age their skin wrinkles, becomes lax, and loses turgor. The vascularity of the dermis decreases and the skin of light-skinned persons tends to look paler and more opaque. Comedones (blackheads) often appear on the cheeks or around the eyes. Where skin has been exposed to the sun it looks weatherbeaten: thickened, yellowed, and deeply furrowed. Skin on the backs of the hands and forearms appears thin, fragile, loose, and transparent, and may show whitish, depigmented patches known as pseudoscars. Welldemarcated, vividly purple macules or patches, termed actinic purpura, may also appear in the same areas, fading after several weeks. These purpuric spots come from blood that has leaked through poorly supported capillaries and has spread within the dermis. Dry skin (asteatosis)—a common problem—is flaky, rough, and often itchy. It is frequently shiny, especially on the legs, where a network of shallow fissures often creates a mosaic of small polygons.


Some common benign lesions often accompany aging: cherry angiomas (p. __), which often appear early in adulthood, seborrheic keratoses (p. __), and, in sun-exposed areas, actinic lentigines or “liver spots” (p. __) and actinic keratoses (p. __). Elderly people may also develop two common skin cancers: basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma (p. __). Nails lose some of their luster with age and may yellow and thicken, especially on the toes. Hair on the scalp loses its pigment, producing the well-known graying. As early as 20, a man’s hairline may start to recede at the temples; hair loss at the vertex follows. Many women show a less severe loss of hair in a similar pattern. Hair loss in this distribution is genetically determined. In both sexes, the number of scalp hairs decreases in a generalized pattern, and the diameter of each hair diminishes. Less familiar, but probably more important clinically, is the normal hair loss elsewhere on the body: the trunk, pubic areas, axillae, and limbs. CHAPTER 4





These changes will be discussed in later chapters. Coarse facial hairs appear on the chin and upper lip of many women by about the age of 55, but do not increase further thereafter. Many of the observations described here pertain to lighter-skinned persons and do not necessarily apply to others. For example, Native American men have relatively little facial and body hair compared to lighter-skinned men, and should be evaluated according to their own norms.

THE HEALTH HISTORY Common or Concerning Symptoms ■ ■ ■

Hair loss Rash Moles

Start your inquiry about the skin with a few open-ended questions: “Have you noticed any changes in your skin?”. . . your hair? . . . your nails?. . . “Have you had any rashes? . . . sores? . . . lumps? . . . itching?” “Have you noticed any moles that have changed in appearance?” “Where?” “When?”

Causes of generalized itching without obvious reason include dry skin, aging, pregnancy, uremia, jaundice, lymphomas and leukemia, drug reaction, and lice.

It is usually best to defer further questions about the skin until the physical examination, when you can see what the patient is talking about.


HEALTH PROMOTION AND COUNSELING Important Topics for Health Promotion and Counseling ■ ■

Risk factors for melanoma Avoidance of excessive sun exposure

Clinicians play an important role in counseling patients about protective measures for skin care and the hazards of excessive sun exposure. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are the most common cancers in the United States and are found most frequently in sun-exposed areas, particularly the head, neck, and hands. Malignant melanoma, although rare, is the most rapidly increasing U.S. malignancy, now occurring in 1 in 74 Americans. Although melanoma often arises in non–sun-exposed areas, it is associated 98




with intermittent and intense sun exposure and blistering sunburns in childhood. Other risk factors include family history of melanoma, light skin, presence of atypical moles (dysplastic nevi) or ≥50 common moles, and immunosuppression. Protective measures are three-fold: avoiding unnecessary sun exposure, using sunscreen, and inspecting the skin. Caution patients to minimize direct sun exposure, especially at midday when ultraviolet B rays (UV-B), the most common cause of skin cancer, are most intense. Sunscreens fall into two categories—thick pastelike ointments that block all solar rays, and lightabsorbing sunscreens rated by “sun protective factor” (SPF). The SPF is a ratio of the number of minutes for treated versus untreated skin to redden with exposure to UV-B. An SPF of at least 15 is recommended and protects against 93% of UV-B. (There is no scale for UV-A, which causes photoaging, or UV-C, the most carcinogenic ray but blocked in the atmosphere by ozone.) Water-resistant sunscreens that remain on the skin for prolonged periods are preferable. Detection of skin cancer rests on visual inspection, preferably of the total body surface. Current detection rates are higher for clinicians than patients, but the benefits of self-examination are not well studied. Recommendations about screening intervals are variable. The American Cancer Society recommends monthly self-examination, clinician screening at 3-year intervals for persons aged 20 to 39, and annual clinical examination for persons over age 40. Clinicians and patients should know the “ABCDEs” for melanoma: A for asymmetry, B for irregular borders, C for color variation or change (especially blue or black), D for diameter larger than 6 mm, and E for elevation. Look in sun-exposed areas for ulcerated nodules with translucent or pearly surfaces (seen in basal cell carcinoma) and roughened patches of skin with accompanying erythema (common in squamous cell carcinoma). Patients with suspicious lesions should be referred to a dermatologist for further evaluation and biopsy. Preview: Recording the Physical Examination—The Skin


Note that initially you may use sentences to describe your findings; later you will use phrases. The style below contains phrases appropriate for most write-ups. Unfamiliar terms are explained in the next section, “Techniques of Examination.” “Color good. Skin warm and moist. Nails without clubbing or cyanosis. No suspicious nevi. No rash, petechiae, or ecchymoses.” OR “Marked facial pallor, with circumoral cyanosis. Palms cold and moist. Cyanosis in nailbeds of fingers and toes. One raised blue-black nevus, 1 × 2 cm, with irregular border on right forearm. No rash.” OR “Facial plethora. Skin icteric. Spider angioma over anterior torso. Single pearly papule with depressed center and telangiectasias, 1 × 1 cm, on posterior neck above collarline. No suspicious nevi. Nails with clubbing but no cyanosis.”



Suggests central cyanosis and possible melanoma

Suggests possible liver disease and basal cell carcinoma




TECHNIQUES OF EXAMINATION Observe the skin and related structures during the General Survey and throughout the rest of your examination. The entire skin surface should be inspected in good light, preferably natural light or artificial light that resembles it. Correlate your findings with observations of the mucous membranes. Diseases may manifest themselves in both areas, and both are necessary for assessing skin color. Techniques of examining these membranes are described in later chapters. To make your observations more astute, acquaint yourself now with some of the skin lesions and colors that you may encounter.

Artificial light often distorts colors and masks jaundice.

See Table 4-1, Basic Types of Skin Lesions (pp. __–__), and Table 4-2, Skin Colors (p. __).

Skin Inspect and palpate the skin. Note these characteristics:

Color. Patients may notice a change in their skin color before the clinician does. Ask about it. Look for increased pigmentation (brownness), loss of pigmentation, redness, pallor, cyanosis, and yellowing of the skin. Pallor due to decreased redness is seen in anemia and in decreased blood flow, as in fainting or arterial insufficiency.

Central cyanosis is best identified in the lips, oral mucosa, and tongue. The lips, however, may turn blue in the cold, and melanin in the lips may simulate cyanosis in darker-skinned people.

Causes of central cyanosis include advanced lung disease, congenital heart disease, and abnormal hemoglobins.


The red color of oxyhemoglobin and the pallor due to a lack of it are best assessed where the horny layer of the epidermis is thinnest and causes the least scatter: the fingernails, the lips, and the mucous membranes, particularly those of the mouth and the palpebral conjunctiva. In dark-skinned persons, inspecting the palms and soles may also be useful.

Cyanosis of the nails, hands, and feet may be central or peripheral in origin. Peripheral cyanosis may be caused by anxiety or a cold examining room.

Cyanosis in congestive heart failure is usually peripheral, reflecting decreased blood flow, but in pulmonary edema it may also be central. Venous obstruction may cause peripheral cyanosis.

Look for the yellow color of jaundice in the sclera. Jaundice may also appear in the palpebral conjunctiva, lips, hard palate, undersurface of the tongue, tympanic membrane, and skin. To see jaundice more easily in the lips, blanch out the red color by pressure with a glass slide.

Jaundice suggests liver disease or excessive hemolysis of red blood cells.





For the yellow color that accompanies high levels of carotene, look at the palms, soles, and face.



Dryness in hypothyroidism; oiliness in acne

Examples are dryness, sweating, and oiliness.


Use the backs of your fingers to make this assessment. In addition to identifying generalized warmth or coolness of the skin, note the temperature of any red areas.

Generalized warmth in fever, hyperthyroidism; coolness in hypothyroidism. Local warmth of inflammation or cellulitis


Roughness in hypothyroidism

Examples are roughness and smoothness.

Mobility and Turgor.

Lift a fold of skin and note the ease with which it lifts up (mobility) and the speed with which it returns into place (turgor).


Decreased mobility in edema, scleroderma; decreased turgor in dehydration

Observe any lesions of the skin, noting their characteristics:

Their anatomic location and distribution over the body. Are they generalized or 1ocalized? Do they, for example, involve the exposed surfaces, the intertriginous (skin fold) areas, or areas exposed to specific allergens or irritants such as wrist bands, rings, or industrial chemicals?

Many skin diseases have typical distributions. Acne affects the face, upper chest, and back; psoriasis, the knees and elbows (among other areas); and Candida infections, the intertriginous areas.

Their arrangement. For example, are they linear, clustered, annular (in a ring), arciform (in an arc), or dermatomal (covering a skin band that corresponds to a sensory nerve root; see pp. __–__)?

Vesicles in a unilateral dermatomal pattern are typical of herpes zoster.

The type(s) of skin lesions (e.g., macules, papules, vesicles, nevi). If possible, find representative and recent lesions that have not been traumatized by scratching or otherwise altered. Inspect them carefully and feel them.

Their color.

See Table 4-1, Basic Types of Skin Lesions (pp. __–__); Table 4-3, Vascular and Purpuric Lesions of the Skin (p. __); Table 4-4, Skin Tumors (p. __); and Table 4-5, Benign and Malignant Nevi (p.__).



People who are confined to bed, especially when they are emaciated, elderly, or neurologically impaired, are particularly susceptible to skin damage and ulceration. Pressure sores result when sustained compression obliterates arteriolar and capillary blood flow to the skin. Sores may also result from the shearing forces created by bodily movements. When a person slides down in bed from a partially sitting position, for example, or is dragged rather than lifted up from a supine position, the movements may distort the soft tissues of the buttocks and close off the arteries and arterioles within. Friction and moisture further increase the risk. CHAPTER 4


See Table 4-6, Pressure Ulcers (p. __).




Assess every susceptible patient by carefully inspecting the skin that overlies the sacrum, buttocks, greater trochanters, knees, and heels. Roll the patient onto one side to see the sacrum and buttocks.

Local redness of the skin warns of impending necrosis, although some deep pressure sores develop without antecedent redness. Ulcers may be seen.

Nails Inspect and palpate the fingernails and toenails. Note their color and shape, and any lesions. Longitudinal bands of pigment may be seen in the nails of normal people who have darker skin.

See Table 4-7, Findings In or Near the Nails (pp. __–__).

Hair Inspect and palpate the hair. Note its quantity, distribution, and texture.

Alopecia refers to hair loss—diffuse, patchy, or total. Sparse hair in hypothyroidism; fine silky hair in hyperthyroidism


Skin Lesions in Context After familiarizing yourself with the basic types of lesions, review their appearances in Table 4-8 and in a well-illustrated textbook of dermatology. Whenever you see a skin lesion, look it up in such a text. The type of lesions, their location, and their distribution, together with other information from the history and the examination, should equip you well for this search and, in time, for arriving at specific dermatologic diagnoses.


See Table 4-8, Skin Lesions in Context (pp. __–__).




Crust—The dried residue of serum, pus, or blood. Example: impetigo

Material on the Skin Surface

Erosion—Loss of the superficial epidermis; surface is moist but does not bleed. Example: moist area after the rupture of a vesicle, as in chickenpox

Loss of Skin Surface

Scale—A thin flake of exfoliated epidermis. Examples: dandruff, dry skin, psoriasis

Ulcer—A deeper loss of epidermis and dermis; may bleed and scar. Examples: stasis ulcer of venous insufficiency, syphilitic chancre

(table continues next page)

Fissure—A linear crack in the skin. Example: athlete’s foot

Pustule—Filled with pus. Examples: acne, impetigo

Bulla—1.0 cm or larger; filled with serous fluid. Example: 2nd-degree burn

Vesicle—Up to 1.0 cm; filled with serous fluid. Example: herpes simplex

Circumscribed Superficial Elevations of the Skin Formed by Free Fluid in a Cavity Within the Skin Layers

Secondary Lesions (Result From Changes in Primary Lesions)

Wheal—A somewhat irregular, relatively transient, superficial area of localized skin edema. Examples: mosquito bite, hive

Nodule—Marble-like lesion larger than 0.5 cm, often deeper and firmer than a papule

Plaque—Elevated superficial lession 1.0 cm or larger, often formed by coalescence of papules

Examples: freckle, petechia

Patch—Flat spot, 1.0 cm or larger

Papule—Up to 1.0 cm. Example: an elevated nevus

Palpable Elevated Solid Masses

Macule—Small flat spot, up to 1.0 cm

Circumscribed, Flat, Nonpalpable Changes in Skin Color

Primary Lesions (May Arise From Previously Normal Skin)

TABLE 4-1 ■ Basic Types of Skin Lesions


TABLE 4-1 ■ Basic Types of Skin Lesions


104 Burrow of Scabies—A person with scabies has intense itching. Skin lesions include small papules, pustules, lichenified areas, and excoriations. With a magnifying lens, look for the burrow of the mite that causes it. A burrow is a minute, slightly raised tunnel in the epidermis and is commonly found on the finger webs and on the sides of the fingers. It looks like a short (5–15 mm), linear or curved, gray line and may end in a tiny vesicle.

Excoriation—An abrasion or scratch mark. It may be linear, as illustrated, or rounded, as in a scratched insect bite.

Comedo—The common blackhead that marks the plugged opening of a sebaceous gland, frequently seen with acne Nevus—The common mole; appears flat to slightly elevated, round and evenly pigmented; however, some nevi look quite different, as in the pigmented nevi of melanoma. Telangiectasias—Dilated small vessels (can be venules, arterioles, including spider angiomas, or capillaries) that look either red or bluish. May appear by themselves or as parts of other lesions, as in a basal cell carcinoma or radiodermatitis (skin injury from ionizing radiation).

Scar—Replacement of destroyed tissue by fibrous tissue. May be thick and pink (hypertrophic) or thin and white (atrophic), but does not extend beyond the injured area

Atrophy—Thinning of the skin with loss of the normal skin furrows; the skin looks shinier and more translucent than normal. Example: arterial insufficiency

(Sources of photos: Lichenification, Excoriation, Scar, Burrow of Scabies—Goodheart HP: A Photoguide of Common Skin Disorders: Diagnosis and Management. Philadelphia, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 1999; Atrophy—Fitzpatrick JE, Aeling JL: Dermatology Secrets in Color, 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2000)

Additional Terms:

Lichenification—Thickening and roughening of the skin with increased visibility of the normal skin furrows. Example: atopic dermatitis

Miscellaneous Lesions

TABLE 4-1 ■ Basic Types of Skin Lesions (Continued)

  TABLE 4-1 ■ Basic Types of Skin Lesions



Cyanosis is the somewhat bluish color that is visible in these toenails and toes. Compare this color with the normally pink fingernails and fingers of the same patient. Impaired venous return in the leg caused this example of peripheral cyanosis. Cyanosis, especially when slight, may be hard to distinguish from normal skin color.


The yellowish palm of carotenemia, shown on the left, is compared with a normally pink palm—a useful technique for a sometimes subtle finding. Unlike jaundice, carotenemia does not affect the sclera, which remains white. The cause is a diet high in carrots and other yellow vegetables or fruits. Carotenemia is not harmful, but indicates the need for assessing dietary intake.


A widespread increase in melanin may be caused by Addison’s disease (hypofunction of the adrenal cortex) or some pituitary tumors. More common are local areas of increased or decreased pigment:

In vitiligo, depigmented macules appear on the face, hands, feet, and other regions and may coalesce into extensive areas that lack melanin. The brown pigment on this woman’s legs is her normal skin color; the pale areas are due to vitiligo. The condition may be hereditary. These changes may be distressing to the patient.


More common than vitiligo is this superficial fungus infection of the skin. It causes hypopigmented, slightly scaly macules on the trunk, neck, and upper arms. They are easier to see in darker skin and may become more obvious after tanning. In lighter skin, the macules may look reddish or tan instead of pale. The macules may be much more numerous than in this example.

Tinea Versicolor

The common café-au-lait spot is a slightly but uniformly pigmented macule or patch with a somewhat irregular border. Most of these spots are 0.5 cm to 1.5 cm in diameter and are of no consequence. Six or more such spots, each with a diameter of >1.5 cm, however, suggest neurofibromatosis (p. __). (The small, darker macules are unrelated.)

Café-Au-Lait Spot

Changes in Melanin

Jaundice makes the skin diffusely yellow. Note this patient’s skin color, contrasted with the examiner’s hand. The color of jaundice is seen most easily and reliably in the sclera, as shown here. It may also be visible in mucous membranes. Causes include liver disease and hemolysis of red blood cells.



TABLE 4-2 ■ Skin Colors


TABLE 4-2 ■ Skin Colors



From very small to 2 cm

Central body, sometimes raised, surrounded by erythema and radiating legs

Often demonstrable in the body of the spider, when pressure with a glass slide is applied

Pressure on the body causes blanching of the spider.

Face, neck, arms, and upper trunk; almost never below the waist

Liver disease, pregnancy, vitamin B deficiency; also occurs normally in some people




Effect of Pressure



Often accompanies increased pressure in the superficial veins, as in varicose veins

Most often on the legs, near veins; also on the anterior chest

Pressure over the center does not cause blanching, but diffuse pressure blanches the veins.


Variable. May resemble a spider or be linear, irregular, cascading

None; increase in size and numbers with aging

Trunk; also extremities

May show partial blanching, especially if pressure is applied with the edge of a pinpoint


Round, flat or sometimes raised, may be surrounded by a pale halo

1–3 mm

Blood outside the vessels; may suggest a bleeding disorder or, if petechiae, emboli to skin




Rounded, sometimes irregular; flat

Petechia, 1–3 mm; purpura, larger

Blood outside the vessels; often secondary to bruising or trauma; also seen in bleeding disorders




Rounded, oval, or irregular; may have a central subcutaneous flat nodule (a hematoma)

Variable, larger than petechiae

Purple or purplish blue, fading to green, yellow, and brown with time

Deep red or reddish purple, fading away over time

Bright or ruby red; may become brownish with age


Variable, from very small to several inches



Cherry Angioma

Spider Vein


(Sources of photos: Spider Angioma—Marks R: Skin Disease in Old Age. Philadelphia, JB Lippincott, 1987; Petechia/Purpura—Kelley WN: Textbook of Internal Medicine. Philadelphia, JB Lippincott, 1989)

Fiery red


Spider Angioma


TABLE 4-3 ■ Vascular and Purpuric Lesions of the Skin

  TABLE 4-3 ■ Vascular and Purpuric Lesions of the Skin




Squamous cell carcinoma usually appears on sunexposed skin of fair-skinned adults over 60. It may develop in an actinic keratosis. It usually grows more quickly than a basal cell carcinoma, is firmer, and looks redder. The face and the back of the hand are often affected, as shown here.

When Kaposi’s sarcoma, a malignant tumor, accompanies AIDS, it may appear in many forms: macules, papules, plaques, or nodules almost anywhere on the body. Lesions are often multiple and may involve internal structures. On the left are ovoid, pinkish red plaques that typically lengthen along the skin lines. They may become pigmented. On the right is a purplish red nodule on the foot.

Kaposi’s Sarcoma in AIDS

(Sources of photos: Basal Cell Epithelioma: Rapini R. Squamous Cell Carcinoma, Actinic Keratosis, and Seborrheic Keratosis—Sauer GC: Manual of Skin Diseases, 5th ed. Philadelphia, JB Lippincott, 1985; Kaposi’s Sarcoma in AIDS—DeVita VT Jr, Hellman S, Rosenberg SA [eds]: AIDS: Etiology, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention. Philadelphia, JB Lippincott, 1985)

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

A basal cell carcinoma, though malignant, grows slowly and seldom metastasizes. It is most common in fair-skinned adults over age 40, and usually appears on the face. An initial translucent nodule spreads, leaving a depressed center and a firm, elevated border. Telangiectatic vessels are often visible.

Seborrheic keratoses are common, benign, yellowish to brown, raised lesions that feel slightly greasy and velvety or warty. Typically multiple and symmetrically distributed on the trunk of older people, they may also appear on the face and elsewhere. In black people, often younger women, they may appear as small, deeply pigmented papules on the cheeks and temples (dermatosis papulosa nigra).

Actinic keratoses are superficial, flattened papules covered by a dry scale. Often multiple, they may be round or irregular, and are pink, tan, or grayish. They appear on sun-exposed skin of older, fair-skinned persons. Though themselves benign, these lesions may give rise to squamous cell carcinoma (suggested by rapid growth, induration, redness at the base, and ulceration). Keratoses on face and hand, typical locations, are shown.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Seborrheic Keratosis

Actinic Keratosis

  TABLE 4-4 ■ Skin Tumors

TABLE 4-4 ■ Skin Tumors



Round or oval shape Sharply defined borders Uniform color, especially tan or brown Diameter < 6 mm Flat or raised surface



(Courtesy of American Cancer Society; American Academy of Dermatology)

Changes in these features raise the the spectre of atypical (dysplastic) nevi, or melanoma. Atypical nevi are varied in color but often dark and larger than 6 mm, with irregular borders that fade into the surrounding skin. Look for atypical nevi primarily on the trunk. They may number more than 50 to 100.

The benign nevus, or common mole, usually appears in the first few decades. Several nevi may arise at the same time, but their appearance usually remains unchanged. Note the following typical features and contrast them with those of atypical nevi and melanoma:

Benign Nevus

Learn the “ABCDEs” of melanoma from these reference standard photographs from the American Cancer Society:

Malignant Melanoma

TABLE 4-5 ■ Benign and Malignant Nevi


Asymmetry (Fig. A) Irregular Borders, especially notching (Fig. B) Variation in Color, especially mixtures of black, blue, and red (Figs. B, C) Diameter >6 mm (Fig. C) Elevation, though also may be flat (Fig. C).


On darker skin, look for melanomas under the nails, on the hands, or on the soles of the feet.

Review melanoma risk factors such as intense yearround sun exposure, blistering sunburns in childhood, fair skin that freckles or burns easily (especially if blond or red hair), family history of melanoma, and nevi that are changing or atypical, especially if >50. Changing nevi may have new swelling or redness beyond the border, scaling, oozing, or bleeding, or sensations such as itching, burning, or pain.

TABLE 4-5 ■ Benign and Malignant Nevi




Stage III Full-thickness skin loss, with damage to or necrosis of subcutaneous tissue that may extend to, but not through, underlying muscle

Stage IV Full-thickness skin loss, with destruction, tissue necrosis, or damage to underlying muscle, bone, or supporting structures

Stage II Partial-thickness skin loss or ulceration involving the epidermis, dermis, or both

Fecal or urinary incontinence Presence of fracture Poor nutritional status or low albumin

Pressure-related alteration of intact skin, with changes in temperature (warmth or coolness), consistency (firm or boggy), sensation (pain or itching), or color (red, blue, or purple on darker skin; red on lighter skin)

necessarily progress sequentially through the four stages. Inspect ulcers for signs of infection, including drainage, odor, cellulitis, or necrosis. Fever, chills, and pain suggest possible underlying osteomyelitis. Assessment should address the patient’s overall physical and mental health, including: comorbid conditions such as vascular disease, diabetes, immune deficiencies, collagen vascular disease, malignancy, psychosis, or depression; nutritional status; pain and level of analgesia; risk of recurrence; psychosocial factors such as learning ability, social supports, and lifestyle; and any evidence of polypharmacy, overmedication, or abuse of alcohol, tobacco, or illicit drugs.

Stage I

Decreased mobility, especially if accompanied by increased pressure or movement causing friction or shear stress Decreased sensation, from brain or spinal cord lesions or peripheral nerve disease Decreased blood flow from hypotension or microvascular disease such as diabetes or atherosclerosis

(Source of photos: National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel. Reston, VA)

Risk Factors for Pressure Ulcers

Pressure ulcers, also termed decubitus ulcers, usually develop over body prominences subject to unrelieved pressure, resulting in ischemic damage to underlying tissue. Prevention is as important as identification and treatment: inspect the skin thoroughly for early warning signs of erythema that blanches with pressure, especially in patients with risk factors. Pressure ulcers form most commonly over the sacrum, ischial tuberosities, greater trochanters, and heels. A commonly applied staging system, based on depth of destroyed tissue, is illustrated below. However, note in Stage I the skin is still intact and is not yet an ulcer; ulcers with necrosis or eschar must be débrided before they can be staged; and ulcers do not

  TABLE 4-6 ■ Pressure Ulcers

TABLE 4-6 ■ Pressure Ulcers



Paronychia A paronychia is an inflammation of the proximal and lateral nail folds. It may be acute or, as illustrated, chronic. The folds are red, swollen, and often tender. The cuticle may not be visible. People who frequently immerse their nails in water are especially susceptible. Multiple nails are often affected.

Terry’s Nails Terry’s nails are mostly whitish with a distal band of reddish brown. The lunulae of the nails may not be visible. These nails may be seen with aging and in people with chronic diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver, congestive heart failure, and non-insulin-dependent diabetes.

Clubbing of the Fingers

In clubbing, the distal phalanx of each finger is rounded and bulbous. The nail plate is more convex, and the angle between the plate and the proximal nail fold increases to 180° or more. The proximal nail fold, when palpated, feels spongy or floating. Causes are many, including chronic hypoxia from heart disease or lung cancer and hepatic cirrhosis.


Onycholysis refers to a painless separation of the nail plate from the nail bed. It starts distally, enlarging the free edge of the nail to a varying degree. Several or all nails are usually affected. Causes are many.

  TABLE 4-7 ■ Findings in or Near the Nails TABLE 4-7 ■ Findings In or Near the Nails




These are transverse lines, not spots, and their curves are similar to those of the lunula, not the cuticle. These uncommon lines may follow an acute or severe illness. They emerge from under the proximal nail folds and grow out with the nails.

Beau’s Lines Beau’s lines are transverse depressions in the nails associated with acute severe illness. The lines emerge from under the proximal nail folds weeks later and grow gradually out with the nails. As with Mees’ lines, clinicians may be able to estimate the timing of a causal illness.

Trauma to the nails is commonly followed by white spots that grow slowly out with the nail. Spots in the pattern illustrated are typical of overly vigorous and repeated manicuring. The curves in this example resemble the curve of the cuticle and proximal nail fold.


Small pits in the nails may be early signs of psoriasis but are not specific for it. Additional findings, not shown here, include onycholysis and a circumscribed yellowish tan discoloration known as an “oil spot” lesion. Marked thickening of the nails may develop.

(Sources of photos: Clubbing of the Fingers, Paronychia, Onycholyis, Terry’s Nails — Habif TP: Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy, 2nd ed. St. Louis, CV Mosby, 1990; White Spots, Transverse White Lines, Psoriasis, Beau’s Lines— Sams WM Jr, Lynch PJ: Principles and Practice of Dermatology. New York, Churchill Livingstone, 1990)

Transverse White Lines (Mees’ Lines)

White Spots (Leukonychia)


TABLE 4-7 ■ Findings In or Near the Nails



Vesicles on the chin (in pemphigus)

Macules on the dorsum of the hand, wrist, and forearm (actinic lentigines)


(A) Bulla (in erythema multiforme), (B) target (or iris) lesion


Papules on the knee (in lichen planus)


(A) Telangiectasia, (B) nodule, (C) ulcer (in squamous cell carcinoma)



Pustules on the palm (in pustular psoriasis)

This table shows a variety of primary and secondary skin lesions. Try to identify them, including those indicated by letters, before reading the accompanying text.

TABLE 4-8 ■ Skin Lesions in Context

  TABLE 4-8 ■ Skin Lesions in Context





A Plaques with scales on the front of a knee (in psoriasis)

(A) Patch, (B) nodules—a combination typical of neurofibromatosis. This patch is a café-au-lait spot.

Wheals (urticaria) in a drug eruption in an infant

(Source of all photos except for Macules: Sauer GC: Manual of Skin Diseases, 5th ed. Philadelphia, JB Lippincott, 1985)

(A) Vesicle, (B) pustule, (C) erosions, (D) crust, on the back of a knee (in infected atopic dermatitis)







(A) Excoriation, (B) lichenification on the leg (in atopic dermatitis)



TABLE 4-8 ■ Skin Lesions in Context




The Head and Neck

ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY The Head Regions of the head take their names from the underlying bones of the skull (e.g., frontal area). Knowing this anatomy helps to locate and describe physical findings. Two paired salivary glands lie near the mandible: the parotid gland, superficial to and behind the mandible (both visible and palpable when enlarged), and the submandibular gland, located deep to the mandible. Feel for the latter as you bow and press your tongue against your lower incisors. Its lobular surface can often be felt against the tightened muscle. The openings of the parotid and submandibular ducts are visible within the oral cavity (see p. 130). The superficial temporal artery passes upward just in front of the ear, where it is readily palpable. In many normal people, especially thin and elderly ones, the tortuous course of one of its branches can be traced across the forehead.

Vertex of head Parietal bone

Temporal bone

Frontal bone


Nasal bone

Superficial temporal artery

Zygomatic bone

Occipital bone


Mandible Submandibular Submandibular duct gland

Parotid gland Parotid duct

Mastoid process

Mastoid portion of temporal bone

Styloid process

The Eye Gross Anatomy. Identify the structures illustrated. Note that the upper eyelid covers a portion of the iris but does not normally overlap the pupil. CHAPTER 5



ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY The opening between the eyelids is called the palpebral fissure. The white sclera may look somewhat buff-colored at its extreme periphery. Do not mistake this color for jaundice, which is a deeper yellow.

Upper eyelid

Sclera covered by conjunctiva

Lateral canthus

Medial canthus

Pupil Lower eyelid



The conjunctiva is a clear mucous membrane with two easily visible components. The bulbar conjunctiva covers most of the anterior eyeball, adhering loosely to the underlying tissue. It meets the cornea at the limbus. The palpebral conjunctiva lines the eyelids. The two parts of the conjunctiva merge in a folded recess that permits the eyeball to move. Within the eyelids lie firm strips of connective tissue called tarsal plates. Each plate contains a parallel row of meibomian glands, which open on the lid margin. The levator palpebrae muscle, which raises the upper eyelid, is innervated by the oculomotor nerve (Cranial Nerve III). Smooth muscle, innervated by the sympathetic nervous system, contributes to raising this lid. A film of tear fluid protects the conjunctiva and cornea from drying, inhibits microbial growth, and gives a smooth optical surface to the cornea. This fluid comes from three sources: meibomian glands, conjunctival glands, and the lacrimal gland. The lacrimal gland lies mostly within the bony orbit, above and lateral to the eyeball. The tear fluid spreads across the eye and drains medially through two tiny holes called lacrimal puncta. The tears then pass into the lacrimal sac and on into the nose through the nasolacrimal duct. (You can easily find a punctum atop the small elevation of the lower lid medially. You cannot detect the lacrimal sac, which rests in a small depression inside the bony orbit.) The eyeball is a spherical structure that focuses light on the neurosensory elements within the retina. The muscles of the iris control pupillary size. Muscles of the ciliary body control the thickness of the lens, allowing the eye to focus on near or distant objects. 116



Tarsal plate Meibomian gland

Bulbar conjunctiva Palpebral conjunctiva





Lacrimal gland (within the bony orbit)

Lacrimal sac (within the bony orbit) Canaliculi


Nasolacrimal duct





Ciliary body Anterior chamber



Anterior chamber Posterior chamber


A clear liquid called aqueous humor fills the anterior and posterior chambers of the eye. Aqueous humor is produced by the ciliary body, circulates from the posterior chamber through the pupil into the anterior chamber, and drains out through the canal of Schlemm. This circulatory system helps to control the pressure inside the eye. Vitreous body Choroid Ciliary body

Physiologic cup

Retina Fovea


Central retinal artery and vein


Vein Artery

Lens Optic nerve Pupil Anterior chamber Posterior chamber Extraocular muscle

Fovea Physiologic cup in optic disc Sclera

Macula Optic disc


The posterior part of the eye that is seen through an ophthalmoscope is often called the fundus of the eye. Structures here include the retina, choroid, fovea, macula, optic disc, and retinal vessels. The optic nerve with its retinal vessels enters the eyeball posteriorly. You can find it with an oph118


ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY thalmoscope at the optic disc. Lateral and slightly inferior to the disc, there is a small depression in the retinal surface that marks the point of central vision. Around it is a darkened circular area called the fovea. The roughly circular macula (named for a microscopic yellow spot) surrounds the fovea but has no discernible margins. It does not quite reach the optic disc. You do not usually see the normal vitreous body, a transparent mass of gelatinous material that fills the eyeball behind the lens. It helps to maintain the shape of the eye.

Visual Fields.

A visual field is the entire area seen by an eye when it looks at a central point. Fields are conventionally diagrammed on circles from the patient’s point of view. The center of the circle represents the focus of gaze. The circumference is 90° from the line of gaze. Each visual field, shown by the white areas below, is divided into quadrants. Note that the fields extend farthest on the temporal sides. Visual fields are normally limited by the brows above, by the cheeks below, and by the nose medially. A lack of retinal receptors at the optic disc produces an oval blind spot in the normal field of each eye, 15° temporal to the line of gaze.

90° Blind spot Upper temporal

Upper nasal

Lower temporal

Lower nasal Normal visual field


Binocular vision


When a person is using both eyes, the two visual fields overlap in an area of binocular vision. Laterally, vision is monocular.

Visual Pathways.

Monocular vision



For an image to be seen, light reflected from it must pass through the pupil and be focused on sensory neurons in the retina. The image projected there is upside down and reversed right to left. An 119



Blind spot



Center of gaze A Object seen Optic nerve

image from the upper nasal visual field thus strikes the lower temporal quadrant of the retina. Nerve impulses, stimulated by light, are conducted through the retina, optic nerve, and optic tract on each side, and then on through a curving tract called the optic radiation. This ends in the visual cortex, a part of the occipital lobe.

Pupillary Reactions. Pupillary size changes in response to light and to the effort of focusing on a near object. The Light Reaction. A light beam shining onto one retina causes pupillary constriction in both that eye (the direct reaction to light) and the opposite eye (the consensual reaction). The initial sensory pathways are similar to those described for vision: retina, optic nerve, and optic tract. The pathways diverge in the midbrain, however, and impulses are transmitted through the oculomotor nerve to the constrictor muscles of the iris of each eye. The Near Reaction. When a person shifts gaze from a far object to a near one, the pupils constrict. This response, like the light reaction, is mediated by the oculomotor nerve. Coincident with this pupillary reaction (but not part of it) are (1) convergence of the eyes, an extraocular movement, and (2) accommodation, an increased convexity of the lenses caused by contraction of the ciliary muscles. This change in shape of the lenses brings near objects into focus but is not visible to the examiner.

Autonomic Nerve Supply to the Eyes.

Fibers traveling in the oculomotor nerve and producing pupillary constriction are part of the parasympathetic nervous system. The iris is also supplied by sympathetic fibers. When these are stimulated, the pupil dilates and the upper eyelid rises a little, as if from fear. The sympathetic pathway starts in the hypothalamus and passes down through the brainstem and cervical cord into the neck. From there, it follows the carotid artery or its branches into the



ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY Light To iris (consensual reaction)

To iris (direct reaction)

Optic nerve

Key Blue––Sensory Red––Motor

Oculomotor nerve

Optic tract










Left Eye


Right Eye

Optic nerve

Optic chiasm Optic tract

Optic radiation


orbit. A lesion anywhere along this pathway may impair sympathetic effects on the pupil.

Extraocular Movements. The movement of each eye is controlled by the coordinated action of six muscles, the four rectus and two oblique muscles. You can test the function of each muscle and the nerve that supplies it by asking the patient to move the eye in the direction controlled by that muscle. There are six such cardinal directions, indicated by the lines on the figure on p. 123. When a person looks down and to the right, for example, the right inferior rectus (Cranial Nerve III) is principally responsible for moving the right eye, while the left superior oblique (Cranial Nerve IV) is principally responsible for moving the left. If one of these muscles is paralyzed, the eye will deviate from its normal position in that direction of gaze and the eyes will no longer appear conjugate, or parallel. 122



Superior rectus (III)

Superior rectus (III)

Inferior oblique (III)

Lateral rectus (VI)

Lateral rectus (VI)

Medial rectus (III)

Inferior rectus (III)

Superior oblique (IV)

Inferior rectus (III)


The Ear Anatomy. The ear has three compartments: the external ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The external ear comprises the auricle and ear canal. The auricle consists chiefly of cartilage covered by skin and has a firm, elastic consistency.

Ossicles Incus Malleus



Cochlear nerve

Ear canal



Eustachian tube Tympanic membrane Mastoid process

Middle ear cavity


The ear canal opens behind the tragus and curves inward about 24 mm. Its outer portion is surrounded by cartilage. The skin in this outer portion is hairy and contains glands that produce cerumen (wax). The inner portion of the canal is surrounded by bone and lined by thin, hairless skin. Pressure on this latter area causes pain—a point to remember when you examine the ear. CHAPTER 5



ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY The bone behind and below the ear canal is the mastoid part of the temporal bone. The lowest portion of this bone, the mastoid process, is palpable behind the lobule. Helix

At the end of the ear canal lies the tympanic membrane (eardrum), marking the lateral limits of the middle ear. The middle ear is an air-filled cavity that transmits sound by way of three tiny bones, the ossicles. It is connected by the eustachian tube to the nasopharynx.

Antihelix Tragus Entrance to ear canal Lobule

The eardrum is an oblique membrane held inward at its center by one of the ossicles, the malleus. Find the handle and the short process of the malleus—the two chief landmarks. From the umbo, where the eardrum meets the tip of the malleus, a light reflection called the cone of light fans downward and anteriorly. Above the short process lies a small portion of the eardrum called the pars flaccida. The remainder of the drum is the pars tensa. Anterior and posterior malleolar folds, which extend obliquely upward from the short process, separate the pars flaccida from the pars tensa but are usually invisible unless the eardrum is retracted. A second ossicle, the incus, can sometimes be seen through the drum.


Much of the middle ear and all of the inner ear are inaccessible to direct examination. Some inferences concerning their condition can be made, however, by testing auditory function.

Pathways of Hearing. Vibrations of sound pass through the air of the external ear and are transmitted through the eardrum and ossicles of the 124


ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY middle ear to the cochlea, a part of the inner ear. The cochlea senses and codes the vibrations, and nerve impulses are sent to the brain through the cochlear nerve. The first part of this pathway—from the external ear through the middle ear—is known as the conductive phase, and a disorder here causes conductive hearing loss. The second part of the pathway, involving the cochlea and the cochlear nerve, is called the sensorineural phase; a disorder here causes sensorineural hearing loss.

Conductive phase Air conduction Bone conduction Sensorineural phase

Air conduction describes the normal first phase in the hearing pathway. An alternate pathway, known as bone conduction, bypasses the external and the middle ear and is used for testing purposes. A vibrating tuning fork, placed on the head, sets the bone of the skull into vibration and stimulates the cochlea directly. In a normal person, air conduction is more sensitive.

Equilibrium. The labyrinth within the inner ear senses the position and movements of the head and helps to maintain balance.

The Nose and Paranasal Sinuses Review the terms used to describe the external anatomy of the nose. Approximately the upper third of the nose is supported by bone, the lower two thirds by cartilage. Air enters the nasal cavity by way of the anterior naris on either side, then passes into a widened area known as the vestibule and on through the narrow nasal passage to the nasopharynx. The medial wall of each nasal cavity is formed by the nasal septum which, like the external nose, is supported by both bone and cartilage. It is covered by a mucous membrane well supplied with blood. The vestibule, unlike the rest of the nasal cavity, is lined with hair-bearing skin, not mucosa. CHAPTER 5



ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY Laterally, the anatomy is more complex. Curving bony structures, the turbinates, covered by a highly vascular mucous membrane, protrude into the nasal cavity. Below each turbinate is a groove, or meatus, each named according to the turbinate above it. Into the inferior meatus drains the nasolacrimal duct; into the middle meatus drain most of the paranasal sinuses. Their openings are not usually visible.


Tip Ala nasi

The additional surface area provided by the turbinates and the mucosa covering them aids the nasal cavities in their principal functions: cleansing, humidification, and temperature control of inspired air.

Anterior naris Vestibule

Frontal sinus Cranial cavity

Sphenoid sinus

Cartilaginous portion of nasal septum

Bony portion of nasal septum


Inspection of the nasal cavity through the anterior naris is usually limited to the vestibule, the anterior portion of the septum, and the lower and middle turbinates. Examination with a nasopharyngeal mirror is required for detection of posterior abnormalities. This technique is beyond the scope of this book. The paranasal sinuses are air-filled cavities within the bones of the skull. Like the nasal cavities into which they drain, they are lined with mucous membrane. Their locations are diagrammed below. Only the frontal and maxillary sinuses are readily accessible to clinical examination. 126



Frontal sinus Cranial cavity Superior turbinate

Middle turbinate Inferior turbinate

Nasopharynx Vestibule Opening to eustachian tube Hard palate

Soft palate


Frontal sinus

Orbit Ethmoid sinus Middle turbinate

Middle meatus

Maxillary sinus Inferior turbinate

Inferior meatus


Frontal sinus

Maxillary sinus





The Mouth and Pharynx The lips are muscular folds that surround the entrance to the mouth. When opened, the gums (gingiva) and teeth are visible. Note the scalloped shape of the gingival margins and the pointed interdental papillae.

Gingival margin

Upper lip (everted)

Interdental papillae

The gingiva is firmly attached to the teeth and to the maxilla or mandible in which they are seated. In lighter-skinned people, the gingiva is pale or coral pink and lightly stippled. In darker-skinned people, it maybe diffusely or partly brown as shown below. A midline mucosal fold, called a labial frenulum, connects each lip with the gingiva. A shallow gingival sulcus between the gum’s thin margin and each tooth is not readily visible (but is probed and measured by dentists). Adjacent to the gingiva is the alveolar mucosa, which merges with the labial mucosa of the lip. Gingiva Alveolar mucosa Labial mucosa


Labial frenulum

Alveolar mucosa

Labial mucosa



ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY Each tooth, composed mostly of dentin, lies rooted in a bony socket with only its enamel-covered crown exposed. Small blood vessels and nerves enter the tooth through its apex and pass into the pulp canal and pulp chamber.

Crown Enamel Gingival margin

Gingival sulcus



Pulp chamber Bone Root Pulp canal


The 32 adult teeth (16 in each jaw) are identified below.

Medial (central) Canine Lateral incisor incisor (cuspid) Premolars (bicuspids) 1st molar (6-year molar) 2nd molar (12-year molar) 3rd molar (wisdom tooth)

The dorsum of the tongue is covered with papillae, giving it a rough surface. Some of these papillae look like red dots, which contrast with the thin white coat that often covers the tongue. The undersurface of the tongue has no papillae. Note the midline lingual frenulum that connects the tongue to the floor of the mouth. At the base of the tongue the ducts of the submandibuCHAPTER 5



ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY lar gland (Wharton’s ducts) pass forward and medially. They open on papillae that lie on each side of the lingual frenulum.


Lingual frenulum

Papilla Duct of submandibular gland

Each parotid duct (Stensen’s duct) empties into the mouth near the upper 2nd molar, where its location is frequently marked by a small papilla. The buccal mucosa lines the cheeks.

Opening of the parotid duct

Papilla Upper lip (retracted)

Buccal mucosa

Above and behind the tongue rises an arch formed by the anterior and posterior pillars, soft palate, and uvula. In the following example, the right tonsil can be seen in its fossa (cavity) between the anterior and posterior pillars. In adults, tonsils are often small or absent, as exemplified on the left side 130


ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY here. A meshwork of small blood vessels may web the soft palate. Between the soft palate and tongue the pharynx is visible. Hard palate Posterior pillar Anterior pillar Soft palate Right tonsil

Uvula Pharynx


The Neck For descriptive purposes, each side of the neck is divided into two triangles by the sternomastoid (sternocleidomastoid) muscle. The anterior triangle is bounded above by the mandible, laterally by the sternomastoid, and medially by the midline of the neck. The posterior triangle extends from the ster-

Sternomastoid muscle

Trapezius muscle

Posterior triangle

Anterior triangle

Omohyoid muscle Clavicle



Manubrium of the sternum


ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY nomastoid to the trapezius and is bounded below by the clavicle. A portion of the omohyoid muscle crosses the lower portion of the posterior triangle and can be mistaken by the uninitiated for a lymph node or mass. Deep to the sternomastoids run the great vessels of the neck: the carotid artery and internal jugular vein. The external jugular vein passes diagonally over the surface of the sternomastoid.

External jugular vein Carotid sinus Carotid artery Internal jugular vein Clavicular and sternal heads of the sternomastoid muscle

Now identify the following midline structures: (1) the mobile hyoid bone just below the mandible, (2) the thyroid cartilage, readily identified by the notch on its superior edge, (3) the cricoid cartilage, (4) the tracheal rings, and (5) the thyroid gland. The isthmus of the thyroid gland lies across the trachea

Thyroid cartilage

Hyoid bone

Cricoid cartilage Thyroid gland

Lobe Isthmus

Sternomastoid muscle

Trachea Sternal notch Manubrium of sternum




ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY below the cricoid. The lateral lobes of this gland curve posteriorly around the sides of the trachea and the esophagus. Except in the midline, the thyroid gland is covered by thin straplike muscles, among which only the sternomastoids are visible. Women have larger and more easily palpable glands than men. The lymph nodes of the head and neck have been classified in a variety of ways. One classification is shown here, together with the directions of lymphatic drainage. The deep cervical chain is largely obscured by the overlying sternomastoid muscle, but at its two extremes the tonsillar node and supraclavicular nodes may be palpable. The submandibular nodes lie superficial to the submandibular gland, from which they should be differentiated. Nodes are normally round or ovoid, smooth, and smaller than the gland. The gland is larger and has a lobulated, slightly irregular surface (see p. 115).

Preauricular Occipital Posterior auricular Tonsillar Superficial cervical

Submental Submandibular

Posterior cervical

Supraclavicular Deep cervical chain

Note that the tonsillar, submandibular, and submental nodes drain portions of the mouth and throat as well as the face. Knowledge of the lymphatic system is important to a sound clinical habit: whenever a malignant or inflammatory lesion is observed, look for involvement of the regional lymph nodes that drain it; whenever a node is enlarged or tender, look for a source such as infection in the area that it drains. CHAPTER 5




External lymphatic drainage Internal lymphatic drainage (e.g., from mouth and throat)

Changes With Aging Tonsils, which are also composed of lymphoid tissue, become gradually smaller after the age of 5 years. In adulthood, they become inconspicuous or invisible. The frequency of palpable cervical nodes gradually diminishes with age, and according to one study falls below 50% sometime between the ages of 50 and 60. In contrast to the lymph nodes, the submandibular glands become easier to feel in older people. The eyes, ears, and mouth bear the brunt of old age. Visual acuity remains fairly constant between the ages of 20 and 50 and then diminishes, gradually until about age 70 and then more rapidly. Nevertheless, most elderly people retain good to adequate vision—20/20 to 20/70 as measured by standard charts. Near vision, however, begins to blur noticeably for virtually everyone. From childhood on, the lens gradually loses its elasticity and the eye grows progressively less able to focus on nearby objects. This loss of accommodative power, called presbyopia, usually becomes noticeable in one’s 40s. 134


ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY Aging also affects the tissues in and around the eyes. In some elderly people the fat that surrounds and cushions the eye within the bony orbit atrophies, allowing the eyeball to recede somewhat in the orbit. The skin of the eyelids becomes wrinkled, occasionally hanging in loose folds. Fat may push the fascia of the eyelids forward, creating soft bulges, especially in the lower lids and the inner third of the upper ones (p. 175). Combinations of a weakened levator palpebrae, relaxation of the skin, and increased weight of the upper eyelid may cause a senile ptosis (drooping). More important, the lower lid may fall outward away from the eyeball or turn inward onto it, resulting in ectropion and entropion, respectively (p. 177). Because their eyes produce fewer lacrimal secretions, aging patients may complain of dryness of the eyes. Corneal arcus (arcus senilis) is common in elderly persons and in them has no clinical significance (p. 180). The corneas lose some of their luster. The pupils become smaller—a characteristic that makes it more difficult to examine the fundi of elderly people. The pupils may also become slightly irregular but should continue to respond to light and near effort. Except for possible impairment in upward gaze, extraocular movements should remain intact. Lenses thicken and yellow with age, impairing the passage of light to the retinas, and elderly people need more light to read and do fine work. When the lens of an elderly person is examined with a flashlight it frequently looks gray, as if it were opaque, when in fact it permits good visual acuity and looks clear on ophthalmoscopic examination. Do not depend on your flashlight alone, therefore, to make a diagnosis of cataract—a true opacity of the lens (p. 180). Cataracts do become relatively common, however, affecting 1 out of 10 people in their 60s and 1 out of 3 in their 80s. Because the lens continues to grow over the years, it may push the iris forward, narrowing the angle between iris and cornea and increasing the risk of narrow-angle glaucoma (p. 148). Ophthalmoscopic examination reveals fundi that have lost their youthful shine and light reflections. The arteries look narrowed, paler, straighter, and less brilliant (p. 190). Drusen (colloid bodies) may be seen (p. 187). On a more anterior plane you may be able to see some vitreous floaters—degenerative changes that may cause annoying specks or webs in the field of vision. You may also find evidence of other, more serious, conditions that occur more often in elderly people than in younger ones: macular degeneration, glaucoma, retinal hemorrhages, or possibly retinal detachment. Acuity of hearing, like that of vision, usually diminishes with age. Early losses, which start in young adulthood, involve primarily the high-pitched sounds beyond the range of human speech and have relatively little functional significance. Gradually, however, loss extends to sounds in the middle and lower ranges. When a person fails to catch the upper tones of words while hearing the lower ones, words sound distorted and are difficult to understand, especially in noisy environments. Hearing loss associated with aging, known as presbycusis, becomes increasingly evident, usually after the age of 50. CHAPTER 5





Diminished salivary secretions and a decreased sense of taste have been attributed to aging, but medications or various diseases probably account for most of these changes. Teeth may wear down or become abraded over time, or they may be lost to dental caries or other conditions (pp. 203–205). Periodontal disease is the chief cause of tooth loss in most adults (p. 203). If a person has no teeth, the lower portion of the face looks small and sunken, with accentuated “purse-string” wrinkles radiating out from the mouth. Overclosure of the mouth may lead to maceration of the skin at the corners—angular cheilitis (p. 198). The bony ridges of the jaws that once surrounded the tooth sockets are gradually resorbed, especially in the lower jaw.

THE HEALTH HISTORY Common or Concerning Symptoms ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■

Headache Change in vision: hyperopia, presbyopia, myopia, scotomas Double vision, or diplopia Hearing loss, earache; tinnitus Vertigo Nosebleed, or epistaxis Sore throat; hoarseness Swollen glands Goiter

The Head Headache is an extremely common symptom that always requires careful evaluation, since a small fraction of headaches arise from life-threatening conditions. It is important to elicit a full description of the headache and all seven attributes of the patient’s pain (see p. 27). Is the headache one-sided or bilateral? Steady or throbbing? Continuous or comes and goes? After your usual open-ended approach, ask the patient to point to the area of pain or discomfort.

See Table 5-1, Headaches, pp. 170–173. Tension and migraine headaches are the most common kinds of recurring headaches.

The most important attributes of headache are the chronologic pattern and severity. Is the problem new and acute? Chronic and recurring, with little change in pattern? Chronic and recurring but with recent change in pattern or progressively severe? Does the pain recur at the same time every day?

Changing or progressively severe headaches increase the likelihood of tumor, abscess, or other mass lesion. Extremely severe headaches suggest subarachnoid hemorrhage or meningitis.


Tension headaches often arise in the temporal areas; cluster headaches may be retro-orbital.




Ask about associated symptoms. Inquire specifically about associated nausea and vomiting and neurologic symptoms such as change in vision or motorsensory deficits.

Visual aura or scintillating scotomas with migraine. Nausea and vomiting common with migraine but also occur with brain tumors and subarachnoid hemorrhage.

Ask whether coughing, sneezing, or changing the position of the head have any effect (better, worse, or no effect) on the headache.

Such maneuvers may increase pain from brain tumor and acute sinusitis.

Ask about family history.

Family history may be positive in patients with migraine.

The Eyes Start your inquiry about eye and vision problems with open-ended questions such as “How is your vision?” and “Have you had any trouble with your eyes?” If the patient reports a change in vision, pursue the related details:

Refractive errors most commonly explain gradual blurring. High blood sugar levels may cause blurring.

Is the onset sudden or gradual?

Sudden visual loss suggests retinal detachment, vitreous hemorrhage, or occlusion of the central retinal artery.

Is the problem worse during close work or at distances?

Difficulty with close work suggests hyperopia (farsightedness) or presbyopia (aging vision); with distances, myopia (near-sightedness).

Is there blurring of the entire field of vision or only parts of it? If the visual field defect is partial, is it central, peripheral, or only on one side?

Slow central loss in nuclear cataract (p. 180), macular degeneration (p. 155); peripheral loss in advanced open-angle glaucoma (p. 148); one-sided loss in hemianopsia and quadrantic defects (p. 145).

Are there specks in the vision or areas where the patient cannot see (scotomas)? If so, do they move around in the visual field with shifts in gaze or are they fixed?

Moving specks or strands suggest vitreous floaters; fixed defects (scotomas) suggest lesions in the retinas or visual pathways.

Has the patient seen lights flashing across the field of vision? This symptom may be accompanied by vitreous floaters.

Flashing lights or new vitreous floaters suggest detachment of vitreous from retina. Prompt eye consultation is indicated.

Does the patient wear glasses?






Ask about pain in or around the eyes, redness, and excessive tearing or watering.

See Table 5-7, Red Eyes, p. 179.

Check for presence of diplopia, or double vision. If present, find out whether the images are side by side (horizontal diplopia) or on top of each other (vertical diplopia). Does diplopia persist with one eye closed? Which eye is affected?

Diplopia in adults may arise from a lesion in the brainstem or cerebellum, or from weakness or paralysis of one or more extraocular muscles as in horizontal diplopia from palsy of CN III or VI, or vertical diplopia from palsy of CN III or IV. Diplopia in one eye, with the other closed, suggests a problem in the cornea or lens.

One kind of horizontal diplopia is physiologic. Hold one finger upright about 6 inches in front of your face, a second at arm’s length. When you focus on either finger, the image of the other is double. A patient who notices this phenomenon can be reassured.

The Ears Opening questions for the ears are “How is your hearing?” and “Have you had any trouble with your ears?” If the patient has noticed a hearing loss, does it involve one or both ears? Did it start suddenly or gradually? What are the associated symptoms, if any?

See Table 5-19, Patterns of Hearing Loss, pp. 196–197.

Try to distinguish between two basic types of hearing impairment: conductive loss, which results from problems in the external or middle ear, and sensorineural loss, from problems in the inner ear, the cochlear nerve, or its central connections in the brain. Two questions may be helpful . . . Does the patient have special difficulty understanding people as they talk? . . . What difference does a noisy environment make?

Persons with sensorineural loss have particular trouble understanding speech, often complaining that others mumble; noisy environments make hearing worse. In conductive loss, noisy environments may help. Infants may fail to respond to the parent’s voice or to sounds in the environment (see p. 677). Toddlers may exhibit a delay in developing speech. Such findings deserve thorough investigation.

Symptoms associated with hearing loss, such as earache or vertigo, help you to assess likely causes. In addition, inquire specifically about medications that might affect hearing and ask about sustained exposure to loud noise.

Medications that affect hearing include aminoglycosides, aspirin, NSAIDs, quinine, furosemide, and others.

Complaints of earache, or pain in the ear, are especially common in office visits. Ask about associated fever, sore throat, cough, and concurrent upper respiratory infection.

Pain suggests a problem in the external ear, such as otitis externa, or, if associated with symptoms of respiratory infection, in the inner ear, as in otitis media. It may also be referred from other structures in the mouth, throat, or neck.





Ask about discharge from the ear, especially if associated with earache or trauma.

Unusually soft wax, debris from inflammation or rash in the ear canal, or discharge through a perforated eardrum secondary to acute or chronic otitis media

Tinnitus is a perceived sound that has no external stimulus—commonly, a musical ringing or a rushing or roaring noise. It can involve one or both ears. Tinnitus may accompany hearing loss and often remains unexplained. Occasionally, popping sounds originate in the temporomandibular joint, or vascular noises from the neck may be audible.

Tinnitus is a common symptom, increasing in frequency with age. When associated with hearing loss and vertigo it suggests Ménière’s disease.

Vertigo refers to the perception that the patient or the environment is rotating or spinning. These sensations point primarily to a problem in the labyrinths of the inner ear, peripheral lesions of CN VIII or lesions in its central pathways, or nuclei in the brain.

See Table 5-2, Vertigo, p. 174.

Vertigo is a challenging symptom for you as clinician, since patients differ widely in what they mean by the word “dizzy.” “Are there times when you feel dizzy?” is an appropriate first question, but patients often find it difficult to be more specific. Ask “Do you feel unsteady, as if you are going to fall or black out? . . . Or do you feel the room is spinning (true vertigo)?” Get the story without biasing it. You may need to offer the patient several choices of wording. Ask if the patient feels pulled to the ground or off to one side. And if the dizziness is related to a change in body position. Pursue any associated feelings of clamminess or flushing, nausea, or vomiting. Check if any medications may be contributing.

Feeling unsteady, light-headed, or “dizzy in the legs” sometimes suggests a cardiovascular etiology. A feeling of being pulled suggests true vertigo from an inner ear problem or a central or peripheral lesion of CN VIII.

The Nose and Sinuses Rhinorrhea refers to drainage from the nose and is often associated with nasal congestion, a sense of stuffiness or obstruction. These symptoms are frequently accompanied by sneezing, watery eyes, and throat discomfort, and also by itching in the eyes, nose, and throat.

Causes include viral infections, allergic rhinitis (“hay fever”), and vasomotor rhinitis. Itching favors an allergic cause.

Assess the chronology of the illness. Does it last for a week or so, especially when common colds and related syndromes are prevalent, or does it occur seasonally when pollens are in the air? Is it associated with specific contacts or environments? What remedies has the patient used? For how long? And how well do they work?

Relation to seasons or environmental contacts suggests allergy.

Inquire about drugs that might cause stuffiness.

Oral contraceptives, reserpine, guanethidine, and alcohol

Are there symptoms in addition to rhinorrhea or congestion, such as pain and tenderness in the face or over the sinuses, local headache, or fever?

These together suggest sinusitis.

Is the patient’s nasal congestion limited to one side? If so, you may be dealing with a different problem that requires careful physical examination.

Consider a deviated nasal septum, foreign body, or tumor.



Excessive use of decongestants can worsen the symptoms.




Epistaxis means bleeding from the nose. The blood usually originates from the nose itself, but may come from a paranasal sinus or the nasopharynx. The history is usually quite graphic! However, in patients who are lying down, or whose bleeding originates in posterior structures, blood may pass into the throat instead of out the nostrils. You must identify the source of the bleeding carefully—is it from the nose or has it been coughed up or vomited? Assess the site of bleeding, its severity, and associated symptoms. Is it a recurrent problem? Has there been easy bruising or bleeding elsewhere in the body?

Local causes of epistaxis include trauma (especially nose picking), inflammation, drying and crusting of the nasal mucosa, tumors, and foreign bodies. Bleeding disorders may contribute to epistaxis.

The Mouth, Throat, and Neck Sore throat is a frequent complaint, usually developing in the setting of acute upper respiratory symptoms.

Fever, pharyngeal exudates, and anterior lymphadenopathy, especially in the absence of cough, suggest streptococcal pharyngitis, or strep throat (p. 200)

A sore tongue may be caused by local lesions as well as by systemic illness.

Aphthous ulcers (p. 207); sore smooth tongue of nutritional deficiency (p. 206).

Bleeding from the gums is a common symptom, especially when brushing teeth. Ask about local lesions and any tendency to bleed or bruise elsewhere.

Bleeding gums are most often caused by gingivitis (p. 203).

Hoarseness refers to an altered quality of the voice, often described as husky, rough, or harsh. The pitch may be lower than before. Hoarseness usually arises from disease of the larynx, but may also develop as extralaryngeal lesions press on the laryngeal nerves. Check for overuse of the voice, allergy, smoking or other inhaled irritants, and any associated symptoms. Is the problem acute or chronic? If hoarseness lasts more than 2 weeks, visual examination of the larynx by indirect or direct laryngoscopy is advisable.

Overuse of the voice (as in cheering) and acute infections are the most likely causes.

Asking “Have you noticed any swollen glands or lumps in your neck?” is advisable, since patients are more familiar with the lay terms than with “lymph nodes.”

Enlarged tender lymph nodes commonly accompany pharyngitis.

Assess thyroid function and ask about any evidence of an enlarged thyroid gland or goiter. To evaluate thyroid function, ask about temperature intolerance and sweating. Opening questions include “Do you prefer hot or cold weather?” “Do you dress more warmly or less warmly than other people?” “What about blankets . . . do you use more or fewer than others at home?” “Do you perspire more or less than others?” “Any new palpitations or change in weight?” Note that as people grow older, they sweat less, have less tolerance for cold, and tend to prefer warmer environments.

With goiter, thyroid function may be increased, decreased, or normal.


Causes of chronic hoarseness include smoking, allergy, voice abuse, hypothyroidism, chronic infections such as tuberculosis, and tumors.

Intolerance to cold, preference for warm clothing and many blankets, and decreased sweating suggest hypothyroidism; the opposite symptoms, palpitations and involuntary weight loss suggest hyperthyroidism (p. 208).



HEALTH PROMOTION AND COUNSELING Important Topics for Health Promotion and Counseling ■ ■ ■

Changes in vision: cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma Hearing loss Oral health

Vision and hearing, critical senses for experiencing the world around us, are two areas of special importance for health promotion and counseling. Oral health, often overlooked, also merits clinical attention. Disorders of vision shift with age. Healthy young adults generally have refractive errors. Up to 25% of adults over 65 have refractive errors; however, cataracts, macular degeneration, and glaucoma become more prevalent. These disorders reduce awareness of the social and physical environment and contribute to falls and injuries. To improve detection of visual defects, test visual acuity with a Snellen chart or handheld card (p. 675). Examine the lens and fundi for clouding of the lens (cataracts); mottling of the macula, variations in the retinal pigmentation, subretinal hemorrhage or exudate (macular degeneration); and change in size and color of the optic cup (glaucoma). After diagnosis, review effective treatments—corrective lenses, cataract surgery, photocoagulation for choroidal neovascularization in macular degeneration, and topical medications for glaucoma. Surveillance for glaucoma is especially important. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in African Americans and the second leading cause of blindness overall. There is gradual loss of vision with damage to the optic nerve, loss of visual fields beginning usually at the periphery, and pallor and increasing size of the optic cup (enlarging to more than half the diameter of the optic disc). Elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) is seen in up to 80% of cases and is linked to damage of the optic nerve. Risk factors include age over 65, African American origin, diabetes mellitus, myopia, family history of glaucoma, and ocular hypertension (IOP ≥ 21 mm Hg). Screening tests include tonometry to measure IOP, ophthalmoscopy or slit-lamp examination of the optic nerve head, and perimetry to map the visual fields. In the hands of general clinicians, however, all three tests lack accuracy, so attention to risk factors and referral to eye specialists remain important tools for clinical care. Hearing loss can also trouble the later years. More than a third of adults over age 65 have detectable hearing deficits, contributing to emotional isolation and social withdrawal. These losses may go undetected—unlike vision prerequisites for driving and vision, there is no mandate for widespread testing and many seniors avoid use of hearing aids. Questionnaires and hand-held audioscopes work well for periodic screening. Less sensitive are the clinical “whisper test,” rubbing fingers, or use of the tuning fork. Groups at risk are CHAPTER 5



HEALTH PROMOTION AND COUNSELING those with a history of congenital or familial hearing loss, syphilis, rubella, meningitis, or exposure to hazardous noise levels at work or on the battlefield. Clinicians should play an active role in promoting oral health: up to half of all children ages 5 to 17 have from one to eight cavities, and the average US adult has 10 to 17 teeth that are decayed, missing, or filled. In adults, the prevalence of gingivitis and periodontal disease is 50% and 80% respectively. In the U.S., more than half of all adults over age 65 have no teeth at all!* Effective screening begins with careful examination of the mouth. Inspect the oral cavity for decayed or loose teeth, inflammation of the gingiva, and signs of periodontal disease (bleeding, pus, recession of the gums, and bad breath). Inspect the mucous membranes, the palate, the oral floor, and the surfaces of the tongue for ulcers and leukoplakia, warning signs for oral cancer and HIV disease. To improve oral health, counsel patients to adopt daily hygiene measures. Use of fluoride-containing toothpastes reduces tooth decay, and brushing and flossing retard periodontal disease by removing bacterial plaques. Urge patients to seek dental care at least annually to receive the benefits of more specialized preventive care such as scaling, planing of roots, and topical fluorides. Diet, tobacco and alcohol use, changes in salivary flow from medication, and proper use of dentures should also be addressed.** As with children, adults should avoid excessive intake of foods high in refined sugars, such as sucrose, which enhance attachment and colonization of cariogenic bacteria. Use of all tobacco products and excessive alcohol, the principal risk factors for oral cancers, should be avoided. Saliva cleanses and lubricates the mouth. Many medications reduce salivary flow, increasing risk of tooth decay, mucositis, and gum disease from xerostomia, especially for the elderly. For those wearing dentures, be sure to counsel removal and cleaning each night to reduce bacterial plaque and risk of malodor. Regular massage of the gums relieves soreness and pressure from dentures on the underlying soft tissue.

*U.S. Preventive Services Task Force: Guide to Clinical Preventive Services (2nd ed), pp. 711–721. Baltimore, Williams & Wilkins, 1996. **Greene JC, Greene AR: Chapter 15: Oral Health. In Woolf SH, Jonas S, Lawrence RS (eds): Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in Clinical Practice, pp. 315–334. Baltimore, Williams & Wilkins, 1996.





Preview: Recording the Physical Examination— The Head, Eyes, Ears, Nose, and Throat (HEENT) Note that initially you may use sentences to describe your findings; later you will use phrases. The style below contains phrases appropriate for most write-ups. Unfamiliar terms are explained in the next section, Techniques of Examination. HEENT: Head—The skull is normocephalic/atraumatic (NC/AT). Hair with average texture. Eyes—Visual acuity 20/20 bilaterally. Sclera white, conjunctiva pink. Pupils are 4 mm constricting to 2 mm, equally round and reactive to light and accommodations. Disc margins sharp; no hemorrhages or exudates, no arteriolar narrowing. Ears—Acuity good to whispered voice. Tympanic membranes (TMs) with good cone of light. Weber midline. AC > BC. Nose—Nasal mucosa pink, septum midline; no sinus tenderness. Throat (or Mouth)—Oral mucosa pink, dentition good, pharynx without exudates. Neck—Trachea midline. Neck supple; thyroid isthmus palpable, lobes not felt. Lymph Nodes—No cervical, axillary, epitrochlear, inguinal adenopathy. OR Head—The skull is normocephalic/atraumatic. Frontal balding. Eyes— Visual acuity 20/100 bilaterally. Sclera white; conjunctiva infected. Pupils constrict 3 mm to 2 mm, equally round and reactive to light and accommodation. Disc margins sharp; no hemorrhages or exudates. Arteriolar-to-venous ratio (AV ratio) 2:4; no A-V nicking. Ears—Acuity diminished to whispered voice; intact to spoken voice. TMs clear. Nose— Mucosa swollen with erythema and clear drainage. Septum midline. Tender over maxillary sinuses. Throat—Oral mucosa pink, dental caries in lower molars, pharynx erythematous, no exudates.

Suggests myopia and mild arteriolar narrowing. Also upper respiratory infection.

Neck—Trachea midline. Neck supple; thyroid isthmus midline, lobes palpable but not enlarged. Lymph Nodes—Submandibular and anterior cervical lymph nodes tender, 1 × 1 cm, rubbery and mobile; no posterior cervical, epitrochlear, axillary, or inguinal lymphadenopathy.






TECHNIQUES OF EXAMINATION The Head Because abnormalities covered by the hair are easily missed, ask if the patient has noticed anything wrong with the scalp or hair. If you note a hairpiece or wig, ask the patient to remove it. Examine:

The Hair. Note its quantity, distribution, texture, and pattern of loss, if any. You may see loose flakes of dandruff.

Fine hair in hyperthyroidism; coarse hair in hypothyroidism. Tiny white ovoid granules that adhere to hairs may be nits, or eggs of lice.

The Scalp. Part the hair in several places and look for scaliness, lumps, nevi, or other lesions.

Redness and scaling in seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis; pilar cysts (wens)

The Skull. Observe the general size and contour of the skull. Note any

Enlarged skull in hydrocephalus, Paget’s disease of bone. Tenderness after trauma

deformities, depressions, lumps, or tenderness. Familiarize yourself with the irregularities in a normal skull, such as those near the suture lines between the parietal and occipital bones.

The Face. Note the patient’s facial expression and contours. Observe for asymmetry, involuntary movements, edema, and masses.

See Table 5-3, Selected Facies (p. 175).

The Skin.

Acne in many adolescents. Hirsutism (excessive facial hair) in some women

Observe the skin, noting its color, pigmentation, texture, thickness, hair distribution, and any lesions.

The Eyes Important Areas of Examination ■ ■ ■ ■ ■

Visual acuity Visual fields Conjunctiva and sclera Cornea, lens, and pupils Extraocular movements

Fundi, including Optic disc and cup Retina Retinal vessels

Visual Acuity. To test the acuity of central vision use a Snellen eye chart, if possible, and light it well. Position the patient 20 feet from the chart. Patients who use glasses other than for reading should put them on. Ask 144

Vision of 20/200 means that at 20 feet the patient can read print that a person with normal vision




the patient to cover one eye with a card (to prevent peeking through the fingers) and to read the smallest line of print possible. Coaxing to attempt the next line may improve performance. A patient who cannot read the largest letter should be positioned closer to the chart; note the intervening distance. Determine the smallest line of print from which the patient can identify more than half the letters. Record the visual acuity designated at the side of this line, along with use of glasses, if any. Visual acuity is expressed as two numbers (e.g., 20/30): the first indicates the distance of patient from chart, and the second, the distance at which a normal eye can read the line of letters.

could read at 200 feet. The larger the second number, the worse the vision. “20/40 corrected” means the patient could read the 40 line with glasses (a correction).

Testing near vision with a special handheld card helps to identify the need for reading glasses or bifocals in patients over age 45. You can also use this card to test visual acuity at the bedside. Held 14 inches from the patient’s eyes, the card simulates a Snellen chart. You may, however, let patients choose their own distance.

Presbyopia is the impaired near vision, found in middle-aged and older people. A presbyopic person often sees better when the card is farther away.

If you have no charts, screen visual acuity with any available print. If patients cannot read even the largest letters, test their ability to count your upraised fingers and distinguish light (such as your flashlight) from dark.

In the United States, a person is usually considered legally blind when vision in the better eye, corrected by glasses, is 20/200 or less. Legal blindness also results from a constricted field of vision: 20° or less in the better eye.

Myopia is impaired far vision.

Visual Fields by Confrontation Screening. Screening starts in the temporal fields because most defects involve these areas. Imagine the patient’s visual fields projected onto a

Field defects that are all or partly temporal include homonymous hemianopsia,

bitemporal hemianopsia,

and quadrantic defects.

Review these patterns in Table 5-4, Visual Field Defects, p. 176. CHAPTER 5





glass bowl that encircles the front of the patient’s head. Ask the patient to look with both eyes into your eyes. While you return the patient’s gaze, place your hands about 2 feet apart, lateral to the patient’s ears. Instruct the patient to point to your fingers as soon as they are seen. Then slowly move the wiggling fingers of both your hands along the imaginary bowl and toward the line of gaze until the patient identifies them. Repeat this pattern in the upper and lower temporal quadrants. Normally, a person sees both sets of fingers at the same time. If so, fields are usually normal. Further Testing. If you find a defect, try to establish its boundaries. Test one eye at a time. If you suspect a temporal defect in the left visual field, for example, ask the patient to cover the right eye and, with the left one, to look into your eye directly opposite. Then slowly move your wiggling fingers from the defective area toward the better vision, noting where the patient first responds. Repeat this at several levels to define the border.

When the patient’s left eye repeatedly does not see your fingers until they have crossed the line of gaze, a left temporal hemianopsia is present. It is diagrammed from the patient’s viewpoint.



A temporal defect in the visual field of one eye suggests a nasal defect in the other eye. To test this hypothesis, examine the other eye in a similar way, again moving from the anticipated defect toward the better vision.

A left homonymous hemianopsia may thus be established.


Small visual field defects and enlarged blind spots require a finer stimulus. Using a small red object such as a red-headed matchstick or the red eraser on a pencil, test one eye at a time. As the patient looks into your eye directly opposite, move the object about in the visual field. The normal blind spot can be found 15° temporal to the line of gaze. (Find your own blind spots for practice.) 146



An enlarged blind spot occurs in conditions affecting the optic nerve, e.g., glaucoma, optic neuritis, and papilledema.




Position and Alignment of the Eyes. Stand in front of the patient and survey the eyes for position and alignment with each other. If one or both eyes seem to protrude, assess them from above (see p. 167).

Inward or outward deviation of the eyes; abnormal protrusion in Graves’ disease or ocular tumors

Eyebrows. Inspect the eyebrows, noting their quantity and distribution

Scaliness in seborrheic dermatitis; lateral sparseness in hypothyroidism

and any scaliness of the underlying skin.

Eyelids. Note the position of the lids in relation to the eyeballs. Inspect for the following: ■

Width of the palpebral fissures

Edema of the lids

Color of the lids (e.g., redness)


Condition and direction of the eyelashes

Adequacy with which the eyelids close. Look for this especially when the eyes are unusually prominent, when there is facial paralysis, or when the patient is unconscious.

See Table 5-5, Variations and Abnormalities of the Eyelids (p. 177). Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelids along the lid margins, often with crusting or scales.

Failure of the eyelids to close exposes the corneas to serious damage.

Lacrimal Apparatus. Briefly inspect the regions of the lacrimal gland and lacrimal sac for swelling.

See Table 5-6, Lumps and Swellings In and Around the Eyes (p. 178).

Look for excessive tearing or dryness of the eyes. Assessment of dryness may require special testing by an ophthalmologist. To test for nasolacrimal duct obstruction, see pp. 167–168.

Excessive tearing may be due to increased production or impaired drainage of tears. In the first group, causes include conjunctival inflammation and corneal irritation; in the second, ectropion (p. 177) and nasolacrimal duct obstruction.

Conjunctiva and Sclera. Ask the patient to look up as you depress both lower lids with your thumbs, exposing the sclera and conjunctiva. Inspect the sclera and palpebral conjunctiva for color, and note the vascular pattern against the white scleral background. Look for any nodules or swelling.

A yellow sclera indicates jaundice. CHAPTER 5





If you need a fuller view of the eye, rest your thumb and finger on the bones of the cheek and brow, respectively, and spread the lids.

The local redness below is due to nodular episcleritis:

Ask the patient to look to each side and down. This technique gives you a good view of the sclera and bulbar conjunctiva, but not of the palpebral conjunctiva of the upper lid. For this purpose, you need to evert the lid (see p. 168). For comparisons, see Table 5-7, Red Eyes (p. 179).

Cornea and Lens. With oblique lighting, inspect the cornea of each eye for opacities and note any opacities in the lens that may be visible through the pupil.


At the same time, inspect each iris. The markings should be clearly defined. With your light shining directly from the temporal side, look for a crescentic shadow on the medial side of the iris. Since the iris is normally fairly flat and forms a relatively open angle with the cornea, this lighting casts no shadow.

See Table 5-8, Opacities of the Cornea and Lens (p. 180).

Occasionally the iris bows abnormally far forward, forming a very narrow angle with the cornea. The light then casts a crescentic shadow.



In open-angle glaucoma—the common form of glaucoma—the normal spatial relation between iris and cornea is preserved and the iris is fully lit.

This narrow angle increases the risk of acute narrow-angle glaucoma— a sudden increase in intraocular pressure when drainage of the aqueous humor is blocked.


Miosis refers to constriction of the pupils, mydriasis to dilation.

Inspect the size, shape, and symmetry of the pupils. If the pupils are large (>5 mm), small (<3 mm), or unequal, measure them. A card with black circles of varying sizes facilitates measurement. 148










7 mm

Pupillary inequality of less than 0.5 mm (anisocoria) is visible in about 20% of normal people. If pupillary reactions are normal, anisocoria is considered benign. Test the pupillary reactions to light. Ask the patient to look into the distance, and shine a bright light obliquely into each pupil in turn. (Both the distant gaze and the oblique lighting help to prevent a near reaction.) Look for: ■

The direct reaction (pupillary constriction in the same eye)

The consensual reaction (pupillary constriction in the opposite eye)

Compare benign anisocoria with Horner’s syndrome, oculomotor nerve paralysis, and tonic pupil. See Table 5-9, Pupillary Abnormalities (p. 181).

Always darken the room and use a bright light before deciding that a light reaction is absent. If the reaction to light is impaired or questionable, test the near reaction in normal room light. Testing one eye at a time makes it easier to concentrate on pupillary responses, without the distraction of extraocular movement. Hold your finger or pencil about 10 cm from the patient’s eye. Ask the patient to look alternately at it and into the distance directly behind it. Watch for pupillary constriction with near effort.

Testing the near reaction is helpful in diagnosing Argyll Robertson and tonic (Adie’s) pupils (see p. 181).

Extraocular Muscles. From about 2 feet directly in front of the patient,

Asymmetry of the corneal reflections indicates a deviation from normal ocular alignment. A temporal light reflection on one cornea, for example, indicates a nasal deviation of that eye. See Table 5-10, Deviations of the Eyes (p. 182).

shine a light onto the patient’s eyes and ask the patient to look at it. Inspect the reflections in the corneas. They should be visible slightly nasal to the center of the pupils.

A cover–uncover test may reveal a slight or latent muscle imbalance not otherwise seen (see p. 182). Now assess the extraocular movements, looking for: ■

The normal conjugate movements of the eyes in each direction, or any deviation from normal



See Table 5-10, Deviations of the Eyes (p. 182). 149



Nystagmus, a fine rhythmic oscillation of the eyes. A few beats of nystagmus on extreme lateral gaze are within normal limits. If you see it, bring your finger in to within the field of binocular vision and look again.

Sustained nystagmus within the binocular field of gaze is seen in a variety of neurologic conditions. See Table 16-9, Nystagmus (pp. 610–611).

A lid lag as the eyes move from above downward.

Lid lag of hyperthyroidism

To make these observations, ask the patient to follow your finger or pencil as you sweep through the six cardinal directions of gaze. Making a wide H in the air, lead the patient’s gaze (1) to the patient’s extreme right, (2) to the right and upward, and (3) down on the right; then (4) without pausing in the middle, to the extreme left, (5) to the left and upward, and (6) down on the left. Pause during upward and lateral gaze to detect nystagmus. Move your finger or pencil at a comfortable distance from the patient. Because middle-aged or older people may have difficulty focusing on near objects, make this distance greater for them than for young people. Some patients move their heads to follow your finger. If necessary, hold the head in the proper midline position.

In paralysis of the CN VI, illustrated below, the eyes are conjugate in right lateral gaze but not in left lateral gaze (left infranuclear ophthalmoplegia)









If you suspect a lid lag or hyperthyroidism, ask the patient to follow your finger again as you move it slowly from up to down in the midline. The lid should overlap the iris slightly throughout this movement.


In the lid lag of hyperthyroidism, a rim of sclera is seen between the upper lid and iris; the lid seems to lag behind the eyeball.




Finally, test for convergence. Ask the patient to follow your finger or pencil as you move it in toward the bridge of the nose. The converging eyes normally follow the object to within 5 cm to 8 cm of the nose.

Poor convergence in hyperthyroidism


Ophthalmoscopic Examination. In general health care, you should usually examine your patients’ eyes without dilating their pupils. Your view is therefore limited to the posterior structures of the retinal surface. To see more peripheral structures, to evaluate the macula well, or to investigate unexplained visual loss, ophthalmologists dilate the pupils with mydriatic drops unless this is contraindicated. At first, using the ophthalmoscope may seem awkward, and it may be difficult to visualize the fundus. With patience and practice of proper technique, the fundus will come into view, and you will be able to assess important structures such as the optic disc and the retinal vessels. Remove your glasses unless you have marked nearsightedness or severe astigmatism. (However, if the patient’s refractive errors make it difficult to focus on the fundi, it may be easier to keep your glasses on.)



Contraindications for mydriatic drops include (1) head injury and coma, in which continuing observations of pupillary reactions are essential, and (2) any suspicion of narrow-angle glaucoma.

Aperture Indicator of diopters Lens disc




Review the components of the ophthalmoscope pictured on the previous page. Then follow the steps for using the ophthalmoscope, and your examination skills will improve over time.


Darken the room. Switch on the ophthalmoscope light and turn the lens disc until you see the large round beam of white light.* Shine the light on the back of your hand to check the type of light, its desired brightness, and the electrical charge of the ophthalmoscope. Turn the lens disc to the 0 diopter (a diopter is a unit that measures the power of a lens to converge or diverge light). At this diopter the lens neither converges nor diverges light. Keep your finger on the edge of the lens disc so you can turn the disc to focus the lens when you examine the fundus. Remember, hold the ophthalmoscope in your right hand to examine the patient’s right eye; hold it in your left hand to examine the patient’s left eye. This keeps you from bumping the patient’s nose and gives you more mobility and closer range for visualizing the fundus. At first, you may have difficulty using the nondominant eye, but this will abate with practice. Hold the ophthalmoscope firmly braced against the medial aspect of your bony orbit, with the handle tilted laterally at about a 20° slant from the vertical. Check to make sure you can see clearly through the aperture. Instruct the patient to look slightly up and over your shoulder at a point directly ahead on the wall. Place yourself about 15 inches away from the patient and at an angle 15° lateral to the patient’s line of vision. Shine the light beam on the pupil and look for the orange glow in the pupil—the red reflex. Note any opacities interrupting the red reflex. Now, place the thumb of your other hand across the patient’s eyebrow (this technique helps keep you steady but is not essential). Keeping the light beam focused on the red reflex, move in with the ophthalmoscope on the 15° angle toward the pupil until you are very close to it, almost touching the patient’s eyelashes. Try to keep both eyes open and relaxed, as if gazing into the distance, to help minimize any fluctuating blurriness as your eyes attempt to accommodate. You may need to lower the brightness of the light beam to make the examination more comfortable for the patient, avoid hippus (spasm of the pupil), and improve your observations.

Absence of a red reflex suggests an opacity of the lens (cataract) or possibly of the vitreous. Less commonly, a detached retina or, in children, a retinoblastoma may obscure this reflex. Do not be fooled by an artificial eye, which, of course, has no red reflex.

*Some clinicians like to use the large round beam for large pupils, the small round beam for small pupils. The other beams are rarely helpful. The slitlike beam is sometimes used to assess elevations or concavities in the retina, the green (or red-free) beam to detect small red lesions, and the grid to make measurements. Ignore the last three lights and practice with the large round white beam.





Now you are ready to inspect the optic disc and the retina. You should be seeing the optic disc—a yellowish orange to creamy pink oval or round structure that may fill your field of gaze or even exceed it. Of interest, the ophthalmoscope magnifies the normal retina about 15 times and the normal iris about 4 times. The optic disc actually measures about 1.5 mm.

When the lens has been removed surgically, its magnifying effect is lost. Retinal structures then look much smaller than usual, and you can see a much larger expanse of fundus.

Artery Vein Optic disc

Physiologic cup


Follow the steps below for this important segment of the physical examination:


First, locate the optic disc. Look for the round yellowish orange structure described above. If you do not see it at first, follow a blood vessel centrally until you do. You can tell which direction is central by noting the angles at which vessels branch—the vessel size becomes progressively larger at each junction as you approach the disc.

Now, bring the optic disc into sharp focus by adjusting the lens of your ophthalmoscope. If both you and the patient have no refractive errors, the retina should be in focus at 0 diopters. (A diopter is a unit that measures the power of a lens to converge or diverge light.) If structures are blurred, rotate the lens disc until you find the sharpest focus.

In a refractive error, light rays from a distance do not focus on the retina. In myopia, they focus anterior to it; in hyperopia, posterior to it. Retinal structures in a myopic eye look larger than normal.

For example, if the patient is myopic (nearsighted), rotate the lens disc counterclockwise to the minus diopters; in a hyperopic (farsighted) patient, move the disc clockwise to the plus diopters. You can correct your own refractive error in the same way. ■

Inspect the optic disc. Note the following features: –The sharpness or clarity of the disc outline. The nasal portion of the disc margin may be somewhat blurred, a normal finding. –The color of the disc, normally yellowish orange to creamy pink. White or pigmented crescents may ring the disc, a normal finding. –The size of the central physiologic cup, if present. It is usually yellowish white. The horizontal diameter is usually less than half the horizontal diameter of the disc.



See Table 5-11, Normal Variations of the Optic Disc (p. 183), and Table 5-12, Abnormalities of the Optic Disc (p. 184).

An enlarged cup suggests chronic open-angle glaucoma.




–The presence of venous pulsations. In a normal person, pulsations in the retinal veins as they emerge from the central portion of the disc may or may not be present.

Loss of venous pulsations in pathologic conditions like head trauma, meningitis, or mass lesions may be an early sign of elevated intracranial pressure.

–The comparative symmetry of the eyes and findings in the fundi ■

Inspect the retina, including arteries and veins as they extend to the periphery, arteriovenous crossings, the fovea, and the macula. Distinguish arteries from veins based on the features listed below.




Light red

Dark red


Smaller (2⁄3 to 4⁄5 the diameter of veins)


Light Reflex (reflection)


Inconspicuous or absent

Follow the vessels peripherally in each of four directions, noting their relative sizes and the character of the arteriovenous crossings. Identify any lesions of the surrounding retina and note their size, shape, color, and distribution. As you search the retina, move your head and instrument as a unit, using the patient’s pupil as an imaginary fulcrum. At first, you may repeatedly lose your view of the retina because your light falls out of the pupil. You will improve with practice.

See Table 5-13, Retinal Arteries and Arteriovenous Crossings: Normal and Hypertensive (p. 185).

4 1


See Table 5-15, Light-Colored Spots in the Fundi (pp. 187–188). 2


Sequence of inspection from disc to macula

See Table 5-16, Ocular Fundi (pp. 189–191).


Finally, by directing your light beam laterally or by asking the patient to look directly into the light, inspect the fovea and surrounding macula. Except in older people, the tiny bright reflection at the center of the fovea helps to orient you. Shimmering light reflections in the macular area are common in young people.

Lesions of the retina can be measured in terms of “disc diameters” from the optic disc. For example, among the cotton-wool patches illustrated on the next page, note the irregular patches between 11 and 12 o’clock, 1 to 2 disc diameters from the disc. It measures about one-half by one-half disc diameters.


See Table 5-14, Red Spots and Streaks in the Fundi (p. 186).

Macular degeneration is an important cause of poor central vision in the elderly. Types include dry atrophic (more common but less severe) and wet exudative, or neovascular. Undigested cellular debris, called drusen, may be hard and sharply defined, or soft and confluent with altered pigmentation, as seen on the following page.





Light reflection


Fovea Optic disc


Tasman W, Jaeger E (eds): The Wills Eye Hospital Atlas of Clinical Ophthalmology, 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2001.


The elevated optic disc of papilledema can be measured by noting the differences in diopters of the two lenses used to focus clearly on the disc and on the uninvolved retina. Note that at the retina, 3 diopters of elevation +1 mm.

Clear focus here at –1 diopter

Clear focus here at + 3 diopters

+ 3 – (–1) = 4, therefore, a disc elevation of 4 diopters PAPILLEDEMA Photos above from Tasman W, Jaeger E (eds): The Wills Eye Hospital Atlas of Clinical Ophthalmology, 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2001.

Papilledema signals increased intracranial pressure from such serious conditions as trauma, mass lesions, subarachnoid hemorrhage, or meningitis. ■

Inspect the anterior structures. Look for opacities in the vitreous or lens by rotating the lens disc progressively to diopters of around +10 or +12. This technique allows you to focus on the more anterior structures in the eye.



Vitreous floaters may be seen as dark specks or strands between the fundus and the lens. Cataracts are densities in the lens (see p. 180). 155



The Ears The Auricle. Inspect each auricle and surrounding tissues for deformities, lumps, or skin lesions.

See Table 5-17, Lumps On or Near the Ear (pp. 192–193).

If ear pain, discharge, or inflammation is present, move the auricle up and down, press the tragus, and press firmly just behind the ear.

Movement of the auricle and tragus (the “tug test”) is painful in acute otitis externa (inflammation of the ear canal), but not in otitis media (inflammation of the middle ear). Tenderness behind the ear may be present in otitis media.

Ear Canal and Drum.

To see the ear canal and drum, use an otoscope with the largest ear speculum that the canal will accommodate. Position the patient’s head so that you can see comfortably through the instrument. To straighten the ear canal, grasp the auricle firmly but gently and pull it upward, backward, and slightly away from the head.

Holding the otoscope handle between your thumb and fingers, brace your hand against the patient’s face. Your hand and instrument thus follow unexpected movements by the patient. (If you are uncomfortable switching hands for the left ear, as shown below, you may reach over that ear to pull it up and back with your left hand and rest your otoscope-holding right hand on the head behind the ear.) Insert the speculum gently into the ear canal, directing it somewhat down and forward and through the hairs, if any.


Nontender nodular swellings covered by normal skin deep in the ear canals suggest exostoses. These are nonmalignant overgrowths, which may obscure the drum.




Inspect the ear canal, noting any discharge, foreign bodies, redness of the skin, or swelling. Cerumen, which varies in color and consistency from yellow and flaky to brown and sticky or even to dark and hard, may wholly or partly obscure your view.

In acute otitis externa, shown below, the canal is often swollen, narrowed, moist, pale, and tender. It may be reddened.


Inspect the eardrum, noting its color and contour. The cone of light—usually easy to see—helps to orient you.

In chronic otitis externa, the skin of the canal is often thickened, red, and itchy. Red bulging drum of acute purulent otitis media, amber drum of a serous effusion

Identify the handle of the malleus, noting its position, and inspect the short process of the malleus.

An unusually prominent short process and a prominent handle that looks more horizontal suggest a retracted drum.

Gently move the speculum so that you can see as much of the drum as possible, including the pars flaccida superiorly and the margins of the pars tensa. Look for any perforations. The anterior and inferior margins of the drum may be obscured by the curving wall of the ear canal.

See Table 5-18, Abnormalities of the Eardrum (pp. 194–195).

Mobility of the eardrum can be evaluated with a pneumatic otoscope.

A serous effusion, a thickened drum, or purulent otitis media may decrease mobility.

Auditory Acuity.

To estimate hearing, test one ear at a time. Ask the patient to occlude one ear with a finger or, better still, occlude it yourself. When auditory acuity on the two sides is different, move your finger rapidly, but gently, in the occluded canal. The noise so produced will help to prevent the occluded ear from doing the work of the ear you wish to test. Then, standing 1 or 2 feet away, exhale fully (so as to minimize the intensity of your voice) and whisper softly toward the unoccluded ear. Choose numbers or other words with two equally accented syllables, such as “nine-four,” or “baseball.” If necessary, increase the intensity of your voice to a medium whisper, a loud whisper, and then a soft, medium, and loud voice. To make sure the patient does not read your lips, cover your mouth or obstruct the patient’s vision.

Air and Bone Conduction. If hearing is diminished, try to distinguish between conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. You need a quiet room and CHAPTER 5





a tuning fork, preferably of 512 Hz or possibly 1024 Hz. These frequencies fall within the range of human speech (300 Hz to 3000 Hz)—functionally the most important range. Forks with lower pitches may lead to overestimating bone conduction and can also be felt as vibration. Set the fork into light vibration by briskly stroking it between thumb  → and index finger —  → or by tapping it on your knuckles. ■

Test for lateralization (Weber test). Place the base of the lightly vibrating tuning fork firmly on top of the patient’s head or on the midforehead. Ask where the patient hears it: on one or both sides. Normally the sound is heard in the midline or equally in both ears. If nothing is heard, try again, pressing the fork more firmly on the head.

Compare air conduction (AC) and bone conduction (BC) (Rinne test). Place the base of a lightly vibrating tuning fork on the mastoid bone, behind the ear and level with the canal. When the patient can no longer hear the sound, quickly place the fork close to the ear canal and ascertain whether the sound can be heard again. Here the “U” of the fork should face forward, thus maximizing its sound for the patient. Normally the sound is heard longer through air than through bone (AC > BC).


In unilateral conductive hearing loss, sound is heard in (lateralized to) the impaired ear. Visible explanations include acute otitis media, perforation of the eardrum, and obstruction of the ear canal, as by cerumen. In unilateral sensorineural hearing loss, sound is heard in the good ear. In conductive hearing loss, sound is heard through bone as long as or longer than it is through air (BC = AC or BC > AC). In sensorineural hearing loss, sound is heard longer through air (AC > BC). See Table 5-19, Patterns of Hearing Loss (pp. 196–197).




The Nose and Paranasal Sinuses Inspect the anterior and inferior surfaces of the nose. Gentle pressure on the tip of the nose with your thumb usually widens the nostrils and, with the aid of a penlight or otoscope light, you can get a partial view of each nasal vestibule. If the tip is tender, be particularly gentle and manipulate the nose as little as possible.

Tenderness of the nasal tip or alae suggests local infection such as a furuncle.

Note any asymmetry or deformity of the nose.

Deviation of the lower septum is common and may be easily visible, as illustrated below. Deviation seldom obstructs air flow.

Test for nasal obstruction, if indicated, by pressing on each ala nasi in turn and asking the patient to breathe in. Inspect the inside of the nose with an otoscope and the largest ear speculum available.‡ Tilt the patient’s head back a bit and insert the speculum gently into the vestibule of each nostril, avoiding contact with the sensitive nasal septum. Hold the otoscope handle to one side to avoid the patient’s chin and improve your mobility. By directing the speculum posteriorly, then upward in small steps, try to see the inferior and middle turbinates, the nasal septum, and the narrow nasal passage between them. Some asymmetry of the two sides is normal. Vestibule

Middle turbinate Nasal passage Septum Inferior turbinate

Observe: ■

The nasal mucosa that covers the septum and turbinates. Note its color and any swelling, bleeding, or exudate. If exudate is present, note its character: clear, mucopurulent, or purulent. The nasal mucosa is normally somewhat redder than the oral mucosa.

In viral rhinitis the mucosa is reddened and swollen; in allergic rhinitis it may be pale, bluish, or red.

‡ A nasal illuminator, equipped with a short wide nasal speculum but lacking an otoscope’s magnification, may also be used, but structures look much smaller. Otolaryngologists use special equipment not widely available to others.






The nasal septum. Note any deviation, inflammation, or perforation of the septum. The lower anterior portion of the septum (where the patient’s finger can reach) is a common source of epistaxis (nosebleed).

Fresh blood or crusting may be seen. Causes of septal perforation include trauma, surgery, and the intranasal use of cocaine or amphetamines.

Any abnormalities such as ulcers or polyps.

Polyps are pale, semitranslucent masses that usually come from the middle meatus. Ulcers may result from nasal use of cocaine.

Make it a habit to place all nasal and ear specula outside your instrument case after use. Then discard them or clean and disinfect them appropriately. (Check the policies of your institution.) Palpate for sinus tenderness. Press up on the frontal sinuses from under the bony brows, avoiding pressure on the eyes. Then press up on the maxillary sinuses.

Local tenderness, together with symptoms such as pain, fever, and nasal discharge, suggests acute sinusitis involving the frontal or maxillary sinuses. Transillumination may be diagnostically useful. For this technique, see p. 169.

The Mouth and Pharynx If the patient wears dentures, offer a paper towel and ask the patient to remove them so that you can see the mucosa underneath. If you detect any suspicious ulcers or nodules, put on a glove and palpate any lesions, noting especially any thickening or infiltration of the tissues that might suggest malignancy.

Bright red edematous mucosa underneath a denture suggests denture sore mouth. There may be ulcers or papillary granulation tissue.

Inspect the following:

The Lips. Observe their color and moisture, and note any lumps, ulcers, cracking, or scaliness.

Cyanosis, pallor. See Table 5-20, Abnormalities of the Lips (pp. 198–199).

The Oral Mucosa. Look into the patient’s mouth and, with a good light and the help of a tongue blade, inspect the oral mucosa for color, ulcers, 160




white patches, and nodules. The wavy white line on this buccal mucosa developed where the upper and lower teeth meet. Irritation from sucking or chewing may cause or intensify it.

An aphthous ulcer on the labial mucosa is shown by the patient.

See p. 207 and Table 5-21, Findings in the Pharynx, Palate, and Oral Mucosa (pp. 200–202).

The Gums and Teeth. Note the color of the gums, normally pink. Patchy brownness may be present, especially but not exclusively in black people. Inspect the gum margins and the interdental papillae for swelling or ulceration.

Redness of gingivitis, black line of lead poisoning Swollen interdental papillae in gingivitis. See Table 5-22, Findings in the Gums and Teeth (pp. 203–205).

Inspect the teeth. Are any of them missing, discolored, misshapen, or abnormally positioned? You can check for looseness with your gloved thumb and index finger.

The Roof of the Mouth.

Inspect the color and architecture of the hard


The Tongue and the Floor of the Mouth. Ask the patient to put out his or her tongue. Inspect it for symmetry—a test of the hypoglossal nerve (Cranial Nerve XII).

Torus palatinus, a midline lump (see p. 201) Asymmetric protrusion suggests a lesion of Cranial Nerve XII, as shown below.

Note the color and texture of the dorsum of the tongue.

Inspect the sides and undersurface of the tongue and the floor of the mouth. These are the areas where cancer most often develops. Note any white or reddened areas, nodules, or ulcerations. Because cancer of the tongue is CHAPTER 5


Cancer of the tongue is the second most common cancer of the mouth, second only to cancer of 161



more common in men over age 50, especially in those who use tobacco and drink alcohol, palpation is indicated for these patients. Explain what you plan to do and put on gloves. Ask the patient to protrude his tongue. With your right hand, grasp the tip of the tongue with a square of gauze and gently pull it to the patient’s left. Inspect the side of the tongue, and then palpate it with your gloved left hand, feeling for any induration (hardness). Reverse the procedure for the other side.

the lip. Any persistent nodule or ulcer, red or white, must be suspect. Induration of the lesion further increases the possibility of malignancy. Cancer occurs most often on the side of the tongue, next most often at its base. A carcinoma on the left side of a tongue:

(Photo reprinted by permission of the New England Journal of Medicine, 328: 186, 1993—arrows added)

See Table 5-23, Findings In or Under the Tongue (pp. 206–207).

The Pharynx.

Now, with the patient’s mouth open but the tongue not protruded, ask the patient to say “ah” or yawn. This action may let you see the pharynx well. If not, press a tongue blade firmly down upon the midpoint of the arched tongue—far enough back to get good visualization of the pharynx but not so far that you cause gagging. Simultaneously, ask for an “ah” or a yawn. Note the rise of the soft palate—a test of Cranial Nerve X (the vagal nerve).

Inspect the soft palate, anterior and posterior pillars, uvula, tonsils, and pharynx. Note their color and symmetry and look for exudate, swelling, ulceration, or tonsillar enlargement. If possible, palpate any suspicious area for induration or tenderness. Tonsils have crypts, or deep infoldings of squamous epithelium. Whitish spots of normal exfoliating epithelium may sometimes be seen in these crypts.

In Cranial Nerve X paralysis, the soft palate fails to rise and the uvula deviates to the opposite side.

Failure to rise

Deviated to left

See Table 5-21, Findings in the Pharynx, Palate, and Oral Mucosa (pp. 200–202).

Discard your tongue blade after use. 162




The Neck Inspect the neck, noting its symmetry and any masses or scars. Look for enlargement of the parotid or submandibular glands, and note any visible lymph nodes.

A scar of past thyroid surgery may be the clue to unsuspected thyroid disease.

Lymph Nodes.

Palpate the lymph nodes. Using the pads of your index and middle fingers, move the skin over the underlying tissues in each area. The patient should be relaxed, with neck flexed slightly forward and, if needed, slightly toward the side being examined. You can usually examine both sides at once. For the submental node, however, it is helpful to feel with one hand while bracing the top of the head with the other. Feel in sequence for the following nodes: 1. Preauricular—in front of the ear 2. Posterior auricular—superficial to the mastoid process 3. Occipital—at the base of the skull posteriorly 4. Tonsillar—at the angle of the mandible 5. Submandibular—midway between the angle and the tip of the mandible. These nodes are usually smaller and smoother than the lobulated submandibular gland against which they lie.

A “tonsillar node” that pulsates is really the carotid artery. A small, hard, tender “tonsillar node” high and deep between the mandible and the sternomastoid is probably a styloid process.

6. Submental—in the midline a few centimeters behind the tip of the mandible 7. Superficial cervical—superficial to the sternomastoid 1

8. Posterior cervical—along the anterior edge of the trapezius

2 3

9. Deep cervical chain—deep to the sternomastoid and often inaccessible to examination. Hook your thumb and fingers around either side of the sternomastoid muscle to find them. 10. Supraclavicular—deep in the angle formed by the clavicle and the sternomastoid CHAPTER 5


7 8

6 4 5

10 9 External lymphatic drainage Internal lymphatic drainage (e.g.,from mouth and throat)

Enlargement of a supraclavicular node, especially on the left, suggests possible metastasis from a thoracic or an abdominal malignancy. 163



Note their size, shape, delimitation (discrete or matted together), mobility, consistency, and any tenderness. Small, mobile, discrete, nontender nodes, sometimes termed “shotty,” are frequently found in normal persons.

Tender nodes suggest inflammation; hard or fixed nodes suggest malignancy.

Using the pads of the 2nd and 3rd fingers, palpate the preauricular nodes with a gentle rotary motion. Then examine the posterior auricular and occipital lymph nodes.

Palpate the anterior cervical chain, located anterior and superficial to the sternomastoid. Then palpate the posterior cervical chain along the trapezius (anterior edge) and along the sternomastoid (posterior edge). Flex the patient’s neck slightly forward toward the side being examined. Examine the supraclavicular nodes in the angle between the clavicle and the sternomastoid.

Enlarged or tender nodes, if unexplained, call for (1) reexamination of the regions they drain, and (2) careful assessment of lymph nodes elsewhere so that you can distinguish between regional and generalized lymphadenopathy.





Occasionally you may mistake a band of muscle or an artery for a lymph node. You should be able to roll a node in two directions: up and down, and side to side. Neither a muscle nor an artery will pass this test.

Diffuse lymphadenopathy raises the suspicion of infection from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

The Trachea and the Thyroid Gland. To orient yourself to the neck, identify the thyroid and cricoid cartilages and the trachea below them. ■

Inspect the trachea for any deviation from its usual midline position. Then feel for any deviation. Place your finger along one side of the trachea and note the space between it and the sternomastoid. Compare it with the other side. The spaces should be symmetric.

Masses in the neck may push the trachea to one side. Tracheal deviation may also signify important problems in the thorax, such as a mediastinal mass, atelectasis, or a large pneumothorax (see p. 243).

Inspect the neck for the thyroid gland. Tip the patient’s head back a bit. Using tangential lighting directed downward from the tip of the patient’s chin, inspect the region below the cricoid cartilage for the gland. The lower, shadowed border of each thyroid gland shown here is outlined by arrows.

The lower border of this large thyroid gland is outlined by tangential lighting. Goiter is a general term for an enlarged thyroid gland.

Thyroid cartilage

Cricoid cartilage

Thyroid gland







Ask the patient to sip some water and to extend the neck again and swallow. Watch for upward movement of the thyroid gland, noting its contour and symmetry. The thyroid cartilage, the cricoid cartilage, and the thyroid gland all rise with swallowing and then fall to their resting positions.

With swallowing, the lower border of this large gland rises and looks less symmetrical.


Until you become familiar with this examination, check your visual observations with your fingers from in front of the patient. This will orient you to the next step. You are now ready to palpate the thyroid gland. This may seem difficult at first. Use the cues from visual inspection. Find your landmarks, adopt good technique, and follow the steps on the next page, which outline the posterior approach (technique for the anterior approach is similar). With experience you will become more adept. The thyroid gland is usually easier to feel in a long slender neck than in a short stocky one. In shorter necks, added extension of the neck may help. In some persons, however, the thyroid gland is partially or wholly substernal and not amenable to physical examination.

Cricoid cartilage






Ask the patient to flex the neck slightly forward to relax the sternomastoid muscles. Place the fingers of both hands on the patient’s neck so that your index fingers are just below the cricoid cartilage. Ask the patient to sip and swallow water as before. Feel for the thyroid isthmus rising up under your finger pads. It is often but not always palpable. Displace the trachea to the right with the fingers of the left hand; with the righthand fingers, palpate laterally for the right lobe of the thyroid in the space between the displaced trachea and the relaxed sternomastoid. Find the lateral margin. In similar fashion, examine the left lobe. The lobes are somewhat harder to feel than the isthmus, so practice is needed. The anterior surface of a lateral lobe is approximately the size of the distal phalanx of the thumb and feels somewhat rubbery.

Note the size, shape, and consistency of the gland and identify any nodules or tenderness.

If the thyroid gland is enlarged, listen over the lateral lobes with a stethoscope to detect a bruit, a sound similar to a cardiac murmur but of noncardiac origin.

Although physical characteristics of the thyroid gland, such as size, shape, and consistency, are diagnostically important, they tell you little if anything about thyroid function. Assessment of thyroid function depends upon symptoms, signs elsewhere in the body, and laboratory tests. See Table 5-24, Thyroid Enlargement and Function (p. 208). Soft in Graves’ disease; firm in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, malignancy. Benign and malignant nodules, tenderness in thyroiditis A localized systolic or continuous bruit may be heard in hyperthyroidism.

The Carotid Arteries and Jugular Veins. You will probably defer a detailed examination of these vessels until the patient lies down for the cardiovascular examination. Jugular venous distention, however, may be visible in the sitting position and should not be overlooked. You should also be alert to unusually prominent arterial pulsations. See Chapter 7 for further discussion.

Special Techniques For Assessing Prominent Eyes. Inspect unusually prominent eyes from above. Standing behind the seated patient, draw the upper lids gently upward, and then compare the positions of the eyes and note the relationship of the corneas to the lower lids. Further assessment can be made with an exophthalmometer, an instrument that measures the prominence of the eyes from the side. The upper limits of normal for eye prominence are increased in African Americans.

Exophthalmos is an abnormal protrusion of the eye (see p. 177).

For Nasolacrimal Duct Obstruction. This test helps to identify the cause of excessive tearing. Ask the patient to look up. Press on the lower lid close to the medial canthus, just inside the rim of the bony orbit. You are thus compressing the lacrimal sac. CHAPTER 5





Look for fluid regurgitated out of the puncta into the eye. Avoid this test if the area is inflamed and tender.

Regurgitation of mucopurulent fluid from the puncta suggests an obstructed nasolacrimal duct.

For Inspection of the Upper Palpebral Conjunctiva.

Adequate examination of the eye in search of a foreign body requires eversion of the upper eyelid. Follow these steps:

Instruct the patient to look down. Get the patient to relax the eyes— by reassurance and by gentle, assured, and deliberate movements. Raise the upper eyelid slightly so that the eyelashes protrude, and then grasp the upper eyelashes and pull them gently down and forward.

Place a small stick such as an applicator or a tongue blade at least 1 cm above the lid margin (and therefore at the upper border of the tarsal plate). Push down on the stick as you raise the edge of the lid, thus everting the eyelid or turning it “inside out.” Do not press on the eyeball itself.

Secure the upper lashes against the eyebrow with your thumb and inspect the palpebral conjunctiva. After your inspection, grasp the upper eyelashes and pull them gently forward. Ask the patient to look up. The eyelid will return to its normal position.


This view allows you to see the upper palpebral conjunctiva and look for a foreign body that might be lodged there.




Swinging Flashlight Test. This test helps you to decide whether reduced vision is due to ocular disease or to optic nerve disease. For an adequate test, vision must not be entirely lost. In dim room light, note the size of the pupils. After asking the patient to gaze into the distance, swing the beam of a penlight back and forth from one pupil to the other, each time concentrating on the pupillary size and reaction in the eye that is lit. Normally, each illuminated eye looks or promptly becomes constricted. The opposite eye also constricts consensually.

When the optic nerve is damaged, as in the left eye below, the sensory (afferent) stimulus sent to the midbrain is reduced. The pupil, responding less vigorously, dilates from its prior constricted state. This response is an afferent pupillary defect (Marcus Gunn pupil). The opposite eye responds consensually.

When ocular disease, such as a cataract, impairs vision, the pupils respond normally.





Transillumination of the Sinuses. When sinus tenderness or other symptoms suggest sinusitis, this test can at times be helpful but is not highly sensitive or specific for diagnosis. The room should be thoroughly darkened. Using a strong, narrow light source, place the light snugly deep under each brow, close to the nose. Shield the light with your hand. Look for a dim red glow as light is transmitted through the air-filled frontal sinus to the forehead.

Absence of glow on one or both sides suggests a thickened mucosa or secretions in the frontal sinus, but it may also result from developmental absence of one or both sinuses.

Ask the patient to tilt his or her head back with mouth opened wide. (An upper denture should first be removed.) Shine the light downward from just below the inner aspect of each eye. Look through the open mouth at the hard palate. A reddish glow indicates a normal air-filled maxillary sinus.

Absence of glow suggests thickened mucosa or secretions in the maxillary sinus. See p. 681 for an alternative method of transilluminating the maxillary sinuses.




TABLE 5-1 ■ Headaches

TABLE 5-1 ■ Headaches Quality and Severity




Tension Headaches


Usually bilateral; may be generalized or localized to the back of the head and upper neck or to the frontotemporal area

Migraine Headaches (“Classic migraine” in contrast to “common migraine” is distinguished by visual or neurologic symptoms during the half hour before the headache.) Toxic Vascular Headaches due to fever, toxic substances, or drug withdrawal

Dilatation of arteries outside or inside the skull, possibly of biochemical origin; often familial

Cluster Headaches

Headaches With Eye Disorders Errors of Refraction (farsightedness and astigmatism, but not nearsightedness)

Acute Glaucoma

Timing Onset


Mild and aching or a nonpainful tightness and pressure


Variable: hours or days, but often weeks or months

Typically frontal or temporal, one or both sides, but also may be occipital or generalized. “Classic migraine” is typically unilateral.

Throbbing or aching, variable in severity

Fairly rapid, reaching a peak in 1–2 hours

Several hours to 1–2 days

Dilatation of arteries, mainly inside the skull


Aching, of variable severity


Depends on cause


One-sided; high in the nose, and behind and over the eye

Steady, severe

Abrupt, often 2–3 hours after falling asleep

Roughly 1–2 hours

Probably the sustained contraction of the extraocular muscles, and possibly of the frontal, temporal, and occipital muscles

Around and over the eyes, may radiate to the occipital area

Steady, aching, dull



Sudden increase in intraocular pressure (see p. 148)

In and around one eye

Steady, aching, often severe

Often rapid

Variable, may depend on treatment

Blanks appear in these tables when the categories are not applicable or are not usually helpful in assessing the problem.



TABLE 5-1 ■ Headaches

Factors That Aggravate or Provoke

Often recurrent or persistent over long periods

Symptoms of anxiety, tension, and depression may be present.

Sustained muscular tension, as in driving or typing; emotional

Often begins between childhood and early adulthood. Typically recurrent at intervals of weeks, months, or years, usually decreasing with pregnancy and advancing age

Often nausea and vomiting. A minority of patients have preceding visual disturbances (local flashes of light, blind spots) or neurologic symptoms (local weakness, sensory disturbances, and other symptoms).

May be provoked by alcohol, certain foods, or tension. More common premenstrually. Aggravated by noise and bright light

Depends on cause

Depends on cause

Fever, carbon monoxide, hypoxia, withdrawal of caffeine, other causes

Typically clustered in time, with several each day or week and then relief for weeks or months

Unilateral stuffy, runny nose, and reddening and tearing of the eye

During a cluster, may be provoked by alcohol


Eye fatigue, “sandy” sensations in the eyes, redness of the conjunctiva

Prolonged use of the eyes, particularly for close work

Variable, may depend on treatment

Diminished vision, sometimes nausea and vomiting

Sometimes provoked by drops that dilate the pupils

Convenient Categories of Thought

Factors That Relieve Possible massage, relaxation

       The two most Quiet, dark room;   common kinds of sleep; sometimes   headache transient relief from  pressure on the  involved artery, if early   in the course           Vascular headaches Depends on cause                  Rest of the eyes          Face pains   <


Associated Symptoms

(table continues next page)




TABLE 5-1 ■ Headaches

TABLE 5-1 ■ Headaches (Continued) Quality and Severity




Headaches With Acute Paranasal Sinusitis

Mucosal inflammation of the paranasal sinuses and their openings

Usually above the eye (frontal sinus) or in the cheekbone area (maxillary sinus), one or both sides

Trigeminal Neuralgia

Mechanism variable, often unknown

Giant Cell Arteritis

Timing Onset


Aching or throbbing, variable in severity


Often several hours at a time, recurring over days or longer

Cheek, jaws, lips, or gums (second and third divisions of the trigeminal nerve)

Sharp, short, brief, lightninglike jabs; very severe


Each jab is transient, but jabs recur in clusters at intervals of seconds or minutes

Chronic inflammation of the cranial arteries, cause unknown, often associated with polymyalgia rheumatica

Localized near the involved artery (most often the temporal, also the occipital); may become generalized

Aching, throbbing, or burning, often severe

Gradual or rapid


Chronic Subdural Hematoma

Bleeding into the subdural space after trauma, followed by slow accumulation of fluid that compresses the brain


Steady, aching

Gradual onset weeks to months after the injury

Often depends on surgical intervention

Postconcussion Syndrome

Mechanism unclear

May be localized to the injured area, but not necessarily


Within a few hours of the injury

Weeks, months, or even years


Infection of the meninges that surround the brain


Steady or throbbing, very severe

Fairly rapid

Variable, usually days

Subarachnoid Hemorrhage

Bleeding, most often from a ruptured intracranial aneurysm


Very severe, “the worst of my life”

Usually abrupt. Prodromal symptoms may occur

Variable, usually days

Brain Tumor

Displacement of or traction on painsensitive arteries and veins or pressure on nerves, all within the skull

Varies with the location of the tumor

Aching, steady, variable in intensity


Often brief



TABLE 5-1 ■ Headaches

Factors That Aggravate or Provoke

Often recurrent in a repetitive daily pattern: starting in the morning (frontal) or in the afternoon (maxillary)

Local tenderness, nasal congestion, discharge, and fever

May be aggravated by coughing, sneezing, or jarring the head

Pain may be troublesome for months, then disappears for months, but often recurs. It is uncommon at night.

Exhaustion from recurrent pain

Typically triggered by touching certain areas of the lower face or mouth, or by chewing, talking, or brushing teeth

Recurrent or persistent over weeks to months

Tenderness of the adjacent scalp; fever, malaise, fatigue, and anorexia; muscular aches and stiffness; visual loss or blindness

Progressively severe but may be obscured by clouded consciousness

Alterations in consciousness, changes in personality, and hemiparesis (weakness on one side of the body). The injury is often forgotten.

Tends to diminish over time

Poor concentration, giddiness or vertigo, irritability, restlessness, tenseness, and fatigue

A persistent headache in an acute illness

Fever, stiff neck

A persistent headache in an acute illness

Nausea, vomiting, possibly loss of consciousness, neck pain

Often intermittent, but progressive

Neurologic and mental symptoms and nausea and vomiting may develop.




Mental and physical exertion, straining, stooping, emotional excitement, alcohol

Convenient Categories of Thought

Factors That Relieve Nasal decongestants


      Face pains            Consider these three  in older adults.           Headaches following   head trauma    


Associated Symptoms

  Acute illnesses with   very severe headaches    May be aggravated by coughing, sneezing, or sudden movements of the head

 An underlying  concern of patient  and clinician alike    


TABLE 5-2 ■ Vertigo

TABLE 5-2 ■ Vertigo Timing

Other Associated Symptoms







Benign Positional Vertigo

Sudden, on rolling over onto the affected side or tilting the head up

Brief, a few seconds to minutes

Persists a few weeks, may recur

Not affected


Sometimes nausea and vomiting

Vestibular Neuronitis (acute labyrinthitis) Ménière’s Disease


Hours to days, up May recur over 12–18 months to 2 weeks

Not affected


Nausea, vomiting


Several hours to a day or more

Sensorineural hearing loss that improves and recurs, eventually progresses; one or both sides*

Present, fluctuating*

Nausea, vomiting, pressure or fullness in the affected ear

May or may not be reversible Partial adaptation occurs

May be impaired, both sides

May be present

Nausea, vomiting


Impaired, one side


Those of pressure on Cranial Nerves V, VI, and VII

Drug Insidious or acute Toxicity (as from aminoglycosides or alcohol intoxication) Tumor, Insidious** Pressing on the 8th Nerve



Additional disorders of the brainstem or cerebellum may also cause vertigo. These include ischemia secondary to atherosclerosis, tumors, and multiple sclerosis. Additional neurologic symptoms and signs are usually present.

*Hearing impairment, tinnitus, and rotary vertigo do not always develop concurrently. Time is often required to make this diagnosis. **Persistent unsteadiness is more common, but vertigo may occur.





Lips may be swollen

Puffy pale face

Decreased facial mobility blunts expression. A masklike face may result, with decreased blinking and a characteristic stare. Since the neck and upper trunk tend to flex forward, the patient seems to peer upward toward the observer. Facial skin becomes oily, and drooling may occur. Periorbital edema

Parkinson’s Disease

Chronic bilateral asymptomatic parotid gland enlargement may be associated with obesity, diabetes, cirrhosis, and other conditions. Note the swellings anterior to the ear lobes and above the angles of the jaw. Gradual unilateral enlargement suggests neoplasm. Acute enlargement is seen in mumps.

Parotid Gland Enlargement

The increased adrenal hormone production of Cushing’s syndrome produces a round or “moon” face with red cheeks. Excessive hair growth may be present in the mustache and sideburn areas and on the chin.

Cushing’s Syndrome

The face is edematous and often pale. Swelling usually appears first around the eyes and in the morning. The eyes may become slitlike when edema is severe.

Puffy dull face with dry skin

Periorbital edema

Lateral eyebrows thin

Hair dry, coarse, sparse

Jaw prominent

Soft tissues of nose, ears, lips enlarged

Brow prominent

Nephrotic Syndrome

The patient with severe hypothyroidism (myxedema) has a dull, puffy facies. The edema, often particularly pronounced around the eyes, does not pit with pressure. The hair and eyebrows are dry, coarse, and thinned. The skin is dry.


The increased growth hormone of acromegaly produces enlargement of both bone and soft tissues. The head is elongated, with bony prominence of the forehead, nose, and lower jaw. Soft tissues of the nose, lips, and ears also enlarge. The facial features appear generally coarsened.


TABLE 5-3 ■ Selected Facies

Decreasd mobility


Local swelling obscures ear lobe

Moon face


Red cheeks

TABLE 5-3 ■ Selected Facies



Optic radiation

Optic tract

Optic chiasm

Optic nerve

Left Eye



Visual Pathway Lesions

Visual cortex





TABLE 5-4 ■ Visual Field Defects





Right Eye


A complete interruption of fibers in the optic radiation produces a visual defect similar to that produced by a lesion of the optic tract.

6 Left Homonymous Hemianopsia (right optic radiation)

A partial lesion of the optic radiation may involve only a portion of the nerve fibers, producing, for example, a homonymous quadrantic defect.

5 Homonymous Left Superior Quadrantic Defect (right optic radiation, partial)

A lesion of the optic tract interrupts fibers originating on the same side of both eyes. Visual loss in the eyes is therefore similar (homonymous) and involves half of each field (hemianopsia).

4 Left Homonymous Hemianopsia (right optic tract)

A lesion at the optic chiasm may involve only the fibers that are crossing over to the opposite side. Since these fibers originate in the nasal half of each retina, visual loss involves the temporal half of each field.

3 Bitemporal Hemianopsia (optic chiasm)

A lesion of the optic nerve, and of course of the eye itself, produces unilateral blindness.

2 Blind Right Eye (right optic nerve)

Occlusion of a branch of the central retinal artery may cause a horizontal (altitudinal) defect. Shown is the lower field defect associated with occlusion of the superior branch of this artery.

1 Horizontal Defect

Visual Field Defects









Diagrammed From Patient’s Viewpoint

TABLE 5-4 ■ Visual Field Defects




Periorbital Edema Because the skin of the eyelids is loosely attached to underlying tissues, edema tends to accumulate there easily. Causes include allergies, local inflammation, cellulitis, myxedema, and fluid-retaining states such as the nephrotic syndrome.

A wide-eyed stare suggests retracted eyelids—in this case, the upper lid. Note the rim of sclera between the upper lid and the iris. Retracted lids and a lid lag (p. 150) are often due to hyperthyroidism but may be seen in normal people. The eye does not protrude forward unless exophthalmos coexists.

Entropion Entropion, more common in the elderly, is an inward turning of the lid margin. The lower lashes, which are often invisible when turned inward, irritate the conjunctiva and lower cornea. Asking the patient to squeeze the lids together and then open them may reveal an entropion that is not obvious.

Ptosis is a drooping of the upper lid. Causes include myasthenia gravis, damage to the oculomotor nerve, and damage to the sympathetic nerve supply (Horner’s syndrome). A weakened muscle, relaxed tissues, and the weight of herniated fat may cause senile ptosis. Ptosis may also be congenital.


In ectropion the margin of the lower lid is turned outward, exposing the palpebral conjunctiva. When the punctum of the lower lid turns outward, the eye no longer drains satisfactorily and tearing occurs. Ectropion is more common in the elderly.

Puffy eyelids may be caused by fat. It pushes weakened fascia in the eyelids forward, producing bulges that involve the lower lids, the inner third of the upper ones, or both. These bulges appear more often in elderly people but may affect younger ones.

Herniated Fat

An epicanthus (epicanthal fold) is a vertical fold of skin that lies over the medial canthus. It is normal among many Asian peoples. These folds are also seen in Down’s syndrome and in a few other congenital conditions. They may falsely suggest a convergent strabismus (see p. 182).


(Source of photos: Ptosis, Ectropion, Entropion—Tasman W, Jaeger E (eds): The Wills Eye Hospital Atlas of Clinical Ophthalmology, 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2001.)

In exophthalmos the eyeball protrudes forward. When bilateral, it suggests the infiltrative ophthalmopathy of Graves’ disease, a form of hyperthyroidism. Edema of the eyelids and conjunctival injection may be associated. Unilateral exophthalmos may be due to Graves’ disease or to a tumor or inflammation in the orbit.

Retracted Lid

Ptosis Exophthalmos

TABLE 5-5 ■ Variations and Abnormalities of the Eyelids

TABLE 5-5 ■ Variations and Abnormalities of the Eyelids


178 Slightly raised, yellowish, well-circumscribed plaques in the skin, xanthelasmas appear along the nasal portions of one or both eyelids. They may accompany lipid disorders (e.g., hypercholesterolemia), but may also occur independently.

(Source of photos: Tasman W, Jaeger E (eds): The Wills Eye Hospital Atlas of Clinical Ophthalmology, 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2001.)

Episcleritis is a localized ocular redness from inflammation of the episcleral vessels. In natural light, vessels appear salmon pink and are movable over the scleral surface. Usually benign and self-limited, episcleritis may be nodular, as shown here, or may show only redness and dilated vessels.

A swelling between the lower eyelid and nose suggests inflammation of the lacrimal sac. An acute inflammation (illustrated) is painful, red, and tender. Chronic inflammation is associated with obstruction of the nasolacrimal duct. Tearing is prominent, and pressure on the sac produces regurgitation of material through the puncta of the eyelids.


Inflammation of the Lacrimal Sac (Dacryocystitis)


A chalazion is a subacute nontender nodule involving a meibomian gland. A beady nodule in an otherwise normal lid, it is usually painless. Occasionally a chalazion becomes acutely inflamed but, unlike a sty, usually points inside the lid rather than on the lid margin.

A painful, tender, red infection in a gland at the margin of the eyelid, a sty looks like a pimple or boil pointing on the lid margin.

A yellowish, somewhat triangular nodule in the bulbar conjunctiva on either side of the iris, a pinguecula is harmless. Pingueculae appear frequently with aging, first on the nasal and then on the temporal side.


Sty (Acute Hordeolum)


TABLE 5-6 ■ Lumps and Swellings In and Around the Eyes

TABLE 5-6 ■ Lumps and Swellings In and Around the Eyes




Absent May be small and, with time, irregular

Watery or purulent Not affected unless iritis develops

Not affected except for temporary mild blurring due to discharge

Watery, mucoid, or mucopurulent

Not affected


Bacterial, viral, and other infections; allergy; irritation

Ocular Discharge Pupil



Abrasions, and other injuries; viral and bacterial infections

Changes depending on cause

Usually decreased

Associated with many ocular and systemic disorders

Clear or slightly clouded


Acute increase in intraocular pressure— an emergency

Steamy, cloudy

Dilated, fixed



Severe, aching, deep


Moderate, aching, deep

Mild discomfort rather than pain

Pain Moderate to severe, superficial

Ciliary infection: dilation of deeper vessels that are visible as radiating vessels or a reddish violet flush around the limbus. Ciliary infection is an important sign of these three conditions but may not be apparent. The eye may be diffusely red instead. Other clues of these more serious disorders are pain, decreased vision, unequal pupils, and a less than perfectly clear cornea.

Conjunctival injection: diffuse dilatation of conjunctival vessels with redness that tends to be maximal peripherally


Pattern of Redness

Acute Iritis

Corneal Injury or Infection


TABLE 5-7 ■ Red Eyes

Often none. May result from trauma, bleeding disorders, or a sudden increase in venous pressure, as from cough


Not affected


Not affected


Leakage of blood outside of the vessels, producing a homogeneous, sharply demarcated, red area that fades over days to yellow and then disappears

Subconjunctival Hemorrhage

TABLE 5-7 ■ Red Eyes




Corneal Scar

Corneal Arcus

A pterygium is a triangular thickening of the bulbar conjunctiva that grows slowly across the outer surface of the cornea, usually from the nasal side. Reddening may occur intermittently. A pterygium may interfere with vision as it encroaches upon the pupil.

A corneal scar is a superficial grayish white opacity in the cornea, secondary to an old injury or to inflammation. Size and shape are variable. It should not be confused with the opaque lens of a cataract, visible on a deeper plane and only through the pupil.

A corneal arcus is a thin grayish white arc or circle not quite at the edge of the cornea. It accompanies normal aging but may also be seen in younger people, especially African Americans. In young people, a corneal arcus suggests the possibility of hyperlipoproteinemia but does not prove it. Some surveys have revealed no relationship.

TABLE 5-8 ■ Opacities of the Cornea and Lens


Peripheral Cataract

Nuclear Cataract

Nuclear cataract

Cross Section of Lens


Cortical cataract


A peripheral cataract produces spokelike shadows that point inward—gray against black as seen with a flashlight, or black against red with an ophthalmoscope. A dilated pupil, as shown here, facilitates this observation.

A nuclear cataract looks gray when seen by a flashlight. If the pupil is widely dilated, the gray opacity is surrounded by a black rim. Through an ophthalmoscope, the cataract looks black against the red reflex.

A cataract is an opacity of the lens and is seen through the pupil. Cataracts are classified in many ways, including cause and location. Old age is the most common cause. Two kinds of age-related cataract are illustrated below. In each example, the pupil has been widely dilated.

TABLE 5-8 ■ Opacities of the Cornea and Lens




Small, irregular pupils that do not react to light but do react to near effort indicate Argyll Robertson pupils. They are usually but not always caused by central nervous system syphilis.

Unilateral blindness does not cause anisocoria as long as the sympathetic and parasympathetic innervation to both irises is normal. A light directed into the seeing eye produces a direct reaction in that eye and a consensual reaction in the blind eye. A light directed into the blind eye, however, causes no response in either eye.

See also Table 16-15, Pupils in Comatose Patients, p. 621.

Small Irregular Pupils


Equal Pupils and One Blind Eye


Blind eye

The affected pupil, though small, reacts briskly to light and near effort. Ptosis of the eyelid is present, perhaps with loss of sweating on the forehead of the same side. In congenital Horner’s syndrome, the involved iris is lighter in color than its fellow (heterochromia).

The dilated pupil (about 6–7 mm) is fixed to light and near effort. Ptosis of the upper eyelid and lateral deviation of the eye, as shown here, are often but not always present. (An even more dilated [8–9 mm] and fixed pupil may be due to local application of atropine-like agents.)

A tonic pupil is large, regular, and usually unilateral. Its reaction to light is severely reduced and slowed, or even absent. The near reaction, though very slow, is present. Slow accommodation causes blurred vision. Deep tendon reflexes are often decreased.

Blind eye

Horner’s Syndrome

Oculomotor Nerve (CN III) Paralysis

Tonic Pupil (Adie’s Pupil)

When anisocoria is greater in bright light than in dim light, the larger pupil cannot constrict properly. Causes include blunt trauma to the eye, open-angle glaucoma (p. 148), and impaired parasympathetic nerve supply to the iris, as in tonic pupil and oculomotor nerve paralysis. When anisocoria is greater in dim light, the smaller pupil cannot dilate properly, as in Horner’s syndrome, which is caused by an interruption of the sympathetic nerve supply.

Unequal Pupils (Anisocoria)

TABLE 5-9 ■ Pupillary Abnormalities

TABLE TABLE 5-95-1 ■ Pupillary ■ Lesions Abnormalities of the Vulva





The left eye moves outward to fix on the light. The right eye deviates inward again.

The right eye moves outward to fix on the light. (The left eye is not seen but moves inward to the same degree.)

Corneal reflections are asymmetric.

A cover–uncover test may be helpful. Here is what you would see in the right monocular esotropia illustrated above.


Divergent Strabismus (Exotropia)

A Left Cranial Nerve III Paralysis

A Left Cranial Nerve IV Paralysis

A Left Cranial Nerve VI Paralysis






The eye is pulled outward by action of the 6th nerve. Upward, downward, and inward movements are impaired or lost. Ptosis and pupillary dilation may be associated.

The left eye cannot look down when turned inward. Deviation is maximum in this direction.

Esotropia is maximum.

Esotropia appears.

Eyes are conjugate.

Paralytic strabismus is usually caused by weakness or paralysis of one or more extraocular muscles. Determine the direction of gaze that maximizes the deviation. For example:

Nonparalytic strabismus is caused by an imbalance in ocular muscle tone. It has many causes, may be hereditary, and usually appears early in childhood. Deviations are further classified according to direction:

Convergent Strabismus (Esotropia)

Paralytic Strabismus

Nonparalytic Strabismus

Deviation of the eyes from their normally conjugate position is termed strabismus or squint. Strabismus may be classified into two groups: (1) nonparalytic, in which the deviation is constant in all directions of gaze, and (2) paralytic, in which the deviation varies depending on the direction of gaze.

TABLE 5-10 ■ Deviations of the Eyes

TABLE 5-10 ■ Deviations of the Eyes




The physiologic cup is a small whitish depression in the optic disc from which the retinal vessels appear to emerge. Although sometimes absent, the cup is usually visible either centrally or toward the temporal side of the disc. Grayish spots are often seen at its base.

Physiologic Cupping

Temporal cup

Central cup

Medullated Nerve Fibers Medullated nerve fibers are a much less common but dramatic finding. Appearing as irregular white patches with feathered margins, they obscure the disc edge and retinal vessels. They have no pathologic significance.

Rings and Crescents Rings and crescents are often seen around the optic disc. These are developmental variations in which you can glimpse either white sclera, black retinal pigment, or both, especially along the temporal border of the disc. Rings and crescents are not part of the disc itself and should not be included in your estimates of disc diameters.

TABLE 5-11 ■ Normal Variations of the Optic Disc

TABLE 5-11 ■ Normal Variations of the Optic Disc


184 The physiologic cup is enlarged, occupying more than half of the disc’s diameter, at times extending to the edge of the disc. Retinal vessels sink in and under it, and may be displaced nasally.

The base of the enlarged cup is pale.

Increased pressure within the eye leads to increased cupping (backward depression of the disc) and atrophy.

Glaucomatous Cupping

(Source of photos: Tasman W, Jaeger E (eds): The Wills Eye Hospital Atlas of Clinical Ophthalmology, 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2001.)

The physiologic cup is not visible.

Disc vessels more visible, more numerous, curve over the borders of the disc

Disc vessels absent

Disc vessels tiny

The physiologic cup is located centrally or somewhat temporally. It may be conspicuous or absent. Its diameter from side to side is usually less than half that of the disc.

Color pink, hyperemic

Color white

Color yellowish orange to creamy pink


Disc swollen with margins blurred

Venous stasis leads to engorgement and swelling.

Death of optic nerve fibers leads to loss of the tiny disc vessels.

Tiny disc vessels give normal color to the disc.


Disc margins sharp (except perhaps nasally)


Optic Atrophy


TABLE 5-12 ■ Abnormalities of the Optic Disc

TABLE 5-12 ■ Abnormalities of the Optic Disc




Narrowed light reflex


The vein appears to taper down on either side of the artery.


The vein appears to stop abruptly on either side of the artery.


Because the arterial wall is transparent, a vein crossing beneath the artery can be seen right up to the column of blood on either side.

The vein is twisted on the distal side of the artery and forms a dark, wide knuckle.


Occasionally a portion of a narrowed artery develops such an opaque wall that no blood is visible within it. It is then called a silver wire artery. This change typically occurs in the smaller branches.

Arterial Wall


When the arterial walls lose their transparency, changes appear in the arteriovenous crossings. Decreased transparency of the retina probably also contributes to the first two changes shown below.

Arteriovenous Crossing

In hypertension, the arteries may show areas of focal or generalized narrowing. The light reflex is also narrowed. Over many months or years, the arterial wall thickens and becomes less transparent.

Focal narrowing

Narrowed column of blood

Sometimes the arteries, especially those close to the disc, become full and somewhat tortuous and develop an increased light reflex with a bright coppery luster. Such a vessel is called a copper wire artery.

The normal arterial wall is transparent. Only the column of blood within it can usually be seen. The normal light reflex is narrow—about one fourth the diameter of the blood column.

Retinal Arteries in Hypertension

Light reflex

Column of blood

Arterial wall (invisible)

Normal Retinal Artery and Arteriovenous (A-V) Crossing

TABLE 5-13 ■ Retinal Arteries and Arteriovenous Crossings: Normal and Hypertensive

TABLE 5-13 ■ Retinal Arteries and Arteriovenous Crossings



Microaneurysms Microaneurysms are tiny, round, red spots seen commonly but not exclusively in and around the macular area. They are minute dilatations of very small retinal vessels, but the vascular connections are too small to be seen ophthalmoscopically. Microaneurysms are characteristic of diabetic retinopathy but not specific to it.

Preretinal Hemorrhage

A preretinal (subhyaloid) hemorrhage develops when blood escapes into the potential space between retina and vitreous. This hemorrhage is typically larger than retinal hemorrhages. Because it is anterior to the retina, it obscures any underlying retinal vessels. In an erect patient, red cells settle, creating a horizontal line of demarcation between plasma above and cells below. Causes include a sudden increase in intracranial pressure.

Neovascularization refers to the formation of new blood vessels. They are more numerous, more tortuous, and narrower than other blood vessels in the area and form disorderly looking red arcades. A common cause is the late, proliferative stage of diabetic retinopathy. The vessels may grow into the vitreous, where retinal detachment or hemorrhage may cause loss of vision.


Deep retinal hemorrhages are small, rounded, slightly irregular red spots that are sometimes called dot or blot hemorrhages. They occur in a deeper layer of the retina than flameshaped hemorrhages. Diabetes mellitus is a common cause.

An occasional superficial hemorrhage has a white center consisting of fibrin. White-centered retinal hemorrhages have many causes.

Deep Retinal Hemorrhages

Superficial retinal hemorrhages are small, linear, flame-shaped, red streaks in the fundi. They are shaped by the superficial bundles of nerve fibers that radiate from the optic disc in the pattern illustrated (O = optic disc; F = fovea). Sometimes the hemorrhages occur in clusters and then simulate a larger hemorrhage, but the linear streaking at the edges shows their true nature. Superficial hemorrhages are seen in severe hypertension, papilledema, and occlusion of the retinal vein, among other conditions.


Superficial Retinal Hemorrhages


TABLE 5-14 ■ Red Spots and Streaks in the Fundi

TABLE 5-14 ■ Red Spots and Streaks in the Fundi




Hard Exudates Hard exudates are creamy or yellowish, often bright lesions with welldefined (thus “hard”) borders. They are small and round (as shown in the lower group of exudates) but may coalesce into larger irregular spots (as shown in the upper group). They often occur in clusters or in circular, linear, or star-shaped patterns. Causes include diabetes and hypertension.

Healed Chorioretinitis Here inflammation has destroyed the superficial tissues to reveal a welldefined, irregular patch of white sclera marked with dark pigment. Size varies from small to very large. Toxoplasmosis is illustrated. Multiple, small, somewhat similar-looking areas may be due to laser treatments. Here there is also a temporal scar near the macula. (table continues next page)

Cotton-Wool Patches (Soft Exudates)

Cotton-wool patches are white or grayish, ovoid lesions with irregular (thus “soft”) borders. They are moderate in size but usually smaller than the disc. They result from infarcted nerve fibers and are seen with hypertension and many other conditions.


Drusen are yellowish round spots that vary from tiny to small. The edges may hard, as here, or soft. They are haphazardly distributed but may concentrate at the posterior pole. Drusen appear with normal aging but may also accompany various conditions, including age-related macular degeneration.

TABLE 5-15 ■ Light-Colored Spots in the Fundi

TABLE 5-15 ■ Light-Colored Spots in the Fundi


188 Bands or strands of white fibrous tissue develop in the late proliferative stage of diabetic retinopathy. They lie anterior to the retinal vessels and therefore obscure them. Neovascularization (p. 186) is typically associated.

A coloboma of the choroid and retina is a developmental abnormality. A well demarcated, moderate-sized to large, white oval of sclera is visible below the disc, often extending well beyond the limits of your examination. Its borders may be pigmented.

(Source of illustrations: Cotton-Wool Patches, Hard Exudates; Drusen, Healed Chorioretinitis, Coloboma—Tasman W, Jaeger E (eds): The Wills Eye Hospital Atlas of Clinical Ophthalmology, 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2001; Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy—Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study Research Group. Courtesy of M.F. Davis, MD, University of Wisconsin, Madison.)

Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy


TABLE 5-15 ■ Light-Colored Spots in the Fundi (Continued)

TABLE 5-15 ■ Light-Colored Spots in the Fundi



Again, inspect the disc, the vessels, the macula, and the retinal background. The ring around the fovea is a normal light reflection. Compare the color of the fundus to that in the illustration above. It has a grayish brownish, almost purplish cast, which comes from pigment in the retina and the choroid. This pigment characteristically obscures the choroidal vessels, and no tessellation is visible. In contrast to either of these two figures, the fundus of a light-skinned person with brunette coloring is redder.

Normal Fundus of a Dark-Skinned Person

Find and inspect the optic disc. Follow the major vessels in four directions, noting their relative sizes and the nature of the arteriovenous crossings—both normal here. Inspect the macular area. The slightly darker fovea is just discernible; no light reflex is visible in this subject. Look for any lesions in the retina. Note the striped, or tessellated, character of the fundus, especially in the lower field. This comes from normal choroidal vessels that are unobscured by pigment.

Normal Fundus of a Fair-Skinned Person


Out of a piece of paper, cut a circle about the size of an optic disc shown below. The circle simulates an ophthalmoscope’s light beam. Lay it on each illustration, and inspect each fundus systematically.

TABLE 5-16 ■ Ocular Fundi

(table continues next page)

TABLE 5-16 ■ Ocular Fundi


190 Punctate exudates are readily visible: some are scattered; others radiate from the fovea to form a macular star. Note the two small, soft exudates about 1 disc diameter from the disc. Find the flame-shaped hemorrhages sweeping toward 4 o’clock and 5 o’clock; a few more may be seen toward 2 o’clock. These fundi show changes typical of accelerated (malignant) hypertension and are often accompanied by a papilledema (p. 184).

Inspect the fundus. The nasal border of the optic disc is blurred. The light reflexes from the arteries just above and below the disc are increased. Note venous tapering—at the A–V crossing, about 1 disc diameter above the disc. Note tapering and banking at 4:30 o’clock, 2 disc diameters from the disc, also punctate hard exudates and a few deep hemorrhages.

(Source of illustrations: Normal Fundus of a Fair-Skinned Person, Normal Fundus of a Dark-Skinned Person, Normal Fundus of an Older Person, Hypertensive Retinopathy, Hypertensive Retinopathy With Macular Star—Michaelson IC: Textbook of the Fundus of the Eye [3rd ed.], Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone, 1980.)

Hypertensive Retinopathy With Macular Star

Hypertensive Retinopathy

Inspect the fundus as before. What differences do you observe? Two characteristics of the aging fundus can be seen in this example. The blood vessels are straighter and narrower than those in younger people, and the choroidal vessels can be seen easily. In this person the optic disc is less pink, and pigment may be seen temporal to the disc and in the macular area.

Normal Fundus of an Older Person

TABLE 5-16 ■ Ocular Fundi (Continued)

TABLE 5-16 ■ Ocular Fundi




Note new preretinal vessels arising on the disc and extending across the disc margins. Visual acuity is still normal, but the risk of visual loss is high (photocoagulation reduces this risk by >50%).

Proliferative Retinopathy, Advanced This is the same eye, but 2 years later and without treatment. Neovascularization has increased, now with fibrous proliferations, distortion of the macula, and reduced visual acuity.

Note tiny red dots or microaneurysms. Note also the ring of hard exudates (white spots) located supero-temporally. Retinal thickening or edema in the area of the hard exudates can impair visual acuity if it extends into the center of the macula (detection requires specialized stereoscopic examination).

Nonproliferative Retinopathy, Severe

In the superior temporal quadrant, note the large retinal hemorrhage between two cotton-wool patches, beading of the retinal vein just above them, and tiny tortuous retinal vessels above the superior temporal artery.

(Source of photos: Nonproliferative Retinopathy, Moderately Severe; Proliferative Retinopathy, With Neovascularization; Nonproliferative Retinopathy, Severe; Proliferative Retinopathy, Advanced—Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study Research Group. Courtesy of MF Davis, MD, University of Wisconsin, Madison.)

Proliferative Retinopathy, With Neovascularization

Nonproliferative Retinopathy, Moderately Severe

Study carefully the fundi in the series of photographs below. They represent a national standard used by ophthalmologists to assess diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic Retinopathy

TABLETABLE 5-1 ■5-16 Lesions ■ Ocular of the Fundi Vulva


192 The raised nodule behind this ear shows the lustrous surface and telangiectatic vessels that suggest basal cell carcinoma, a slow-growing and common malignancy that rarely metastasizes. Ulceration may occur, and in the absence of treatment extends in width and depth. Like squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma occurs more frequently in fairskinned people who have been much exposed to sunlight.

This cyst behind the ear used to be called a sebaceous cyst. It is a benign, closed, firm sac that lies in the dermis, forming a dome-shaped lump. It can be moved over underlying tissues but is attached to the epidermis. A dark dot (blackhead) may be visible on its surface. Histologically, one of two diagnoses is likely: (1) epidermoid cyst, which is common on the face and neck, and (2) pilar (trichilemmal) cyst, which is common in the scalp. Each may become inflamed.

(Sources of photos: Chondrodermatitis Helicis, Cutaneous Cyst—Young EM Jr, Newcomer VD, Kligman AM: Geriatric Dermatology: Color Atlas and Practitioner’s Guide. Philadelphia, Lea & Febiger, 1993; Squamous Cell Carcinoma, Basal Cell Carcinoma—Reprinted, by permission of the N Engl J Med, 326:169–170, 1992.)

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is most common in light-skinned people who have been frequently exposed to sunlight. This location on the helix and the raised, crusted border with central ulceration are both frequently seen. Biopsy confirms the diagnosis. A suture is present here. A squamous cell carcinoma spreads locally. Occasionally it metastasizes, most often to regional lymph nodes.

This chronic inflammatory lesion starts as a painful, tender papule that is usually on the helix but may be on the antihelix. Typically the lesion is single, but in this case two are visible. The lower papule is an early lesion; the upper lesion illustrates the later stage of ulceration and crusting. Reddening may occur. Older men are usually affected. To distinguish chondrodermatitis from carcinoma, a biopsy is needed.

Cutaneous Cyst

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Chondrodermatitis Helicis

TABLE 5-17 ■ Lumps On or Near the Ear

TABLE 5-17 ■ Lumps On or Near the Ear




The ear is one of the sites for lepromatous leprosy, a form of Hansen’s disease, which results from infection by Mycobacterium leprae. The multiple papules and nodules on this auricle are due to this chronic infection. Similar lesions would probably be visible on the face and elsewhere in the body. Now seldom seen in the United States, leprosy is still a worldwide problem. Other forms of the disease have different manifestations.

A keloid is a firm, nodular, hypertrophic mass of scar tissue that extends beyond the area of injury. It may develop in any scarred area, but is most common on the shoulders and upper chest. A keloid on an earlobe that was pierced for earrings may be especially troublesome because of its cosmetic effects. Darker-skinned people are more likely than lighter ones to develop keloids. Recurrence of the growth may follow treatment.

(Sources of photos: Tophi, Lepromatous Leprosy—From Atlas of Clinical Dermatology, 2nd ed, by Anthony du Vivier. London, UK, Gower Medical Publishing, 1993; Rheumatoid Nodules—Champion RH, Burton JL, Ebling FJG (eds): Rook/Wilkinson/Ebling Textbook of Dermatology, 5th ed. Oxford, Blackwell Scientific Publications Limited, 1992; Keloid— Sams WM Jr, Lynch PJ (eds): Principles and Practice of Dermatology. Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone, 1990.)

Lepromatous Leprosy

In a patient with chronic arthritis, one or more small lumps on the helix or antihelix may be rheumatoid nodules of rheumatoid arthritis, as shown here. Do not mistake such lumps for tophi. Look for additional nodules elsewhere, e.g., on the hands, along the surface of the ulna distal to the elbow (pp. 528, 529), on the knees, and on the heels. Ulceration may result from repeated small injuries. Rheumatoid nodules may antedate the arthritis.

A tophus is a deposit of uric acid crystals characteristic of chronic tophaceous gout. Tophi appear as hard nodules in the helix or antihelix and may discharge their chalky white crystals through the skin. Tophi may also appear near the joints, as in the hands (p. 530), feet, and other areas. Tophi usually develop only after years of sustained high blood levels of uric acid. With better control of hyperuricemia by drugs, tophi are becoming less common.


Rheumatoid Nodules


TABLE 5-17 ■ Lumps On or Near the Ear


194 A perforation of the eardrum often closes in the healing process, as illustrated in the next photo. The membrane covering the hole may be exceedingly thin and transparent.

The more common central perforation is illustrated here. In this case a reddened ring of granulation tissue surrounds the perforation, indicating a chronic infectious process. The eardrum itself is scarred and no landmarks are discernible. Discharge from the infected middle ear may drain out through such a perforation, but none is visible here.

Perforations are holes in the eardrum that usually result from purulent infections of the middle ear. They are classified as central perforations, which do not extend to the margin of the drum, and marginal perforations, which do involve the margin.

Perforation of the Drum

Other abnormalities in this eardrum include a healed perforation (the large oval area in the upper posterior drum) and signs of a retracted drum. A retracted drum is pulled medially, away from the examiner’s eye, and the malleolar folds are tightened into sharp outlines. The short process often protrudes sharply, and the handle of the malleus, pulled inward at the umbo, looks foreshortened and more horizontal.

In the inferior portion of this left eardrum there is a large, chalky white patch with irregular margins. It is typical of tympanosclerosis: a deposition of hyaline material within the layers of the tympanic membrane that sometimes follows a severe episode of otitis media. It does not usually impair hearing, and is seldom clinically significant.


(Sources of photos: Normal Eardrum—Hawke M, Keene M, Alberti PW: Clinical Otoscopy: A Text and Colour Atlas. Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone, 1984; Perforation of the Drum, Tympanosclerosis—Courtesy of Michael Hawke, MD, Toronto, Canada.)

This normal right eardrum (tympanic membrane) is pinkish gray. The handle of the malleus lies in a somewhat oblique position behind the upper part of the drum. The short process of the malleus pushes the membrane laterally, creating a small white elevation. Above the short process lies a small portion of the eardrum called the pars flaccida. The remainder of the drum is the pars tensa. Anterior and posterior malleolar folds, which extend obliquely upward from the short process, separate the pars flaccida from the pars tensa, but they are often invisible unless the eardrum is retracted. From the umbo the bright cone of light fans anteriorly and downward. Other light reflections seen in this photo are artifactual. Posterior to the malleus, part of the incus is visible behind the drum. The small blood vessels that course along the handle of the malleus are within the range of normal and do not indicate inflammation. The ear canal, which surrounds the eardrum, looks flatter than it really is because of distortion inherent in the photographic technique.

Normal Eardrum

TABLE 5-18 ■ Abnormalities of the Eardrum

TABLE 5-18 ■ Abnormalities of the Eardrum




Moving the auricle and pressing on the tragus do not cause pain in otitis media as they usually do in acute otitis externa. Hearing loss is of the conductive type. Acute purulent otitis media is much more common in children than in adults.

In this right ear the drum is bulging and most landmarks are obscured. Redness is most obvious near the umbo, but dilated vessels can be seen in all segments of the drum. A diffuse redness of the entire drum often develops. Spontaneous rupture (perforation) of the drum may follow, with discharge of purulent material into the ear canal.

Acute otitis media with purulent effusion is caused by bacterial infection. Symptoms include earache, fever, and hearing loss. The eardrum reddens, loses its landmarks, and bulges laterally, toward the examiner’s eye.

Acute Otitis Media With Purulent Effusion

In this right ear, at least two large vesicles (bullae) are discernible on the drum. The drum is reddened, and its landmarks are obscured. Several different viruses may cause this condition.

Bullous myringitis is a viral infection characterized by painful hemorrhagic vesicles that appear on the tympanic membrane, the ear canal, or both. Symptoms include earache, blood-tinged discharge from the ear, and hearing loss of the conductive type.

Bullous Myringitis

(Sources of photos: Serous Effusion—Hawke M, Keene M, Alberti PW: Clinical Otoscopy: A Text and Colour Atlas. Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone, 1984; Acute Otitis Media, Bullous Myringitis—The Wellcome Trust, National Medical Slide Bank, London, UK.)

Amber fluid behind the eardrum is characteristic, as in this left drum of a patient with otitic barotrauma. A fluid level, a line between air above and amber fluid below, can be seen on either side of the short process. Air bubbles (not always present) can be seen here within the amber fluid.

Serous effusions are usually caused by viral upper respiratory infections (otitis media with serous effusion) or by sudden changes in atmospheric pressure as from flying or diving (otitic barotrauma). The eustachian tube cannot equalize the air pressure in the middle ear with that of the outside air. Air is partly or completely absorbed from the middle ear into the bloodstream, and serous fluid accumulates there instead. Symptoms include fullness and popping sensations in the ear, mild conduction hearing loss, and perhaps some pain.

Serous Effusion

TABLE 5-18 ■ Abnormalities of the Eardrum


196 An abnormality is usually visible, except in otosclerosis.

Ear Canal and Drum

May be loud: the patient has trouble hearing his or her own voice.

Tends to be soft: the patient’s voice is conducted through bone to a normal inner ear and cochlear nerve.

The problem is not visible.

Most often in the middle or later years.

Hearing typically worsens.

Hearing may seem to improve.

Most often in childhood and young adulthood, up to age 40

Often present as the upper tones of words are disproportionately lost

Sensorineural Loss

Relatively minor

Usual Age of Onset

Distortion of Sounds That Impairs the Understanding of Words Effect of a Noisy Environment Patient’s Own Voice

Conductive Loss

Hearing loss is of two major types. In conductive hearing loss, a disorder of the external or middle ear impairs the conduction of sound to the inner ear. In sensorineural hearing loss, a disorder of the inner ear, the cochlear nerve, or its central connections impairs the transmission of nerve impulses to the brain. A mixed hearing loss has both deficits.

TABLE 5-19 ■ Patterns of Hearing Loss

TABLE 5-19 ■ Patterns of Hearing Loss




Air conduction lasts longer than bone conduction (AC > BC). The inner ear or cochlear nerve is less able to transmit impulses regardless of how the vibrations reach the cochlea. The normal pattern prevails. Sustained exposure to loud noise, drugs, infections of the inner ear, trauma, tumors, congenital and hereditary disorders, and aging (presbycusis)

Obstruction of the ear canal, otitis media, a perforated or relatively immobilized eardrum, and otosclerosis (a fixation of the ossicles by bony overgrowth)

Conductive phase Air conduction Bone conduction Sensorineural phase

The sound lateralizes to the good ear. The impaired inner ear or cochlear nerve is less able to transmit impulses no matter how the sound reaches the cochlea. The sound is therefore heard in the better ear.

Bone conduction lasts longer than or is equal to air conduction (BC > AC or BC = AC). While air conduction through the external or middle ear is impaired, vibrations through bone bypass the problem to reach the cochlea.

The sound lateralizes to the impaired ear. Because this ear is not distracted by room noise, it can detect the tuning fork’s vibrations better than normal. (Test yourself while plugging one ear with your finger.) This lateralization disappears in an absolutely quiet room.

Further evaluation is done by audiometry and other specialized procedures.

Causes Include:

Rinne Test

Weber Test (in unilateral hearing loss)

TABLE 5-19 ■ Patterns of Hearing Loss


198 Angular cheilitis starts with softening of the skin at the angles of the mouth, followed by fissuring. It may be due to nutritional deficiency or, more commonly, to overclosure of the mouth, as in persons with no teeth or with ill-fitting dentures. Saliva wets and macerates the infolded skin, often leading to secondary infection with Candida, as in this example.

Carcinoma of the Lip Like actinic cheilitis, carcinoma usually affects the lower lip. It may appear as a scaly plaque, as an ulcer with or without a crust, or as a nodular lesion, illustrated here. Fair skin and prolonged exposure to the sun are common risk factors.

The herpes simplex virus (HSV) produces recurrent and painful vesicular eruptions of the lips and surrounding skin. A small cluster of vesicles first develops. As these break, yellow-brown crusts form, and healing ensues within 10 to 14 days. Both of these stages are visible here.

Actinic Cheilitis

Actinic cheilitis results from excessive exposure to sunlight and affects primarily the lower lip. Fair-skinned men who work outdoors are most often affected. The lip loses its normal redness and may become scaly, somewhat thickened, and slightly everted. Because solar damage also predisposes to carcinoma of the lip, be alert to this possibility.

(Sources of photos: Herpes Simplex, Angular Cheilitis—From Neville B et al: Color Atlas of Clinical Oral Pathology. Philadelphia, Lea & Febiger, 1991. Used with permission; Actinic Cheilitis—From Langlais RP, Miller CS: Color Atlas of Common Oral Diseases. Philadelphia, Lea & Febiger, 1992. Used with permission; Carcinoma of the Lip—Tyldesley WR: A Colour Atlas of Orofacial Diseases, 2nd ed. London, Wolfe Medical Publications, 1991.)

Angular Cheilitis

Herpes Simplex (Cold Sore, Fever Blister)

TABLE 5-20 ■ Abnormalities of the Lips

TABLE 5-20 ■ Abnormalities of the Lips




This lesion of primary syphilis may appear on the lip rather than on the genitalia. It is a firm, buttonlike lesion that ulcerates and may become crusted. A chancre may resemble a carcinoma or a crusted cold sore. Because it is infectious, use gloves to feel any suspicious lesion.

Peutz-Jeghers Syndrome When pigmented spots on the lips are more prominent than freckling of the surrounding skin, suspect this syndrome. Pigment in the buccal mucosa helps to confirm the diagnosis. Pigmented spots may also be found on the face and hands. Multiple intestinal polyps are often associated.

Angioedema is a diffuse, nonpitting, tense swelling of the dermis and subcutaneous tissue. It develops rapidly, and typically disappears over subsequent hours or days. Although usually allergic in nature and sometimes associated with hives, angioedema does not itch.

Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia

Multiple small red spots on the lips strongly suggest hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia. Spots may also be visible on the face and hands and in the mouth. The spots are dilated capillaries and may bleed when traumatized. Affected people often have nosebleeds and gastrointestinal bleeding.

(Sources of photos: Angioedema—From Neville B et al: Color Atlas of Clinical Oral Pathology. Philadelphia, Lea & Febiger, 1991. Used with permission; Chancre of Syphilis— Wisdom A: A Colour Atlas of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (2nd ed.) London, Wolfe Medical Publications, 1989; Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia—From Langlais RP, Miller CS: Color Atlas of Common Oral Diseases. Philadelphia, Lea & Febiger, 1992. Used with permission; Peutz–Jeghers Syndrome—Robinson HBG, Miller AS: Colby, Kerr, and Robinson’s Color Atlas of Oral Pathology. Philadelphia, JB Lippincott, 1990.)

Chancre of Syphilis


TABLE 5-20 ■ Abnormalities of the Lips


200 B

This red throat has a white exudate on the tonsils. This, together with fever and enlarged cervical nodes, increases the probability of group A streptococcal infection, or infectious mononucleosis. Some anterior cervical lymph nodes are usually enlarged in the former, posterior nodes in the latter.

Normal tonsils may be large without being infected, especially in children. They may protrude medially beyond the pillars and even to the midline. Here they touch the sides of the uvula and obscure the pharynx. Their color is within normal limits. The white marks are light reflections, not exudate.

(Sources of photos: Pharyngitis [A and B], Large Normal Tonsils, Exudative Tonsillitis—The Wellcome Trust, National Medical Slide Bank, London, UK.)

Exudative Tonsillitis

Large Normal Tonsils

These two photos show reddened throats without exudate. In A, redness and vascularity of the pillars and uvula are mild to moderate. In B, redness is diffuse and intense. Each patient would probably complain of a sore throat, or at least a scratchy one. Possible causes include several kinds of viruses and bacteria. If the patient has no fever, exudate, or enlargement of cervical lymph nodes, the chances of infection by either of two common and important causes—group A streptococci and Epstein-Barr virus (infectious mononucleosis)—are very small.



TABLE 5-21 ■ Findings in the Pharynx, Palate, and Oral Mucosa

TABLE 5-21 ■ Findings in the Pharynx, Palate, and Oral Mucosa




A torus palatinus is a midline bony growth in the hard palate that is fairly common in adults. Its size and lobulation vary. Although alarming at first glance, it is harmless. In this example, an upper denture has been fitted around the torus.

Kaposi’s Sarcoma in AIDS The deep purple color of these lesions, although not necessarily present, strongly suggests Kaposi’s sarcoma. The lesions may be raised or flat. Among people with AIDS, the palate, as illustrated here, is a common site for this tumor.

Diphtheria (an acute infection caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae) is now rare but still important. Prompt diagnosis may lead to life-saving treatment. The throat is dull red, and a gray exudate (pseudomembrane) is present on the uvula, pharynx, and tongue. The airway may become obstructed.

Thrush on the Palate (Candidiasis)

Thrush is a yeast infection due to Candida. Shown here on the palate, it may appear elsewhere in the mouth (see p. 206). Thick, white plaques are somewhat adherent to the underlying mucosa. Predisposing factors include (1) prolonged treatment with antibiotics or corticosteroids, and (2) AIDS.

(table continues next page)

(Sources of photos: Diphtheria—Reproduced with permission from Harnisch JP et al: Diphtheria among alcoholic urban adults. Ann Intern Med 1989; 111:77; Thrush on the Palate— The Wellcome Trust, National Medical Slide Bank, London, UK; Kaposi’s Sarcoma in AIDS —Ioachim HL: Textbook and Atlas of Disease Associated With Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. London, UK, Gower Medical Publishing, 1989.)

Torus Palatinus


TABLE 5-21 ■ Findings in the Pharynx, Palate, and Oral Mucosa


202 Fordyce spots are normal sebaceous glands that appear as small yellowish spots in the buccal mucosa or on the lips. A worried person who has suddenly noticed them may be reassured. Here they are seen best anterior to the tongue and lower jaw. These spots are usually not so numerous.

Leukoplakia A thickened white patch (leukoplakia) may occur anywhere in the oral mucosa. The extensive example shown on this buccal mucosa resulted from frequent chewing of tobacco, a local irritant. This kind of irritation may lead to cancer.

Koplik’s spots are an early sign of measles (rubeola). Search for small white specks that resemble grains of salt on a red background. They usually appear on the buccal mucosa near the first and second molars. In this photo, look also in the upper third of the mucosa. The rash of measles appears within a day.


Petechiae are small red spots that result when blood escapes from capillaries into the tissues. Petechiae in the buccal mucosa, as shown, are often caused by accidentally biting the cheek. Oral petechiae may be due to infection or decreased platelets, as well as to trauma.

(Sources of photos: Koplik’s Spots, Petechiae—The Wellcome Trust, National Medical Slide Bank, London, UK; Fordyce Spots—From Neville B et al: Color Atlas of Clinical Oral Pathology. Philadelphia, Lea & Febiger, 1991. Used with permission; Leukoplakia—Robinson HBG, Miller AS: Colby, Kerr, and Robison’s Color Atlas of Oral Pathology. Philadelphia, JB Lippincott, 1990)

Fordyce Spots (Fordyce Granules)

Koplik’s Spots

TABLE 5-21 ■ Findings in the Pharynx, Palate, and Oral Mucosa (Continued)

TABLE 5-21 ■ Findings in the Pharynx, Palate, and Oral Mucosa




This uncommon form of gingivitis occurs suddenly in adolescents and young adults and is accompanied by fever, malaise, and enlarged lymph nodes. Ulcers develop in the interdental papillae. Then the destructive (necrotizing) process spreads along the gum margins, where a grayish pseudomembrane develops. The red, painful gums bleed easily; the breath is foul.

Gingival Hyperplasia Gums enlarged by hyperplasia are swollen into heaped-up masses that may even cover the teeth. The redness of inflammation may coexist, as in this example. Causes include Dilantin therapy (as in this case), puberty, pregnancy, and leukemia.

Marginal gingivitis is common among teenagers and young adults. The gingival margins are reddened and swollen, and the interdental papillae are blunted, swollen, and red. Brushing the teeth often makes the gums bleed. Plaque—the soft white film of salivary salts, protein, and bacteria that covers the teeth and leads to gingivitis—is not readily visible.

Chronic Gingivitis and Periodontitis

Chronic, untreated gingivitis may progress to periodontitis—inflammation of the deeper tissues, that normally hold the teeth in place. Attachments between gums and teeth are gradually destroyed, the gum margins recede, and the teeth eventually loosen. Calculus (calcified plaque), seen here as hard, creamcolored deposits on the teeth, contributes to the inflammation.

(table continues next page)

(Sources of photos: Marginal Gingivitis, Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis—Tyldesley WR: A Colour Atlas of Orofacial Diseases, 2nd ed. London, Wolfe Medical Publications, 1991; Chronic Gingivitis and Periodontitis (Courtesy of Dr. Tom McDavid), Gingival Hyperplasia (Courtesy of Dr. James Cottone)—From Langlais RP, Miller CS: Color Atlas of Common Oral Diseases. Philadelphia, Lea & Febiger, 1992. Used with permission.)

Acute Necrotizing Ulcerative Gingivitis

Marginal Gingivitis

TABLE 5-22 ■ Findings in the Gums and Teeth

TABLE 5-22 ■ Findings in the Gums and Teeth


204 In people with AIDS, Kaposi’s sarcoma may appear in the gums, as in other structures. The shape of the lesions in this advanced example might suggest hyperplasia, but the color suggests Kaposi’s sarcoma. Be alert for less obvious lesions.

Dental Caries Dental caries is first visible as a chalky white area in the enamel surface of a tooth. This area may then turn brown or black, become soft, and cavitate. Special dental techniques, including x-rays, are necessary for early detection.

Gingival enlargement may be localized, forming a tumorlike mass that usually originates in an interdental papilla. It is red and soft and usually bleeds easily. The estimated incidence of this lesion in pregnancy is about 1%. Note the accompanying gingivitis in this example.

Lead Line

Now rare, a bluish-black line on the gums may signal chronic lead poisoning. The line is about 1 mm from the gum margin, follows its contours, and is absent where there are no teeth. In this example, as is common, periodontitis coexists.

(Sources of photos: Pregnancy Tumor, Dental Caries—From Langlais RP, Miller CS: Color Atlas of Common Oral Diseases. Philadelphia, Lea & Febiger 1992. Used with permission; Kaposi’s Sarcoma in AIDS—Kelley WN (ed): Textbook of Internal Medicine, 2nd ed. Philadelphia, JB Lippincott, 1992; Lead Line—Courtesy of Dr. R. A. Cawson, from Cawson RA: Oral Pathology, 1st ed. London, UK, Gower Medical Publishing, 1987.)

Kaposi’s Sarcoma in AIDS

Pregnancy Tumor (Epulis, Pyogenic Granuloma)

TABLE 5-22 ■ Findings in the Gums and Teeth (Continued)

TABLE 5-22 ■ Findings in the Gums and Teeth




Teeth may be eroded by chemical action. Note here the erosion of the enamel from the lingual surfaces of the upper incisors, exposing the yellow-brown dentin. This results from recurrent regurgitation of stomach contents, as in bulimia.

Abrasion of Teeth With Notching The biting surface of the teeth may become abraded or notched by recurrent trauma, such as holding nails or opening bobby pins between the teeth. Unlike Hutchinson’s teeth, the sides of these teeth show normal contours; size and spacing of the teeth are unaffected.

In many elderly people, the chewing surfaces of the teeth have been worn down by repetitive use so that the yellow-brown dentin becomes exposed— a process called attrition. Note also the recession of the gums, which has exposed the roots of the teeth, giving a “long in the tooth” appearance.

Hutchinson’s Teeth

Hutchinson’s teeth are smaller and more widely spaced than normal and are notched on their biting surfaces. The sides of the teeth taper toward the biting edges. The upper central incisors of the permanent (not the deciduous) teeth are most often affected. These teeth are a sign of congenital syphilis.

(Sources of photos: Attrition of Teeth, Erosion of Teeth—From Langlais RP, Miller CS: Color Atlas of Common Oral Diseases. Philadelphia, Lea & Febiger, 1992. Used with permission; Hutchinson’s Teeth, Abrasion of Teeth —Robinson HBG, Miller AS: Colby, Kerr, and Robinson’s Color Atlas of Oral Pathology. Philadelphia, JB Lippincott, 1990.)

Erosion of Teeth

Attrition of Teeth; Recession of Gums

TABLE 5-22 ■ Findings in the Gums and Teeth


206 The “hair” of hairy tongue consists of elongated papillae on the dorsum of the tongue, and is yellowish to brown or black. Hairy tongue may follow antibiotic therapy but may also occur spontaneously, without known cause. It is harmless.

Hairy Leukoplakia Whitish raised areas that have a feathery or corrugated pattern suggest hairy leukoplakia. Unlike candidiasis, these areas cannot be scraped off. The sides of the tongue are most often affected. This lesion is seen in HIV infection and AIDS.

Fissures may appear in the tongue with increasing age. Their appearance has led to the alternate term, scrotal tongue. Although food debris may accumulate in the crevices and become irritating, a fissured tongue usually has little significance.

Smooth Tongue (Atrophic Glossitis)

A smooth and often sore tongue that has lost its papillae suggests a deficiency in riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, vitamin B12, pyridoxine, or iron. Specific diagnosis is often difficult. Anticancer drugs may also be responsible.

The thick white coat on this tongue is due to Candida infection. A raw red surface is left where the coat was scraped off. This infection may also cause redness of the tongue without the white coat. AIDS, among other factors, predisposes to this condition.


The dorsum of a geographic tongue shows scattered smooth red areas that are denuded of papillae. Together with the normal rough and coated areas, they give a maplike pattern that changes over time. Of unknown cause, the condition is benign.

Geographic Tongue

(Sources of photos: Fissured Tongue, Candidiasis—Robinson HBG, Miller AS: Colby, Kerr, and Robinson’s Color Atlas of Oral Pathology. Philadelphia, JB Lippincott, 1990; Smooth Tongue—Courtesy of Dr. R. A. Cawson, from Cawson RA: Oral Pathology, 1st ed. London, UK, Gower Medical Publishing, 1987; Geographic Tongue—The Wellcome Trust, National Medical Slide Bank, London, UK; Hairy Leukoplakia—Ioachim HL: Textbook and Atlas of Disease Associated With Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. London, UK, Gower Medical Publishing, 1989.)

Hairy Tongue

Fissured Tongue

TABLE 5-23 ■ Findings In or Under the Tongue

TABLE 5-23 ■ Findings In or Under the Tongue




A painful, small, round or oval ulcer that is white or yellowish gray and surrounded by a halo of reddened mucosa typifies the common aphthous ulcer. These ulcers may be single or multiple. They heal in 7 to 10 days, but may recur.

Tori Mandibulares Tori mandibulares are rounded bony protuberances that grow from the inner surfaces of the mandible. They are typically bilateral and asymptomatic. The overlying mucosa is normal in color. Like a torus palatinus (p. 201), these tori are harmless.

Small purplish or blue-black round swellings may appear under the tongue with age. They are dilatations of the lingual veins and have no clinical significance. Reassure a worried patient. These varicosities are also called caviar lesions.

Mucous Patch of Syphilis

This painless lesion occurs in the secondary stage of syphilis and is highly infectious. It is slightly raised, oval, and covered by a grayish membrane. Mucous patches may be multiple and occur elsewhere in the mouth.

This ulcerated lesion is in a common location for carcinoma, which also occurs on the side of the tongue. Medial to the carcinoma, note the reddened area of mucosa, called erythroplakia. Like leukoplakia, erythroplakia warns of possible malignancy.

Carcinoma, Floor of the Mouth

A persisting painless white patch in the oral mucosa is often called leukoplakia until biopsy reveals its nature. Here, the undersurface of the tongue looks as if it had been painted white. Smaller patches are more common. Leukoplakia of any size raises the possibility of malignant change.


(Sources of photos: Mucous Patch, Leukoplakia, Carcinoma—Robinson HBG, Miller AS: Colby, Kerr, and Robinson’s Color Atlas of Oral Pathology. Philadelphia, JB Lippincott, 1990; Varicose Veins—From Neville B et al: Color Atlas of Clinical Oral Pathology. Philadelphia, Lea & Febiger, 1991. Used with permission.)

Aphthous Ulcer (Canker Sore)

Varicose Veins

TABLE 5-23 ■ Findings In or Under the Tongue


208 A clinically single nodule may be a cyst, a benign tumor, or one nodule within a multinodular gland, but it also raises the question of a malignancy. Prior irradiation, hardness, rapid growth, fixation to surrounding tissues, enlarged cervical nodes, and occurrence in males increase the probability of malignancy.

Single Nodule

Intensity of heart sounds sometimes decreased Dry, coarse, cool skin, sometimes yellowish from carotene, with nonpitting edema and loss of hair Impaired memory, mixed hearing loss, somnolence, peripheral neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome Periorbital puffiness

Increased systolic and decreased diastolic blood pressures Hyperdynamic cardiac pulsations with an accentuated S1 Warm, smooth, moist skin

Tremor and proximal muscle weakness With Graves’ disease, eye signs such as stare, lid lag, and exophthalmos

Modest weight gain with anorexia Dry, coarse skin and cold intolerance Swelling of face, hands, and legs


Weakness, muscle cramps, arthralgias, paresthesias, impaired memory and hearing

Weight loss despite an increased appetite

Excessive sweating and heat intolerance


Frequent bowel movements

Muscular weakness of the proximal type and tremor

Decreased systolic and increased diastolic blood pressures

Bradycardia and, in late stages, hypothermia Tachycardia or atrial fibrillation

Fatigue, lethargy






Signs of Thyroid Dysfunction

This term refers to an enlarged thyroid gland that contains two or more identifiable nodules. Multiple nodules suggest a metabolic rather than a neoplastic process, but irradiation during childhood, a positive family history, enlarged cervical nodes, or continuing enlargement of one of the nodules raises the suspicion of malignancy.

A diffusely enlarged gland includes the isthmus and the lateral lobes, but there are no discretely palpable nodules. Causes include Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and endemic goiter (related to iodine deficiency, now uncommon in the United States). Sporadic goiter refers to an enlarged gland with no apparent cause.

Symptoms of Thyroid Dysfunction

Multinodular Goiter

Diffuse Enlargement

Evaluation of the thyroid gland includes a description of the gland and a functional assessment.

TABLE 5-24 ■ Thyroid Enlargement and Function

TABLE 5-24 ■ Thyroid Enlargement and Function




The Thorax and Lungs

ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY Study the anatomy of the chest wall, identifying the structures illustrated. Note that an interspace between two ribs is numbered by the rib above it.

Manubrium of sternum

Suprasternal notch Sternal angle

Body of sternum

2nd rib

2nd rib interspace 2nd costal cartilage Xyphoid process Cardiac notch of left lung

Costochondral junctions

Costal angle




ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY Locating Findings on the Chest. Describe abnormalities of the chest in two dimensions: along the vertical axis and around the circumference of the chest. To make vertical locations, you must be able to count the ribs and interspaces. The sternal angle, also termed the angle of Louis, is the best guide: place your finger in the hollow curve of the suprasternal notch, then move your finger down about 5 cm to the horizontal bony ridge joining the manubrium to the body of the sternum. Then move your finger laterally and find the adjacent 2nd rib and costal cartilage. From here, using two fingers, you can “walk down the interspaces,” one space at a time, on an oblique line illustrated by the red numbers below. Do not try to count interspaces along the lower edge of the sternum; the ribs there are too close together. In a woman, to find the interspaces either displace the breast laterally or palpate a little more medially than illustrated. Avoid pressing too hard on tender breast tissue.

Sternal angle

Suprasternal notch

2nd rib

2 2 3 3 4 4

11 12

5 5 6 6 7 7 8 8 9 9 10 11

Note that the costal cartilages of the first seven ribs articulate with the sternum; the cartilages of the 8th, 9th, and 10th ribs articulate with the costal cartilages just above them. The 11th and 12th ribs, the “floating ribs,” have no anterior attachments. The cartilaginous tip of the 11th rib can usually be felt laterally, and the 12th rib may be felt posteriorly. On palpation, costal cartilages and ribs feel identical. 210


ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY Posteriorly, the 12th rib is another possible starting point for counting ribs and interspaces: it helps locate findings on the lower posterior chest and provides an option when the anterior approach is unsatisfactory. With the fingers of one hand, press in and up against the lower border of the 12th rib, then “walk up” the interspaces numbered in red below, or follow a more oblique line up and around to the front of the chest. The inferior tip of the scapula is another useful bony marker—it usually lies at the level of the 7th rib or interspace.

Spinous process of C7

Spinous process of T1

2 2 3 3 4 4 5 5 6 6 7 7 8 8 9 9 10 10 11

Inferior angle of scapula 7th rib

11 12

The spinous processes of the vertebrae are also useful anatomic landmarks. When the neck is flexed forward, the most protruding process is usually the vertebra of C7. If two processes are equally prominent, they are C7 and T1. You can often palpate and count the processes below them, especially when the spine is flexed. To locate findings around the circumference of the chest, use a series of vertical lines, shown in the next three illustrations. The midsternal and vertebral lines are precise; the others are estimated. The midclavicular line drops vertically from the midpoint of the clavicle. To find it, you must identify both ends of the clavicle accurately (see p. 469). The anterior and posterior axillary lines drop vertically from the anterior and posterior axillary folds, the muscle masses that border the axilla. The midaxillary line drops from the apex of the axilla. CHAPTER 6




Midsternal line Anterior axillary line

Midaxillary line

Midclavicular line

Posterior axillary line

Anterior axillary line


Posteriorly, the vertebral line overlies the spinous processes of the vertebrae. The scapular line drops from the inferior angle of the scapula.


Scapular line Vertebral line POSTERIOR VIEW

Lungs, Fissures, and Lobes. The lungs and their fissures and lobes can be mentally pictured on the chest wall. Anteriorly, the apex of each lung rises about 2 cm to 4 cm above the inner third of the clavicle. The lower border of the lung crosses the 6th rib at the midclavicular line and the 8th rib at the midaxillary line. (Because ribs slant, a fairly horizontal line can drop a rib or more as it passes across the chest.) Posteriorly, the lower border of the lung lies at about the level of the T10 spinous process. On inspiration, it descends farther. Each lung is divided roughly in half by an oblique (major) fissure. This fissure may be approximated by a string that runs from the T3 spinous process 212


ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY obliquely down and around the chest to the 6th rib at the midclavicular line. The right lung is further divided by the horizontal (minor) fissure. Anteriorly, this fissure runs close to the 4th rib and meets the oblique fissure in the midaxillary line near the 5th rib.

Apex of lung LUL RUL


Spinous process of T3


Horizontal fissure LLL

RML Oblique fissure



LLL Inspiratory descent



The right lung is thus divided into upper, middle, and lower lobes. The left lung has only two lobes, upper and lower.



Left oblique fissure RML LLL RLL





ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY Locations on the Chest. Be familiar with general anatomic terms used to locate chest findings, such as: Supraclavicular—above the clavicles Infraclavicular—below the clavicles Interscapular—between the scapulae Infrascapular—below the scapula Bases of the lungs—the lowermost portions Upper, middle, and lower lung fields You may then infer what part(s) of the lung(s) are affected by an abnormal process. Signs in the right upper lung field, for example, almost certainly originate in the right upper lobe. Signs in the right middle lung field laterally, however, could come from any of three different lobes.

The Trachea and Major Bronchi. Breath sounds over the trachea and bronchi have a different quality than breath sounds over the lung parenchyma. Be sure you know the location of these structures. The trachea bifurcates into its mainstem bronchi at the levels of the sternal angle anteriorly and the T4 spinous process posteriorly.

Trachea Left main bronchus

Right main bronchus



The Pleurae.

The pleurae are serous membranes that cover the outer surface of each lung, the visceral pleura, and also line the inner rib cage and upper surface of the diaphragm, the parietal pleura. Their smooth opposing surfaces, lubricated by pleural fluid, allow the lungs to move easily within the rib cage during inspiration and expiration. The pleural space is the potential space between visceral and parietal pleurae. 214


ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY Breathing. Breathing is largely an automatic act, controlled in the brainstem and mediated by the muscles of respiration. The dome-shaped diaphragm is the primary muscle of inspiration. When it contracts, it descends in the chest and enlarges the thoracic cavity. At the same time it compresses the abdominal contents, pushing the abdominal wall outward. Muscles in the rib cage and neck expand the thorax during inspiration, especially the parasternals, which run obliquely from sternum to ribs, and the scalenes, which run from the cervical vertebrae to the first two ribs. During inspiration, as these muscles contract, the thorax expands. Intrathoracic pressure decreases, drawing air through the tracheobronchial tree into the alveoli, or distal air sacs, and expanding the lungs. Oxygen diffuses into the blood of adjacent pulmonary capillaries, and carbon dioxide diffuses from the blood into the alveoli. After inspiratory effort stops, the expiratory phase begins. The chest wall and lungs recoil, the diaphragm relaxes and rises passively, air flows outward, and the chest and abdomen return to their resting positions. Normal breathing is quiet and easy—barely audible near the open mouth as a faint whish. When a healthy person lies supine, the breathing movements of the thorax are relatively slight. In contrast, the abdominal movements are usually easy to see. In the sitting position, movements of the thorax become more prominent. During exercise and in certain diseases, extra work is required to breathe, and accessory muscles join the inspiratory effort. The sternomastoids are the most important of these, and the scalenes may become visible. Abdominal muscles assist in expiration.

Sternal head Clavicular head



of the sternomastoid muscle




Changes With Aging As people age, their capacity for exercise decreases. The chest wall becomes stiffer and harder to move, respiratory muscles may weaken, and the lungs lose some of their elastic recoil. The speed of breathing out with maximal effort gradually diminishes. Skeletal changes associated with aging may accentuate the dorsal curve of the thoracic spine, producing kyphosis and increasing the anteroposterior diameter of the chest. The resulting “barrel chest,” however, has little effect on function.

THE HEALTH HISTORY Common or Concerning Symptoms ■ ■ ■ ■ ■

Chest pain Dyspnea Wheezing Cough Blood-streaked sputum (hemoptysis)

Complaints of chest pain or chest discomfort raise the specter of heart disease, but often arise from structures in the thorax and lung as well. To assess this symptom, you must pursue a dual investigation of both thoracic and cardiac causes. Sources of chest pain are listed below. For this important symptom, you must keep all of these in mind.

See Table 6-1. Chest Pain, pp. 234–235.

The myocardium

Angina pectoris, myocardial infarction

The pericardium


The aorta

Dissecting aortic aneurysm

The trachea and large bronchi


The parietal pleura

Pericarditis, pneumonia

The chest wall, including the musculoskeletal system and skin

Costochondritis, herpes zoster

The esophagus

Reflux esophagitis, esophageal spasm

Extrathoracic structures such as the neck, gallbladder, and stomach.

Cervical arthritis, biliary colic, gastritis

This section focuses on pulmonary complaints, including general questions about chest symptoms, dyspnea, wheezing, cough, and hemoptysis. For 216




health history questions about exertional chest pain, palpitations, orthopnea, paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea, and edema, see Chapter 7, The Cardiovascular System. Your initial questions should be as broad as possible. “Do you have any discomfort or unpleasant feelings in your chest?” As you proceed to the full history, ask the patient to point to where the pain is in the chest. Watch for any gestures as the patient describes the pain. You should elicit all seven attributes of this symptom (see p. 27) to distinguish among the various causes of chest pain.

A clenched fist over the sternum suggests angina pectoris; a finger pointing to a tender area on the chest wall suggests musculoskeletal pain; a hand moving from neck to epigastrum suggests heartburn.

Lung tissue itself has no pain fibers. Pain in lung conditions such as pneumonia or pulmonary infarction usually arises from inflammation of the adjacent parietal pleura. Muscle strain from prolonged recurrent coughing may also be responsible. The pericardium also has few pain fibers—the pain of pericarditis stems from inflammation of the adjacent parietal pleura. (Chest pain is commonly associated with anxiety, too, but the mechanism remains obscure.)

Anxiety is the most frequent cause of chest pain in children; costochondritis is also common.

Dyspnea is a nonpainful but uncomfortable awareness of breathing that is inappropriate to the level of exertion. This serious symptom warrants a full explanation and assessment, since dyspnea commonly results from cardiac or pulmonary disease.

See Table 6-2, Dyspnea, pp. 236–237.

Ask “Have you had any difficulty breathing?” Find out when the symptom occurs, at rest or with exercise, and how much effort produces onset. Because of variations in age, body weight, and physical fitness, there is no absolute scale for quantifying dyspnea. Instead, make every effort to determine its severity based on the patient’s daily activities. How many steps or flights of stairs can the patient climb before pausing for breath? What about work such as carrying bags of groceries, mopping the floor, or making the bed? Has dyspnea altered the patient’s lifestyle and daily activities? How? Carefully elicit the timing and setting of dyspnea, any associated symptoms, and relieving or aggravating factors. Most patients with dyspnea relate shortness of breath to their level of activity. Anxious patients present a different picture. They may describe difficulty taking a deep enough breath, or a smothering sensation with inability to get enough air, along with paresthesias, or sensations of tingling or “pins and needles” around the lips or in the extremities.

Anxious patients may have episodic dyspnea during both rest and exercise, and hyperventilation, or rapid, shallow breathing. At other times they may have frequent sighs.

Wheezes are musical respiratory sounds that may be audible both to the patient and to others.

Wheezing suggests partial airway obstruction from secretions, tissue inflammation, or a foreign body.

Cough is a common symptom that ranges in significance from trivial to ominous. Typically, cough is a reflex response to stimuli that irritate re-

See Table 6-3, Cough and Hemoptysis, p. 238.






ceptors in the larynx, trachea, or large bronchi. These stimuli include mucus, pus, and blood, as well as external agents such as dusts, foreign bodies, or even extremely hot or cold air. Other causes include inflammation of the respiratory mucosa and pressure or tension in the air passages from a tumor or enlarged peribronchial lymph nodes. Although cough typically signals a problem in the respiratory tract, it may also be cardiovascular in origin.

Cough is an important symptom of left-sided heart failure.

For complaints of cough, a thorough assessment is in order. Ask whether the cough is dry or produces sputum, or phlegm. Ask the patient to describe the volume of any sputum and its color, odor, and consistency.

Dry hacking cough in Mycoplasmal pneumonia; productive cough in bronchitis, viral or bacterial pneumonia Mucoid sputum is translucent, white, or gray; purulent sputum is yellowish or greenish. Foul-smelling sputum in anaerobic lung abscess; tenacious sputum in cystic fibrosis

To help patients quantify volume, a multiple-choice question may be helpful . . . “How much do you think you cough up in 24 hours; a teaspoon, tablespoon, a quarter cup, half cup, cupful?” If possible, ask the patient to cough into a tissue; inspect the phlegm and note its characteristics. The symptoms associated with a cough often lead you to its cause.

Large volumes of purulent sputum in bronchiectasis or lung abscess

Hemoptysis is the coughing up of blood from the lungs; it may vary from blood-streaked phlegm to frank blood. For patients reporting hemoptysis, assess the volume of blood produced as well as the other sputum attributes; ask about the related setting and activity and any associated symptoms.

See Table 6-3, Cough and Hemoptysis, p. 238. Hemoptysis is rare in infants, children, and adolescents; it is seen most often in cystic fibrosis.

Before using the term “hemoptysis,” try to confirm the source of the bleeding by both history and physical examination. Blood or blood-streaked material may originate in the mouth, pharynx, or gastrointestinal tract and is easily mislabeled. When vomited, it probably originates in the gastrointestinal tract. Occasionally, however, blood from the nasopharynx or the gastrointestinal tract is aspirated and then coughed out.

Blood originating in the stomach is usually darker than blood from the respiratory tract and may be mixed with food particles.

Diagnostically helpful symptoms include fever, chest pain, dyspnea, orthopnea, and wheezing.

HEALTH PROMOTION AND COUNSELING Important Topics for Health Promotion and Counseling ■


Tobacco cessation




Despite declines in smoking over the past several decades, more than 27% of Americans age 12 and older still smoke.* All adults, pregnant women, parents, and adolescents who smoke should be counseled regularly to stop smoking. Smoking has been definitively linked to significant pulmonary, cardiovascular, and neoplastic disease, and accounts for one out of every five deaths in the United States.† It is considered the leading cause of preventable death. Nonsmokers exposed to smoke are also at increased risk for lung cancer, ear and respiratory infection, asthma, low birthweight, and residential fires. Smoking exposes patients not only to carcinogens, but also to nicotine, an addictive drug. Be especially alert to smoking by teenagers, the age group when tobacco use often begins, and by pregnant women, who may continue smoking during pregnancy. The disease risks of smoking drop significantly within a year of smoking cessation. Effective interventions include targeted messages by clinicians, group counseling, and use of nicotine-replacement therapies. Clinicians are advised to adopt the four “As”: ■

Ask about smoking at each visit.

Advise patients regularly to stop smoking in a clear personalized message.

Assist patients to set stop dates and provide educational materials for selfhelp.

Arrange for follow-up visits to monitor and support progress.

Preview: Recording the Physical Examination— The Thorax and Lungs Note that initially you may use sentences to describe your findings; later you will use phrases. The style below contains phrases appropriate for most write-ups. Unfamiliar terms are explained in the next section, Techniques of Examination. “Thorax is symmetric with good expansion. Lungs resonant. Breath sounds vesicular; no rales, wheezes, or rhonchi. Diaphragms descend 4 cm bilaterally.” OR “Thorax symmetric with moderate kyphosis and increased anteroposterior (AP) diameter, decreased expansion. Lungs are hyperresonant. Breath sounds distant with delayed expiratory phase and scattered expiratory wheezes. Fremitus decreased; no bronchophony, egophony, or whispered pectoriloquy. Diaphragms descend 2 cm bilaterally.”

Suggests chronic obstructive lung disease

* Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1999 National Household Survey. Accessed 8/13/01. † Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cigarette Smoking: Attributable Mortality and Years of Potential Life Cost—United States. MMWR 42: 645–649, 1993.






Combining clinician and group counseling with nicotine replacement therapy is especially effective for highly addicted patients. Relapses are common and should be expected. Nicotine withdrawal, weight gain, stress, social pressure, and use of alcohol are often cited as explanations. Help patients to learn from these experiences: work with the patient to pinpoint the precipitating circumstances and develop strategies for alternative responses and health-promoting behaviors.

TECHNIQUES OF EXAMINATION It is helpful to examine the posterior thorax and lungs while the patient is sitting, and the anterior thorax and lungs with the patient supine. Proceed in an orderly fashion: inspect, palpate, percuss, and auscultate. Try to visualize the underlying lobes, and compare one side with the other, so the patient serves as his or her own control. Arrange the patient’s gown so that you can see the chest fully. For women, drape the gown over each half of the anterior chest as you examine the other half. Cover the woman’s anterior chest when you examine the back. With the patient sitting, examine the posterior thorax and lungs. The patient’s arms should be folded across the chest with hands resting, if possible, on the opposite shoulders. This position moves the scapulae partly out of the way and increases your access to the lung fields. Then ask the patient to lie down. With the patient supine, examine the anterior thorax and lungs. The supine position makes it easier to examine women because the breasts can be gently displaced. Furthermore, wheezes, if present, are more likely to be heard. (Some authorities, however, prefer to examine both the back and the front of the chest with the patient sitting. This technique is also satisfactory). For patients unable to sit up without aid, try to get help so that you can examine the posterior chest in the sitting position. If this is impossible, roll the patient to one side and then to the other. Percuss the upper lung, and auscultate both lungs in each position. Because ventilation is relatively greater in the dependent lung, your chances of hearing wheezes or crackles are greater on the dependent side.

Initial Survey of Respiration and the Thorax Even though you may have already recorded the respiratory rate when you took the vital signs, it is wise to again observe the rate, rhythm, depth, and effort of breathing. A normal resting adult breathes quietly and regularly about


See Table 3-12, Abnormalities in Rate and Rhythm of Breathing (p. 93). Prolonged expiration suggests narrowed lower airways.




14 to 20 times a minute. An occasional sigh is to be expected. Note whether expiration lasts longer than usual. Always inspect the patient for any signs of respiratory difficulty. ■

Assess the patient’s color for cyanosis. Recall any relevant findings from earlier parts of your examination, such as the shape of the fingernails.

Cyanosis signals hypoxia. Clubbing of the nails (see p. 110) in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or congenital heart disease

Listen to the patient’s breathing. Is there any audible wheezing? If so, where does it fall in the respiratory cycle?

Audible stridor, a high-pitched wheeze, is an ominous sign of airway obstruction in the larynx or trachea.

Inspect the neck. During inspiration, is there contraction of the sternomastoid or other accessory muscles, or supraclavicular retraction? Is the trachea midline?

Inspiratory contraction of the sternomastoids at rest signals severe difficulty breathing. Lateral displacement of the trachea in pneumothorax, pleural effusion, or atelectasis

Also observe the shape of the chest. The anteroposterior (AP) diameter may increase with aging.

The AP diameter also may increase in COPD.

Examination of the Posterior Chest INSPECTION From a midline position behind the patient, note the shape of the chest and the way in which it moves, including: ■

Deformities or asymmetry

See Table 6-4, Deformities of the Thorax (p. 239).

Abnormal retraction of the interspaces during inspiration. Retraction is most apparent in the lower interspaces. Supraclavicular retraction is often associated.

Retraction in severe asthma, COPD, or upper airway obstruction.

Impaired respiratory movement on one or both sides or a unilateral lag (or delay) in movement.

Unilateral impairment or lagging of respiratory movement suggests disease of the underlying lung or pleura.

PALPATION As you palpate the chest, focus on areas of tenderness and abnormalities in the overlying skin, respiratory expansion, and fremitus.

Intercostal tenderness over inflamed pleura

Identify tender areas. Carefully palpate any area where pain has been reported or where lesions or bruises are evident.

Bruises over a fractured rib






Assess any observed abnormalities such as masses or sinus tracts (blind, inflammatory, tubelike structures opening onto the skin)

Although rare, sinus tracts usually indicate infection of the underlying pleura and lung (as in tuberculosis, actinomycosis).

Test chest expansion. Place your thumbs at about the level of the 10th ribs, with your fingers loosely grasping and parallel to the lateral rib cage. As you position your hands, slide them medially just enough to raise a loose fold of skin on each side between your thumb and the spine.

Causes of unilateral decrease or delay in chest expansion include chronic fibrotic disease of the underlying lung or pleura, pleural effusion, lobar pneumonia, pleural pain with associated splinting, and unilateral bronchial obstruction.

Ask the patient to inhale deeply. Watch the distance between your thumbs as they move apart during inspiration, and feel for the range and symmetry of the rib cage as it expands and contracts. Feel for tactile fremitus. Fremitus refers to the palpable vibrations transmitted through the bronchopulmonary tree to the chest wall when the patient speaks. To detect fremitus, use either the ball (the bony part of the palm at the base of the fingers) or the ulnar surface of your hand to optimize the vibratory sensitivity of the bones in your hand. Ask the patient to repeat the words “ninety-nine” or “one-one-one.” If fremitus is faint, ask the patient to speak more loudly or in a deeper voice. Use one hand until you have learned the feel of fremitus. Some clinicians find using one hand more accurate. The simultaneous use of both hands to compare sides, however, increases your speed and may facilitate detection of differences. 222

Fremitus is decreased or absent when the voice is soft or when the transmission of vibrations from the larynx to the surface of the chest is impeded. Causes include an obstructed bronchus; COPD; separation of the pleural surfaces by fluid (pleural effusion), fibrosis (pleural thickening), air (pneumothorax), or an infiltrating tumor; and also a very thick chest wall.


TECHNIQUES OF EXAMINATION Palpate and compare symmetric areas of the lungs in the pattern shown in the photograph. Identify and locate any areas of increased, decreased, or absent fremitus. Fremitus is typically more prominent in the interscapular area than in the lower lung fields, and is often more prominent on the right side than on the left. It disappears below the diaphragm. Tactile fremitus is a relatively rough assessment tool, but as a scouting technique it directs your attention to possible abnormalities. Later in the examination you will check any suggested findings by listening for breath sounds, voice sounds, and whispered voice sounds. All these attributes tend to increase or decrease together.










PERCUSSION Percussion is one of the most important techniques of physical examination. Percussion of the chest sets the chest wall and underlying tissues into motion, producing audible sound and palpable vibrations. Percussion helps you establish whether the underlying tissues are air-filled, fluid-filled, or solid. It penetrates only about 5 cm to 7 cm into the chest, however, and therefore will not help you to detect deep-seated lesions. The technique of percussion can be practiced on any surface. As you practice, listen for changes in percussion notes over different types of materials or different parts of the body. The key points for good technique, described for a right-handed person, are as follows: ■

Hyperextend the middle finger of your left hand, known as the pleximeter finger. Press its distal interphalangeal joint firmly on the surface to be percussed. Avoid surface contact by any other part of the hand, because this dampens out vibrations. Note that the thumb, 2nd, 4th, and 5th fingers are not touching the chest.

Position your right forearm quite close to the surface, with the hand cocked upward. The middle finger should be partially flexed, relaxed, and poised to strike.





With a quick sharp but relaxed wrist motion, strike the pleximeter finger with the right middle finger, or plexor finger. Aim at your distal interphalangeal joint. You are trying to transmit vibrations through the bones of this joint to the underlying chest wall.

Strike using the tip of the plexor finger, not the finger pad. Your finger should be almost at right angles to the pleximeter. A short fingernail is recommended to avoid self-injury. ■

Withdraw your striking finger quickly to avoid damping the vibrations you have created.

In summary, the movement is at the wrist. It is directed, brisk yet relaxed, and a bit bouncy.

Percussion Notes. With your plexor or tapping finger, use the lightest percussion that produces a clear note. A thick chest wall requires heavier percussion than a thin one. However, if a louder note is needed, apply more pressure with the pleximeter finger (this is more effective for increasing percussion note volume than tapping harder with the plexor finger). When percussing the lower posterior chest, stand somewhat to the side rather than directly behind the patient. This allows you to place your pleximeter finger more firmly on the chest and your plexor is more effective, making a better percussion note. When comparing two areas, use the same percussion technique in both areas. Percuss or strike twice in each location. It is easier to detect differences in percussion notes by comparing one area with another than by striking repetitively in one place. 224




Learn to identify five percussion notes. You can practice four of them on yourself. These notes differ in their basic qualities of sound: intensity, pitch, and duration. Train your ear to distinguish these differences by concentrating on one quality at a time as you percuss first in one location, then in another. Review the table below. Normal lungs are resonant.

Percussion Notes and Their Characteristics Relative Intensity

Relative Pitch

Relative Duration

Example of Location

Pathologic Examples






Large pleural effusion






Lobar pneumonia





Normal lung

Simple chronic bronchitis


Very loud



None normally

Emphysema, pneumothorax





Gastric air bubble or puffed-out cheek

Large pneumothorax

* Distinguished mainly by its musical timbre.

While the patient keeps both arms crossed in front of the chest, percuss the thorax in symmetric locations from the apices to the lung bases. Percuss one side of the chest and then the other at each level, as shown by the numbers below. Omit the areas over the scapulae—the thickness of muscle and bone alters the percussion notes over the lungs. Identify and locate the area and quality of any abnormal percussion note.















Dullness replaces resonance when fluid or solid tissue replaces air-containing lung or occupies the pleural space beneath your percussing fingers. Examples include: lobar pneumonia, in which the alveoli are filled with fluid and blood cells; and pleural accumulations of serous fluid (pleural effusion), blood (hemothorax), pus (empyema), fibrous tissue, or tumor. Generalized hyperresonance may be heard over the hyperinflated lungs of emphysema or asthma, but it is not a reliable sign. Unilateral hyperresonance suggests a large pneumothorax or possibly a large air-filled bulla in the lung.







Identify the descent of the diaphragms, or diaphragmatic excursion. First, determine the level of diaphragmatic dullness during quiet respiration. Holding the pleximeter finger above and parallel to the expected level of dullness, percuss downward in progressive steps until dullness clearly replaces resonance. Confirm this level of change by percussion near the middle of the hemothorax and also more laterally.

An abnormally high level suggests pleural effusion, or a high diaphragm as in atelectasis or diaphragmatic paralysis.

Location and sequence of percussion


Level of diaphragm



Note that with this technique you are identifying the boundary between the resonant lung tissue and the duller structures below the diaphragm. You are not percussing the diaphragm itself. You can infer the probable location of the diaphragm from the level of dullness. Now, estimate the extent of diaphragmatic excursion by determining the distance between the level of dullness on full expiration and the level of dullness on full inspiration, normally about 5 cm or 6 cm. This estimate does not correlate well, however, with radiologic assessment of diaphragmatic movement.

AUSCULTATION Auscultation of the lungs is the most important examining technique for assessing air flow through the tracheobronchial tree. Together with percussion, it also helps the clinician to assess the condition of the surrounding lungs and pleural space. Auscultation involves (1) listening to the sounds generated by breathing, (2) listening for any adventitious (added) sounds, and (3) if abnormalities are suspected, listening to the sounds of the patient’s spoken or whispered voice as they are transmitted through the chest wall.

Breath Sounds (Lung Sounds). You will learn to identify patterns of breath sounds by their intensity, their pitch, and the relative duration of their inspiratory and expiratory phases. Normal breath sounds are: 226

Sounds from bedclothes, paper gowns, and the chest itself can generate confusion in auscultation. Hair on the chest may cause crackling sounds. Either press harder or wet the hair. If the patient is cold or tense, you may hear muscle contraction sounds—muffled, lowpitched rumbling or roaring noises. A change in the patient’s position may eliminate this noise. You can




Vesicular, or soft and low pitched. They are heard through inspiration, continue without pause through expiration, and then fade away about one third of the way through expiration.

Bronchovesicular, with inspiratory and expiratory sounds about equal in length, at times separated by a silent interval. Differences in pitch and intensity are often more easily detected during expiration.

Bronchial, or louder and higher in pitch, with a short silence between inspiratory and expiratory sounds. Expiratory sounds last longer than inspiratory sounds.

reproduce this sound on yourself by doing a Valsalva maneuver (straining down) as you listen to your own chest.

The characteristics of these three kinds of breath sounds are summarized in the table below. Also shown are the tracheal breath sounds—very loud, harsh sounds that are heard by listening over the trachea in the neck.

Characteristics of Breath Sounds Duration of Sounds

Intensity of Expiratory Sound

Pitch of Expiratory Sound

Locations Where Heard Normally


Inspiratory sounds last longer than expiratory ones.


Relatively low

Over most of both lungs


Inspiratory and expiratory sounds are about equal.



Often in the 1st and 2nd interspaces anteriorly and between the scapulae


Expiratory sounds last longer than inspiratory ones.


Relatively high

Over the manubrium, if heard at all


Inspiratory and expiratory sounds are about equal.

Very loud

Relatively high

Over the trachea in the neck

If bronchovesicular or bronchial breath sounds are heard in locations distant from those listed, suspect that air-filled lung has been replaced by fluid-filled or solid lung tissue. See Table 6-5, Normal and Altered Breath and Voice Sounds (p. 240).

* The thickness of the bars indicates intensity; the steeper their incline, the higher the pitch.

Listen to the breath sounds with the diaphragm of a stethoscope after instructing the patient to breathe deeply through an open mouth. Use the pattern suggested for percussion, moving from one side to the other and comparing symmetric areas of the lungs. If you hear or suspect abnormal sounds, auscultate adjacent areas so that you can fully describe the extent of any abnormality. Listen to at least one full breath in each location. Be alert for patient discomfort due to hyperventilation (e.g., light headedness, faintness), and allow the patient to rest as needed. CHAPTER 6





Note the intensity of the breath sounds. Breath sounds are usually louder in the lower posterior lung fields and may also vary from area to area. If the breath sounds seem faint, ask the patient to breathe more deeply. You may then hear them easily. When patients do not breathe deeply enough or when they have a thick chest wall, as in obesity, breath sounds may remain diminished.

Breath sounds may be decreased when air flow is decreased (as by obstructive lung disease or muscular weakness) or when the transmission of sound is poor (as in pleural effusion, pneumothorax, or emphysema).

Is there a silent gap between the inspiratory and expiratory sounds?

A gap suggests bronchial breath sounds.

Listen for the pitch, intensity, and duration of the expiratory and inspiratory sounds. Are vesicular breath sounds distributed normally over the chest wall? Or are there bronchovesicular or bronchial breath sounds in unexpected places? If so, where are they?

Adventitious (Added) Sounds. Listen for any added, or adventitious, sounds that are superimposed on the usual breath sounds. Detection of adventitious sounds—crackles (sometimes called rales), wheezes, and rhonchi— is an important part of your examination, often leading to diagnosis of cardiac and pulmonary conditions. The most common kinds of these sounds are described below:

For further discussion and other added sounds, see Table 6-6, Adventitious (Added) Lung Sounds: Causes and Qualities (p. 241).

Adventitious Lung Sounds DISCONTINUOUS SOUNDS (CRACKLES OR RALES) are intermittent, nonmusical, and brief—like dots in time Fine crackles ( Coarse crackles ( brief (20–30 msec).

) are soft, high pitched, and very brief (5–10 msec).

Crackles may be due to abnormalities of the lungs (pneumonia, fibrosis, early congestive heart failure) or of the airways (bronchitis, bronchiectasis).

) are somewhat louder, lower in pitch, and not quite so

CONTINUOUS SOUNDS are > 250 msec, notably longer than crackles—like dashes in time—but do not necessarily persist throughout the respiratory cycle. Unlike crackles, they are musical. Wheezes ( ) are relatively high pitched (around 400 Hz or higher) and have a hissing or shrill quality.

Wheezes suggest narrowed airways, as in asthma, COPD, or bronchitis.

Rhonchi ( ) are relatively low pitched (around 200 Hz or lower) and have a snoring quality.

Rhonchi suggest secretions in large airways.

If you hear crackles, especially those that do not clear after cough, listen carefully for the following characteristics. These are clues to the underlying condition: ■

Loudness, pitch, and duration (summarized as fine or coarse crackles)

Number (few to many)


Fine late inspiratory crackles that persist from breath to breath suggest abnormal lung tissue.



Timing in the respiratory cycle

Location on the chest wall

Persistence of their pattern from breath to breath

Any change after a cough or a change in the patient’s position


Clearing of crackles, wheezes, or rhonchi after cough suggests that secretions caused them, as in bronchitis or atelectasis.

In some normal people, crackles may be heard at the lung bases anteriorly after maximal expiration. Crackles in dependent portions of the lungs may also occur after prolonged recumbency. If you hear wheezes or rhonchi, note their timing and location. Do they change with deep breathing or coughing?

Transmitted Voice Sounds. If you hear abnormally located bronchovesicular or bronchial breath sounds, continue on to assess transmitted voice sounds. With a stethoscope, listen in symmetric areas over the chest wall as you:

Increased transmission of voice sounds suggests that air-filled lung has become airless. See Table 6-5, Normal and Altered Breath and Voice Sounds (p. 240).

Ask the patient to say “ninety-nine.” Normally the sounds transmitted through the chest wall are muffled and indistinct.

Louder, clearer voice sounds are called bronchophony.

Ask the patient to say “ee.” You will normally hear a muffled long E sound.

When “ee” is heard as “ay,” an E-to-A change (egophony) is present, as in lobar consolidation from pneumonia. The quality sounds nasal.

Ask the patient to whisper “ninety-nine” or “one-two-three.” The whispered voice is normally heard faintly and indistinctly, if at all.

Louder, clearer whispered sounds are called whispered pectoriloquy.

Examination of the Anterior Chest The patient, when examined in the supine position, should lie comfortably with arms somewhat abducted. A patient who is having difficulty breathing should be examined in the sitting position or with the head of the bed elevated to a comfortable level.



Persons with severe COPD may prefer to sit leaning forward, with lips pursed during exhalation and arms supported on their knees or a table.




INSPECTION Observe the shape of the patient’s chest and the movement of the chest wall. Note: ■

Deformities or asymmetry

See Table 6-4, Deformities of the Thorax (p. 239).

Abnormal retraction of the lower interspaces during inspiration

Severe asthma, COPD, or upper airway obstruction

Local lag or impairment in respiratory movement

Underlying disease of lung or pleura

PALPATION Palpation has four potential uses: ■

Identification of tender areas

Assessment of observed abnormalities

Further assessment of chest expansion. Place your thumbs along each costal margin, your hands along the lateral rib cage. As you position your hands, slide them medially a bit to raise loose skin folds between your thumbs. Ask the patient to inhale deeply. Observe how far your thumbs diverge as the thorax expands, and feel for the extent and symmetry of respiratory movement.

Assessment of tactile fremitus. Compare both sides of the chest, using the ball or ulnar surface of your hand. Fremitus is usually decreased or absent over the precordium. When examining a woman, gently displace the breasts as necessary.


Tender pectoral muscles or costal cartilages tend to corroborate, but do not prove, that chest pain has a musculoskeletal origin.











PERCUSSION Percuss the anterior and lateral chest, again comparing both sides. The heart normally produces an area of dullness to the left of the sternum from the 3rd to the 5th interspaces. Percuss the left lung lateral to it.


Dullness replaces resonance when fluid or solid tissue replaces air-containing lung or occupies the pleural space. Because pleural fluid usually sinks to the lowest part of the pleural space (posteriorly in a supine patient), only a very large effusion can be detected anteriorly.


The hyperresonance of COPD may totally replace cardiac dullness.





3 4



5 6







In a woman, to enhance percussion, gently displace the breast with your left hand while percussing with the right.

The dullness of right middle lobe pneumonia typically occurs behind the right breast. Unless you displace the breast, you may miss the abnormal percussion note.

Alternatively, you may ask the patient to move her breast for you. Identify and locate any area of abnormal percussion note. With your pleximeter finger above and parallel to the expected upper border of liver dullness, percuss in progressive steps downward in the right midclavicular line. Identify the upper border of liver dullness. Later, during the abdominal examination, you will use this method to estimate the size of the liver. As you percuss down the chest on the left, the resonance of normal lung usually changes to the tympany of the gastric air bubble.


A lung affected by COPD often displaces the upper border of the liver downward. It also lowers the level of diaphragmatic dullness posteriorly.




AUSCULTATION Listen to the chest anteriorly and laterally as the patient breathes with mouth open, somewhat more deeply than normal. Compare symmetric areas of the lungs, using the pattern suggested for percussion and extending it to adjacent areas as indicated. Listen to the breath sounds, noting their intensity and identifying any variations from normal vesicular breathing. Breath sounds are usually louder in the upper anterior lung fields. Bronchovesicular breath sounds may be heard over the large airways, especially on the right. Identify any adventitious sounds, time them in the respiratory cycle, and locate them on the chest wall. Do they clear with deep breathing? If indicated, listen for transmitted voice sounds.

See Table 6-6, Adventitious (Added) Lung Sounds: Causes and Qualities (p. 241), and Table 6-7, Physical Findings in Selected Chest Disorders (pp. 242–243).

Special Techniques Clinical Assessment of Pulmonary Function. A simple but informative way to assess the complaint of breathlessness in an ambulatory patient is to walk with the patient down the hall or climb one flight of stairs. Observe the rate, effort, and sound of the patient’s breathing.

Forced Expiratory Time. This test assesses the expiratory phase of breathing, which is typically slowed in obstructive pulmonary disease. Ask the patient to take a deep breath in and then breathe out as quickly and completely as possible with mouth open. Listen over the trachea with the diaphragm of a stethoscope and time the audible expiration. Try to get three consistent readings, allowing a short rest between efforts if necessary.

If the patient understands and cooperates in performing the test, a forced expiration time of 6 or more seconds suggests obstructive pulmonary disease.

Identification of a Fractured Rib. Local pain and tenderness of one

An increase in the local pain (distant from your hands) suggests rib fracture rather than just soft tissue injury.

or more ribs raise the question of fracture. By anteroposterior compression of the chest, you can help to distinguish a fracture from soft-tissue injury. With one hand on the sternum and the other on the thoracic spine, squeeze the chest. Is this painful, and where?




TABLE 6-1 ■ Chest Pain

TABLE 6-1 ■ Chest Pain






Cardiovascular Angina Pectoris

Temporary myocardial ischemia, usually secondary to coronary atherosclerosis

Retrosternal or across the anterior chest, sometimes radiating to the shoulders, arms, neck, lower jaw, or upper abdomen

Pressing, squeezing, tight, heavy, occasionally burning

Mild to moderate, sometimes perceived as discomfort rather than pain

Prolonged myocardial ischemia, resulting in irreversible muscle damage or necrosis

Same as in angina

Same as in angina

Often but not always a severe pain

Myocardial Infarction Pericarditis

Dissecting Aortic Aneurysm

Irritation of parietal pleura adjacent to the pericardium

Precordial, may radiate to the tip of the shoulder and to the neck

Sharp, knifelike

Often severe

Mechanism unclear




Anterior chest, radiating to the neck, back, or abdomen

Ripping, tearing

Very severe

Upper sternal or on either side of the sternum


Mild to moderate

Inflammation of the parietal pleura, as from pleurisy, pneumonia, pulmonary infarction, or neoplasm

Chest wall overlying the process

Sharp, knifelike

Often severe

Inflammation of the esophageal mucosa by reflux of gastric acid

Retrosternal, may radiate to the back

Burning, may be squeezing

Mild to severe

Motor dysfunction of the esophageal muscle

Retrosternal, may radiate to the back, arms, and jaw

Usually squeezing

Mild to severe

Variable, often unclear

Often below the left breast or along the costal cartilages; also elsewhere

Stabbing, sticking, or dull, aching



Precordial, below the left breast, or across the anterior chest

Stabbing, sticking, or dull, aching


A splitting within the layers of the aortic wall, allowing passage of blood to dissect a channel

Pulmonary Tracheobronchitis Inflammation of trachea and large bronchi

Pleural Pain

Gastrointestinal and other Reflex Esophagitis Diffuse Esophageal Spasm Chest Wall Pain


Note: Remember that chest pain may be referred from extrathoracic structures such as the neck (arthritis) and abdomen (biliary colic, acute cholecystitis). Pleural pain may be due to abdominal conditions such as subdiaphragmatic abscess.



TABLE 6-1 ■ Chest Pain


Factors That Aggravate

Factors That Relieve

Usually 1–3 min but up to 10 min. Prolonged episodes up to 20 min

Exertion, especially in the cold; meals; emotional stress. May occur at rest

Rest, nitroglycerin

20 min to several hr


Associated Symptoms Sometimes dyspnea, nausea, sweating

Nausea, vomiting, sweating, weakness Breathing, changing position, coughing, lying down, sometimes swallowing

Sitting forward may relieve it.


Of the underlying illness

Of the underlying illness

Abrupt onset, early peak, persistent for hours or more


Syncope, hemiplegia, paraplegia





Breathing, coughing, movements of the trunk

Lying on the involved side may relieve it.

Of the underlying illness


Large meal; bending over, lying down

Antacids, sometimes belching

Sometimes regurgitation, dysphagia


Swallowing of food or cold liquid; emotional stress

Sometimes nitroglycerin


Fleeting to hours or days

Movement of chest, trunk, arms

Often local tenderness

Fleeting to hours or day

May follow effort, emotional stress

Breathlessness, palpitations, weakness, anxiety




TABLE 6-2 ■ Dyspnea

TABLE 6-2 ■ Dyspnea




Left-Sided Heart Failure (left ventricular failure or mitral stenosis)

Elevated pressure in pulmonary capillary bed with transudation of fluid into interstitial spaces and alveoli, decreased compliance (increased stiffness) of the lungs, increased work of breathing

Dyspnea may progress slowly, or suddenly as in acute pulmonary edema.

Chronic Bronchitis*

Excessive mucus production in bronchi, followed by chronic obstruction of airways

Chronic productive cough followed by slowly progressive dyspnea

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)*

Overdistention of air spaces distal to terminal bronchioles, with destruction of alveolar septa and chronic obstruction of the airways

Slowly progressive dyspnea; relatively mild cough later


Bronchial hyperresponsiveness involving release of inflammatory mediators, increased airway secretions, and bronchoconstriction

Acute episodes, separated by symptom-free periods. Nocturnal episodes are common.

Diffuse Interstitial Lung Diseases (such as sarcoidosis, widespread neoplasms, asbestosis, and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis) Pneumonia

Abnormal and widespread infiltration of cells, fluid, and collagen into interstitial spaces between alveoli. Many causes

Progressive dyspnea, which varies in its rate of development with the cause

Inflammation of lung parenchyma from the respiratory bronchioles to the alveoli

An acute illness, timing varies with the causative agent

Spontaneous Pneumothorax

Leakage of air into pleural space through blebs on visceral pleura, with resulting partial or complete collapse of the lung

Sudden onset of dyspnea

Acute Pulmonary Embolism

Sudden occlusion of all or part of pulmonary arterial tree by a blood clot that usually originates in deep veins of legs or pelvis

Sudden onset of dyspnea

Anxiety With Hyperventilation

Overbreathing, with resultant respiratory alkalosis and fall in the partial pressure of carbon dioxide in the blood

Episodic, often recurrent

*Chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may coexist.



TABLE 6-2 ■ Dyspnea

Factors That Aggravate

Factors That Relieve

Associated Symptoms


Exertion, lying down

Rest, sitting up, though dyspnea may become persistent

Often cough, orthopnea, paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea; sometimes wheezing

History of heart disease or its predisposing factors

Exertion, inhaled irritants, respiratory infections

Expectoration; rest, though dyspnea may become persistent

Chronic productive cough, recurrent respiratory infections; wheezing may develop

History of smoking, air pollutants, recurrent respiratory infections


Rest, though dyspnea may become persistent

Cough, with scant mucoid sputum

History of smoking, air pollutants, sometimes a familial deficiency in alpha1-antitrypsin

Variable, including allergens, irritants, respiratory infections, exercise, and emotion

Separation from aggravating factors

Wheezing, cough, tightness in chest

Environmental and emotional conditions


Rest, though dyspnea may become persistent

Often weakness, fatigue. Cough less common than in other lung diseases

Varied. Exposure to one of many substances may be causative.

Pleuritic pain, cough, sputum, fever, though not necessarily present


Pleuritic pain, cough

Often a previously healthy young adult

Often none. Retrosternal oppressive pain if the occlusion is massive. Pleuritic pain, cough, and hemoptysis may follow an embolism if pulmonary infarction ensues. Symptoms of anxiety (see below).

Postpartum or postoperative periods; prolonged bed rest; congestive heart failure, chronic lung disease, and fractures of hip or leg; deep venous thrombosis (often not clinically apparent)

Sighing, lightheadedness, numbness or tingling of the hands and feet, palpitations, chest pain

Other manifestations of anxiety may be present.

More often occurs at rest than after exercise. An upsetting event may not be evident.


Breathing in and out of a paper or plastic bag sometimes helps the associated symptoms.



TABLE 6-3 ■ Cough and Hemoptysis

TABLE 6-3 ■ Cough and Hemoptysis* Problem

Cough and Sputum

Associated Symptoms and Setting

Dry cough (without sputum), may become productive of variable amounts of sputum

An acute, fairly minor illness with hoarseness. Often associated with viral nasopharyngitis


Dry cough, may become productive (as above)

An acute, often viral illness, with burning retrosternal discomfort

Mycoplasma and Viral Pneumonias Bacterial Pneumonias

Dry hacking cough, often becoming productive of mucoid sputum

An acute febrile illness, often with malaise, headache, and possibly dyspnea

Pneumococcal: sputum mucoid or purulent; may be blood-streaked, diffusely pinkish, or rusty

An acute illness with chills, high fever, dyspnea, and chest pain. Often is preceded by acute upper respiratory infection.

Klebsiella: similar; or sticky, red, and jellylike

Typically occurs in older alcoholic men

Chronic cough; sputum mucoid or mucopurulent

Repeated attempts to clear the throat. Postnasal discharge may be sensed by patient or seen in posterior pharynx. Associated with chronic rhinitis, with or without sinusitis

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic cough; sputum mucoid to purulent, may be blood-streaked or even bloody

Often longstanding cigarette smoking. Recurrent superimposed infections. Wheezing and dyspnea may develop.


Chronic cough; sputum purulent, often copious and foul-smelling; may be bloodstreaked or bloody

Recurrent bronchopulmonary infections common; sinusitis may coexist

Pulmonary Tuberculosis

Cough dry or sputum that is mucoid or purulent; may be blood-streaked or bloody

Early, no symptoms. Later, anorexia, weight loss, fatigue, fever, and night sweats

Lung Abscess

Sputum purulent and foul-smelling; may be bloody

A febrile illness. Often poor dental hygiene and a prior episode of impaired consciousness


Cough, with thick mucoid sputum, especially near end of an attack

Episodic wheezing and dyspnea, but cough may occur alone. Often a history of allergy

Gastroesophageal Reflux

Chronic cough, especially at night or early in the morning

Wheezing, especially at night (often mistaken for asthma), early morning hoarseness, and repeated attempts to clear the throat. Often a history of heartburn and regurgitation

Cough dry to productive; sputum may be blood-streaked or bloody

Usually a long history of cigarette smoking. Associated manifestations are numerous.

Often dry, especially on exertion or at night; may progress to the pink frothy sputum of pulmonary edema or to frank hemoptysis

Dyspnea, orthopnea, paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea

Pulmonary Emboli

Dry to productive; may be dark, bright red, or mixed with blood

Dyspnea, anxiety, chest pain, fever; factors that predispose to deep venous thrombosis

Irritating Particles, Chemicals, or Gases

Variable. There may be a latent period between exposure and symptoms.

Exposure to irritants. Eyes, nose, and throat may be affected.

Acute Inflammation Laryngitis

Chronic Inflammation Postnasal Drip

Neoplasm Cancer of the Lung Cardiovascular Disorders Left Ventricular Failure or Mitral Stenosis

*Characteristics of hemoptysis are printed in red.





A barrel chest has an increased anteroposterior diameter. This shape is normal during infancy, and often accompanies normal aging and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Cross Section of Thorax

Cross Section of Thorax

Pigeon Chest (Pectus Carinatum) In a pigeon chest, the sternum is displaced anteriorly, increasing the anteroposterior diameter. The costal cartilages adjacent to the protruding sternum are depressed.

Funnel Chest (Pectus Excavatum)

A funnel chest is characterized by a depression in the lower portion of the sternum. Compression of the heart and great vessels may cause murmurs.

Anteriorly displaced sternum

Depressed costal cartilages

Barrel Chest

The thorax in the normal adult is wider than it is deep. Its lateral diameter is larger than its anteroposterior diameter.

Cross Section of Thorax

Normal Adult

Cross Section of Thorax

TABLE 6-4 ■ Deformities of the Thorax



Ribs widely separated

In thoracic kyphoscoliosis, abnormal spinal curvatures and vertebral rotation deform the chest. Distortion of the underlying lungs may make interpretation of lung findings very difficult.

Thoracic Kyphoscoliosis

Ribs close together

Spinal convexity to the right (patient bending forward)

Cross Section of Thorax

If multiple ribs are fractured, paradoxical movements of the thorax may be seen. As descent of the diaphragm decreases intrathoracic pressure on inspiration, the injured area caves inward; on expiration, it moves outward.

Traumatic Flail Chest

Cross Section of Thorax

TABLE 6-4 ■ Deformities of the Thorax



Tactile Fremitus

Breath Sounds Transmitted Voice Sounds


Spoken words louder, clearer (bronchophony) Spoken “ee” heard as “ay” (egophony) Whispered words louder, clearer (whispered pectoriloquy)

Spoken words muffled and indistinct Spoken “ee” heard as “ee” Whispered words faint and indistinct, if heard at all Normal

Bronchial or bronchovesicular over the involved area

Airless Lung, as in Lobar Pneumonia

When lung tissue loses its air, it transmits high-pitched sounds much better. If the tracheobronchial tree is open, bronchial breath sounds may replace the normal vesicular sounds over airless areas of the lung. This change is seen in lobar pneumonia when the alveoli fill with fluid, red cells, and white cells—a process called consolidation. Other causes include pulmonary edema or hemorrhage. Bronchial breath sounds usually correlate with an increase in tactile fremitus and transmitted voice sounds. These findings are summarized below.

Predominantly vesicular

Normal Air-Filled Lung

The origins of breath sounds are still unclear. According to leading theories, turbulent air flow in the central airways produces the tracheal and bronchial breath sounds. As these sounds pass through the lungs to the periphery, lung tissue filters out their higher-pitched components and only the soft and lower-pitched components reach the chest wall, where they are heard as vesicular breath sounds. Normally, tracheal and bronchial sounds may be heard over the trachea and mainstem bronchi; vesicular breath sounds predominate throughout most of the lungs.

TABLE 6-5 ■ Normal and Altered Breath and Voice Sounds

TABLE 6-5 ■ Normal and Altered Breath and Voice Sounds




Mediastinal Crunch (Hamman’s Sign)

Inflamed and roughened pleural surfaces grate against each other as they are momentarily and repeatedly delayed by increased friction. These movements produce creaking sounds known as a pleural rub (or pleural friction rub).

Pleural Rub

A mediastinal crunch is a series of precordial crackles synchronous with the heart beat, not with respiration. Best heard in the left lateral position, it is due to mediastinal emphysema (pneumomediastinum).

Pleural rubs resemble crackles acoustically, although they are produced by different pathologic processes. The sounds may be discrete, but sometimes are so numerous that they merge into a seemingly continuous sound. A rub is usually confined to a relatively small area of the chest wall, and typically is heard in both phases of respiration. When inflamed pleural surfaces are separated by fluid, the rub often disappears.

A wheeze that is entirely or predominantly inspiratory is called stridor. It is often louder in the neck than over the chest wall. It indicates a partial obstruction of the larynx or trachea, and demands immediate attention.

A persistent localized wheeze suggests a partial obstruction of a bronchus, as by a tumor or foreign body. It may be inspiratory, expiratory, or both.

Occasionally in severe obstructive pulmonary disease, the patient is no longer able to force enough air through the narrowed bronchi to produce wheezing. The resulting silent chest should raise immediate concern and not be mistaken for improvement.

Wheezes occur when air flows rapidly through bronchi that are narrowed nearly to the point of closure. They are often audible at the mouth as well as through the chest wall. Causes of wheezes that are generalized throughout the chest include asthma, chronic bronchitis, COPD, and congestive heart failure (cardiac asthma). In asthma, wheezes may be heard only in expiration or in both phases of the respiratory cycle. Rhonchi suggest secretions in the larger airways. In chronic bronchitis, wheezes and rhonchi often clear with coughing.

Midinspiratory and expiratory crackles are heard in bronchiectasis but are not specific for this diagnosis. Wheezes and rhonchi may be associated.

Early inspiratory crackles appear soon after the start of inspiration and do not continue into late inspiration. They are often but not always coarse and are relatively few in number. Expiratory crackles are sometimes associated. Causes include chronic bronchitis and asthma.


Wheezes and Rhonchi

Inspiration Expiration

Late inspiratory crackles may begin in the first half of inspiration but must continue into late inspiration. They are usually fine and fairly profuse, and persist from breath to breath. These crackles appear first at the bases of the lungs, spread upward as the condition worsens, and shift to dependent regions with changes in posture. Causes include interstitial lung disease (such as fibrosis) and early congestive heart failure.

Crackles have two leading explanations. (1) They result from a series of tiny explosions when small airways, deflated during expiration, pop open during inspiration. This mechanism probably explains the late inspiratory crackles of interstitial lung disease and early congestive heart failure. (2) Crackles result from air bubbles flowing through secretions or lightly closed airways during respiration. This mechanism probably explains at least some coarse crackles.


TABLE 6-6 ■ Adventitious (Added) Lung Sounds: Causes and Qualities

TABLE 6-6 ■ Adventitious (Added) Lung Sounds: Causes and Qualities



Alveoli fill with fluid or blood cells, as in pneumonia, pulmonary edema, or pulmonary hemorrhage.


Increased pressure in the pulmonary veins causes congestion and interstitial edema (around the alveoli); bronchial mucosa may become edematous.

Left-Sided Heart Failure (Early)

The bronchi are chronically inflamed and a productive cough is present. Airway obstruction may develop.

Chronic Bronchitis

The tracheobronchial tree and alveoli are clear; pleurae are thin and close together; mobility of the chest wall is unimpaired.



Dull over the airless area




Percussion Note






The black boxes in this table suggest a framework for clinical assessment. Start with the three boxes under Percussion Note: resonant, dull, and hyperresonant. Then move from each of these to other boxes that emphasize some of the key differences among various conditions. The changes described vary with the extent and severity

Bronchial over the involved area


Vesicular (normal)

Vesicular, except perhaps bronchovesicular and bronchial sounds over the large bronchi and trachea respectively

Breath Sounds

Late inspiratory crackles over the involved area

Late inspiratory crackles in the dependent portions of the lungs; possibly wheezes

None; or scattered coarse crackles in early inspiration and perhaps expiration; or wheezes or rhonchi

None, except perhaps a few transient inspiratory crackles at the bases of the lungs

Adventitious Sounds

Increased over the involved area, with bronchophony, egophony, and whispered pectoriloquy




Tactile Fremitus and Transmitted Voice Sounds

of the disorder. Abnormalities deep in the chest usually produce fewer signs than superficial ones, and may cause no signs at all. Use the table for the direction of typical changes, not for absolute distinctions.

TABLE 6-7 ■ Physical Findings in Selected Chest Disorders

TABLE 6-7 ■ Physical Findings in Selected Chest Disorders




Widespread narrowing of the tracheobronchial tree diminishes airflow to a fluctuating degree. During attacks, airflow decreases further and lungs hyperinflate.


Slowly progressive disorder in which the distal air spaces enlarge and lungs become hyperinflated. Chronic bronchitis is often associated.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

When air leaks into the pleural space, usually unilaterally, the lung recoils from the chest wall. Pleural air blocks transmission of sound.


Fluid accumulates in the pleural space, separates airfilled lung from the chest wall, blocking the transmission of sound.

Pleural Effusion

When a plug in a mainstem bronchus (as from mucus or a foreign object) obstructs air flow, affected lung tissue collapses into an airless state.

Atelectasis (Lobar Obstruction)

Resonant to diffusely hyperresonant

Diffusely hyperresonant

Hyperresonant or tympanitic over the pleural air

Dull to flat over the fluid

Dull over the airless area



Shifted toward opposite side if much air

Shifted toward opposite side in a large effusion

May be shifted toward involved side

Often obscured by wheezes

Decreased to absent

Decreased to absent over the pleural air

Decreased to absent, but bronchial breath sounds may be heard near top of large effusion.

Usually absent when bronchial plug persists. Exceptions include right upper lobe atelectasis, where adjacent tracheal sounds may be transmitted.

Wheezes, possibly crackles

None, or the crackles, wheezes, and rhonchi of associated chronic bronchitis

None, except a possible pleural rub

None, except a possible pleural rub




Decreased to absent over the pleural air

Decreased to absent, but may be increased toward the top of a large effusion

Usually absent when the bronchial plug persists. In exceptions, e.g., right upper lobe atelectasis, may be increased

TABLE 6-7 ■ Physical Findings in Selected Chest Disorders



The Cardiovascular System


ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY Surface Projections of the Heart and Great Vessels Learn to visualize the underlying structures of the heart as you examine the anterior chest. Understanding cardiac anatomy and physiology is particularly important in the examination of the cardiovascular system.


Note that the right ventricle occupies most of the anterior cardiac surface. This chamber and the pulmonary artery form a wedgelike structure behind and to the left of the sternum.

Pulmonary artery Right ventricle




ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY The inferior border of the right ventricle lies below the junction of the sternum and the xiphoid process. The right ventricle narrows superiorly and meets the pulmonary artery at the level of the sternum or “base of the heart”—a clinical term that refers to the right and left 2nd interspaces close to the sternum. The left ventricle, behind the right ventricle and to the left, forms the left lateral margin of the heart. Its tapered inferior tip is often termed the cardiac “apex.” It is clinically important because it produces the apical impulse, sometimes called the point of maximal impulse, or PMI.* This impulse locates the left border of the heart and is usually found in the 5th interspace 7 cm to 9 cm lateral to the midsternal line. It is about the size of a quarter, roughly 1 to 2.5 cm in diameter. The right heart border is formed by the right atrium, a chamber not usually identifiable on physical examination. The left atrium is mostly posterior and cannot be examined directly, although its small atrial appendage may make up a segment of the left heart border between the pulmonary and the left ventricle.

Aorta Superior vena cava

Pulmonary artery Left pulmonary artery

Right pulmonary artery

Left ventricle


Right atrium Right ventricle

Apical impulse

*Because the most prominent cardiac impulse may not be apical, some authorities discourage use of this term.



ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY Above the heart lie the great vessels. The pulmonary artery, already mentioned, bifurcates quickly into its left and right branches. The aorta curves upward from the left ventricle to the level of the sternal angle, where it arches backward to the left and then down. On the right, the superior vena cava empties into the right atrium. Although not illustrated, the inferior vena cava also empties into the right atrium. The superior and inferior venae cavae carry venous blood to the heart from the upper and lower portions of the body.

Cardiac Chambers, Valves, and Circulation Circulation through the heart is shown in the diagram below, which identifies the cardiac chambers, valves, and direction of blood flow. Because of their positions, the tricuspid and mitral valves are often called atrioventricular valves. The aortic and pulmonic valves are called semilunar valves because each of their leaflets is shaped like a half moon. Although this diagram shows all valves in an open position, they are not all open simultaneously in the living heart.

Aorta Pulmonary artery (to lungs)

Superior vena cava

LA Pulmonary veins (from lungs)

RA Pulmonic valve

Mitral valve Aortic valve


Tricuspid valve

LV Inferior vena cava


RA = Right atrium RV = Right ventricle

LA = Left atrium Course of unoxygenated blood

Course of oxygenated blood

LV = Left ventricle

As the heart valves close, the heart sounds arise from vibrations emanating from the leaflets, the adjacent cardiac structures, and the flow of blood. It is essential to understand the positions and movements of the valves in relation to events in the cardiac cycle. CHAPTER 7




Events in the Cardiac Cycle The heart serves as a muscular pump that generates varying pressures as its chambers contract and relax. Systole is the period of ventricular contraction. In the diagram shown below, pressure in the left ventricle rises from less than 5 mm Hg in its resting state to a normal peak of 120 mm Hg. After the ventricle ejects much of its blood into the aorta, the pressure levels off and starts to fall. Diastole is the period of ventricular relaxation. Ventricular pressure falls further to below 5 mm Hg, and blood flows from atrium to ventricle. Late in diastole, ventricular pressure rises slightly during inflow of blood from atrial contraction. Left ventricle pressure curve 120

mm Hg





Note that during systole the aortic valve is open, allowing ejection of blood from the left ventricle into the aorta. The mitral valve is closed, preventing blood from regurgitating back into the left atrium. In contrast, during diastole the aortic valve is closed, preventing regurgitation of blood from the aorta back into the left ventricle. The mitral valve is open, allowing blood to flow from the left atrium into the relaxed left ventricle. Understanding the interrelationships of the pressures in these three chambers—left atrium, left ventricle, and aorta—together with the position and movement of the valves is fundamental to understanding heart sounds. These changing pressures and the sounds that result are traced here through one cardiac cycle. Note that during auscultation the first and second heart sounds define the duration of systole and diastole. 246



During diastole, pressure in the blood-filled left atrium slightly exceeds that in the relaxed left ventricle, and blood flows from left atrium to left ventricle across the open mitral valve. Just before the onset of ventricular systole, atrial contraction produces a slight pressure rise in both chambers.

During systole, the left ventricle starts to contract and ventricular pressure rapidly exceeds left atrial pressure, thus shutting the mitral valve. Closure of the mitral valve produces the first heart sound, S1.†

Left atrial pressure Left ventricular pressure

Left ventricular pressure

Mitral valve closes

Left atrial pressure


As left ventricular pressure continues to rise, it quickly exceeds the pressure in the aorta and forces the aortic valve open. In some pathologic conditions, opening of the aortic valve is accompanied by an early systolic ejection sound (Ej). Normally, maximal left ventricular pressure corresponds to systolic blood pressure.

Aortic valve opens

Left ventricular pressure Aortic pressure

S1 Ej

Aortic valve closes


As the left ventricle ejects most of its blood, ventricular pressure begins to fall. When left ventricular pressure drops below aortic pressure, the aortic valve shuts. Aortic valve closure produces the second heart sound, S2, and another diastole begins.

Aortic pressure Left ventricular pressure

Left atrial pressure

S1 Ej


†An extensive literature deals with the exact causes of heart sounds. Possible explanations include actual closure of valve leaflets, tensing of related structures, leaflet positions and pressure gradients at the time of atrial and ventricular systole, and the impact of columns of blood. The explanations given here are oversimplified but retain clinical usefulness.




ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY In diastole, left ventricular pressure continues to drop and falls below left atrial pressure. The mitral valve opens. This is usually a silent event, but may be audible as a pathologic opening snap (OS) if valve leaflet motion is restricted, as in mitral stenosis.

Aortic pressure

Mitral valve opens Left atrial pressure Left ventricular pressure

S1 Ej

After the mitral valve opens, there is a period of rapid ventricular filling as blood flows early in diastole from left atrium to left ventricle. In children and young adults, a third heart sound, S3, may arise from rapid deceleration of the column of blood against the ventricular wall. In older adults, an S3, sometimes termed “an S3 gallop,” usually indicates a pathologic change in ventricular compliance.


Finally, although not often heard in normal adults, a fourth heart sound, S4, marks atrial contraction. It immediately precedes S1 of the next beat, and also reflects a pathologic change in ventricular compliance.


Period of rapid ventricular filling

S1 Ej

S2 OS S3

Augmented ventricular filling due to atrial contraction

S1 Ej

S2 OS S3 Systole



The Splitting of Heart Sounds

While these events are occurring on the left side of the heart, similar changes are occurring on the right, involving the right atrium, right ventricle, tricuspid valve, pulmonic valve, and pulmonary artery. Right ventricular and pulmonary arterial pressures are significantly lower than corresponding pressures on the left side. Furthermore, right-sided events usually occur slightly later than those on the left. Instead of a single heart sound, you may hear two discernible components, the first from left-sided 248


ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY aortic valve closure, or A2, and the second from right-sided closure of the pulmonic valve, or P2. Consider the second heart sound and its two components, A2 and P2, which come from closure of the aortic and pulmonic valves respectively. During expiration, these two components are fused into a single sound, S2. During inspiration, however, A2 and P2 separate slightly, and S2 may split into its two audible components. A2






Current explanations of inspiratory splitting cite increased capacitance in the pulmonary vascular bed during inspiration, which prolongs ejection of blood from the right ventricle, delaying closure of the pulmonic valve, or P2. Ejection of blood from the left ventricle is comparatively shorter, so A2 occurs slightly earlier. Of the two components of the second heart sound, A2 is normally louder, reflecting the high pressure in the aorta. It is heard throughout the precordium. P2, in contrast, is relatively soft, reflecting the lower pressure in the pulmonary artery. It is heard best in its own area—the 2nd and 3rd left interspaces close to the sternum. It is here that you should search for splitting of the second heart sound.


S1 also has two components, an earlier mitral and a later tricuspid sound. The mitral sound, its principal component, is much louder, again reflecting the high pressures on the left side of the heart. It can be heard throughout the precordium and is loudest at the cardiac apex. The softer tricuspid component is heard best at the lower left sternal border, and it is here that you may hear a split S1. The earlier louder mitral component may mask the tricuspid sound, however, and splitting is not always detectable. Splitting of S1 does not vary with respiration.

Heart Murmurs

Heart murmurs are distinguishable from heart sounds by their longer duration. They are attributed to turbulent blood flow and may be “innocent,” as with flow murmurs of young adults, or diagnostic of valvular heart disease. A stenotic valve has an abnormally narrowed valvular orifice that obstructs blood flow, as in aortic stenosis, and causes a characteristic murmur. So does a valve that fails to fully close, as in aortic regurgitation or insuffiCHAPTER 7



ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY ciency. Such a valve allows blood to leak backward in a retrograde direction and produces a regurgitant murmur. To identify murmurs accurately, you must learn to assess the chest wall location where they are best heard, their timing in systole or diastole, and their qualities. In the section on Techniques of Examination, you will learn to integrate several characteristics, including murmur intensity, pitch, duration, and direction of radiation (see pp. __–__).

Relation of Auscultatory Findings to the Chest Wall The locations on the chest wall where you hear heart sounds and murmurs help to identify the valve or chamber where they originate. Sounds and murmurs arising from the mitral valve are usually heard best at and around the cardiac apex. Those originating in the tricuspid valve are heard best at or near the lower left sternal border. Murmurs arising from the pulmonic valve are usually heard best in the 2nd and 3rd left interspaces close to the sternum, but at times may also be heard at higher or lower levels, and those originating in the aortic valve may be heard anywhere from the right 2nd interspace to the apex. These areas overlap, as illustrated below, and you will need to correlate auscultatory findings with other portions of the cardiac examination to identify sounds and murmurs accurately.









The Conduction System An electrical conduction system stimulates and coordinates the contraction of cardiac muscle. Each normal electrical impulse is initiated in the sinus node, a group of specialized cardiac cells located in the right atrium near the junction of UNFIG 7-9 the vena cava. The sinus node acts as the cardiac pacemaker and automatically discharges an impulse about 60 to 100 times a minute. This impulse travels through both atria to the atrioventricular node, a specialized group of cells located low in the atrial septum. Here the impulse is delayed before passing down the bundle of His and its branches to the ventricular myocardium. Muscular contraction follows: first the atria, then the ventricles. The normal conduction pathway is diagrammed in simplified form at the right. The electrocardiogram, or ECG, records these events. Contraction of cardiac smooth muscle produces electrical activity, resulting in a series of waves on the ECG. The components of the normal ECG and their duration are briefly summarized here, but you will need further instruction and practice to interpret recordings from actual patients. The small P wave of atrial depolarization (duration up to 8 milliseconds; PR interval up to 20 milliseconds)

The larger QRS complex of ventricular depolarization (up to 10 milliseconds), consisting of one or more of the following:


UNFIG 7-10

–the Q wave, a downward deflection from septal depolarization –the R wave, an upward deflection from ventricular depolarization –the S wave, a downward deflection following an R wave

A T wave of ventricular repolarization, or recovery (duration relates to QRS).




ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY The electrical impulse slightly precedes the myocardial contraction that it stimulates. The relation of electrocardiographic waves to the cardiac cycle is shown below. QRS





T Electrocardiagram


Diastole Heart sounds

S4 S1


S4 S1


The Heart as a Pump The left and right ventricles pump blood into the systemic and pulmonary arterial trees, respectively. Cardiac output, the volume of blood ejected from each ventricle during 1 minute, is the product of heart rate and stroke volume. Stroke volume (the volume of blood ejected with each heartbeat) depends in turn on preload, myocardial contractility, and afterload. Preload refers to the load that stretches the cardiac muscle prior to contraction. The volume of blood in the right ventricle at the end of diastole, then, constitutes its preload for the next beat. Right ventricular preload is increased by increasing venous return to the right heart. Physiologic causes include inspiration and the increased volume of blood that flows from exercising muscles. The increased volume of blood in a dilated ventricle of congestive heart failure also increases preload. Causes of decreased right ventricular preload include exhalation, decreased left ventricular output, and pooling of blood in the capillary bed or the venous system.


Myocardial contractility refers to the ability of the cardiac muscle, when given a load, to shorten. Contractility increases when stimulated by action of the sympathetic nervous system, and decreases when blood flow or oxygen delivery to the myocardium is impaired. Afterload refers to the vascular resistance against which the ventricle must contract. Sources of resistance to left ventricular contraction include the tone in the walls of the aorta, the large arteries, and the peripheral vascular tree (primarily the small arteries and arterioles), as well as the volume of blood already in the aorta.

Pathologic increases in preload and afterload, called volume overload and pressure overload respectively, produce changes in ventricular function that may be clinically detectable. These changes include alterations in ventricular impulses, detectable by palpation, and in normal heart sounds. Pathologic heart sounds and murmurs may also develop. 252



Arterial Pulses and Blood Pressure With each contraction, the left ventricle ejects a volume of blood into the aorta and on into the arterial tree. The ensuing pressure wave moves rapidly through the arterial system, where it is felt as the arterial pulse. Although the pressure wave travels quickly—many times faster than the blood itself—a palpable delay between ventricular contraction and peripheral pulses makes the pulses in the arms and legs unsuitable for timing events in the cardiac cycle. Blood pressure in the arterial system varies during the cardiac cycle, peaking in systole and falling to its lowest trough in diastole. These are the levels that are measured with the blood pressure cuff, or sphygmomanometer. The difference between systolic and diastolic pressures is known as the pulse pressure. 120

Systolic pressure

mm Hg

Pulse pressure

Diastolic pressure


40 Systole




The principal factors influencing arterial pressure are: ■

Left ventricular stroke volume

Distensibility of the aorta and the large arteries

Peripheral vascular resistance, particularly at the arteriolar level

Volume of blood in the arterial system.

Changes in any of these four factors alter systolic pressure, diastolic pressure, or both. Blood pressure levels fluctuate strikingly through any 24-hour period, varying with physical activity, emotional state, pain, noise, environmental temperature, the use of coffee, tobacco, and other drugs, and even the time of day. CHAPTER 7




Jugular Venous Pressure and Pulses Jugular Venous Pressure (JVP).

Systemic venous pressure is much lower than arterial pressure. Although venous pressure ultimately depends on left ventricular contraction, much of this force is dissipated as blood passes through the arterial tree and the capillary bed. Walls of veins contain less smooth muscle than walls of arteries, which reduces venous vascular tone and makes veins more distensible. Other important determinants of venous pressure include blood volume and the capacity of the right heart to eject blood into the pulmonary arterial system. Cardiac disease may alter these variables, producing abnormalities in central venous pressure. For example, venous pressure falls when left ventricular output or blood volume is significantly reduced; it rises when the right heart fails or when increased pressure in the pericardial sac impedes the return of blood to the right atrium. These venous pressure changes are reflected in the height of the venous column of blood in the internal jugular veins, termed the jugular venous pressure or JVP. Pressure in the jugular veins reflects right atrial pressure, giving clinicians an important clinical indicator of cardiac function and right heart hemodynamics. Assessing the JVP is an essential, though challenging, clinical skill. The JVP is best estimated from the internal jugular vein, usually on the right side, since the right internal jugular vein has a more direct anatomic channel into the right atrium. The internal jugular veins lie deep to the sternomastoid muscles in the neck and are not directly visible, so the clinician must learn to identify the pulsa-

Posterior auricular artery Occipital artery


Descending branch

Sternomastoid branch

Diagastric muscle Ext. carotid artery

Int. carotid artery Asc. pharyngeal artery

Omohyoid muscle

Common carotid artery Sternomastoid branch


Common carotid artery


ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY tions of the internal jugular vein that are transmitted to the surface of the neck, making sure to carefully distinguish these venous pulsations from pulsations of the carotid artery. If pulsations from the internal jugular vein cannot be identified, those of the external jugular vein can be used, but they are less reliable. To estimate the level of the JVP, you will learn to find the highest point of oscillation in the internal jugular vein or, if necessary, the point above which the external jugular vein appears collapsed. The JVP is usually measured in vertical distance above the sternal angle, the bony ridge adjacent to the second rib where the manubrium joins the body of the sternum. Study the illustrations below very carefully. Note that regardless of the patient’s position, the sternal angle remains roughly 5 cm above the right atrium. In this patient, however, the pressure in the internal jugular vein is somewhat elevated. In Position A, the head of the bed is raised to the usual level, about 30°, but the JVP cannot be measured because the meniscus, or level of oscillation, is above the jaw and therefore not visible.

In Position B, the head of the bed is raised to 60°. The “top” of the internal jugular vein is now easily visible, so the vertical distance from the sternal angle or right atrium can now be measured.

In Position C, the patient is upright and the veins are barely discernible above the clavicle, making measurement untenable.


Height of venous pressure from sternal angle 5 cm

A 30°

B 60°

C 90°

Note that the height of the venous pressure as measured from the sternal angle is the same in all three positions, but your ability to measure the height of the column of venous blood, or JVP, differs according to how you position the patient. Jugular venous pressure measured at more than 4 cm above CHAPTER 7



ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY the sternal angle, or more than 9 cm above the right atrium, is considered elevated or abnormal. The techniques for measuring the JVP are fully described in Techniques of Examination on pp. __–__.

Jugular Venous Pulsations.

The oscillations that you see in the internal jugular veins (and often in the externals as well) reflect changing pressures within the right atrium. The right internal jugular vein empties more directly into the right atrium and reflects these pressure changes best. Careful observation reveals that the undulating pulsations of the internal jugular veins (and sometimes the externals) are composed of two quick peaks and two troughs.

a v

y x

The first elevation, the a wave, reflects the slight rise in atrial pressure S2 S1 S2 S1 that accompanies atrial contraction. Systole Diastole It occurs just before the first heart sound and before the carotid pulse. The following trough, the x descent, starts with atrial relaxation. It continues as the right ventricle, contracting during systole, pulls the floor of the atrium downward. During ventricular systole, blood continues to flow into the right atrium from the venae cavae. The tricuspid valve is closed, the chamber begins to fill, and right atrial pressure begins to rise again, creating the second elevation, the v wave. When the tricuspid valve opens early in diastole, blood in the right atrium flows passively into the right ventricle and right atrial pressure falls again, creating the second trough or y descent. To remember these four oscillations in a somewhat oversimplified way, think of the following sequence: atrial contraction, atrial relaxation, atrial filling, and atrial emptying. (You can think of the a wave as atrial contraction and the v wave as venous filling.)


To the naked eye, the two descents are the most obvious events in the normal jugular pulse. Of the two, the sudden collapse of the x descent late in systole is the more prominent, occurring just before the second heart sound. The y descent follows the second heart sound early in diastole.

Changes With Aging

Cardiovascular findings vary significantly with age. Aging may affect the location of the apical impulse, the pitch of heart sounds and murmurs, the stiffness of the arteries, and blood pressure.

The Apical Impulse and Heart Sounds.

The apical impulse is usually felt easily in children and young adults; as the chest deepens in its anteroposterior diameter, the impulse gets harder to find. For the same reason, splitting of the second heart sound may be harder to hear in older people as its pulmonic component becomes less audible. A physiologic third heart sound,



ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY commonly heard in children and young adults, may persist as late as the age of 40, especially in women. After approximately age 40, however, an S3 strongly suggests either ventricular failure or volume overload of the ventricle from valvular heart disease such as mitral regurgitation. In contrast, a fourth heart sound is seldom heard in young adults unless they are well conditioned athletes. An S4 may be heard in apparently healthy older people, but is also frequently associated with decreased ventricular compliance from heart disease. (See Table 7-5, Extra Heart Sounds in Diastole, p. __.)

Cardiac Murmurs.

At some time over the life span, almost everyone has a heart murmur. Most murmurs occur without other evidence of cardiovascular abnormality and may therefore be considered innocent normal variants. These common murmurs vary with age, and familiarity with their patterns helps you to distinguish normal from abnormal.

Children, adolescents, and young adults frequently have an innocent systolic murmur, often called a flow murmur, that is felt to reflect pulmonic blood flow. It is usually heard best in the 2nd to 4th left interspaces (see p. __). Late in pregnancy and during lactation, many women have a so-called mammary souffle‡ secondary to increased blood flow in their breasts. Although this murmur may be noted anywhere in the breasts, it is often heard most easily in the 2nd or 3rd interspace on either side of the sternum. A mammary souffle is typically both systolic and diastolic, but sometimes only the louder systolic component is audible.


Middle-aged and older adults commonly have an aortic systolic murmur. This has been heard in about a third of people near the age of 60, and in well over half of those reaching 85. Aging thickens the bases of the aortic cusps with fibrous tissue, calcification follows, and audible vibrations result. Turbulence produced by blood flow into a dilated aorta may contribute to this murmur. In most people, this process of fibrosis and calcification—known as aortic sclerosis—does not impede blood flow. In some, however, the valve cusps become progressively calcified and immobile, and true aortic stenosis, or obstruction of flow, develops. A normal carotid upstroke may help distinguish aortic sclerosis from aortic stenosis (in which the carotid upstroke is delayed), but clinical differentiation between benign aortic sclerosis and pathologic aortic stenosis may be difficult. A similar aging process affects the mitral valve, usually about a decade later than aortic sclerosis. Here degenerative changes with calcification of the mitral annulus, or valve ring, impair the ability of the mitral valve to close normally during systole, and cause the systolic murmur of mitral regurgitation. Because of the extra load placed on the heart by the leaking mitral valve, a murmur of mitral regurgitation cannot be considered innocent. Murmurs may originate in large blood vessels as well as in the heart. The jugular venous hum, which is very common in children and may still be heard through young adulthood, illustrates this point (see p. __). A second, more

Souffle is pronounced soó-fl, not like cheese soufflé. Both words come from a French word meaning puff.






important example is the cervical systolic murmur or bruit. In older people, systolic bruits heard in the middle or upper portions of the carotid arteries suggest, but do not prove, a partial arterial obstruction secondary to atherosclerosis. In contrast, cervical bruits in younger people are usually innocent. In children and young adults, systolic murmurs (bruits) are frequently heard just above the clavicle. Studies have shown that, while cervical bruits can be heard in almost 9 out of 10 children under the age of 5, their prevalence falls steadily to about 1 out of 3 in adolescence and young adulthood and to less than 1 out of 10 in middle age.

Arteries and Blood Pressure.

The aorta and large arteries stiffen with age as they become atherosclerotic. As the aorta becomes less distensible, a given stroke volume causes a greater rise in systolic blood pressure; systolic hypertension with a widened pulse pressure often ensues. Peripheral arteries tend to lengthen, become tortuous, and feel harder and less resilient. These changes do not necessarily indicate atherosclerosis, however, and you can make no inferences from them as to disease in the coronary or cerebral vessels. Lengthening and tortuosity of the aorta and its branches occasionally result in kinking or buckling of the carotid artery low in the neck, especially on the right. The resulting pulsatile mass, which occurs chiefly in hypertensive women, may be mistaken for a carotid aneurysm— a true dilatation of the artery. A tortuous aorta occasionally raises the pressure in the jugular veins on the left side of the neck by impairing their drainage within the thorax. In Western societies, systolic blood pressure tends to rise from childhood through old age. Diastolic blood pressure stops rising, however, roughly around the sixth decade. On the other extreme, some elderly people develop an increased tendency toward postural (orthostatic) hypotension—a sudden drop in blood pressure when they rise to a sitting or standing position. Elderly people are also more likely to have abnormal heart rhythms. These arrhythmias, like postural hypotension, may cause syncope, or temporary loss of consciousness.


THE HEALTH HISTORY Common or Concerning Symptoms ■ ■ ■ ■

Chest Pain Palpitations Shortness of breath, orthopnea, or paroxysmal dyspnea Swelling or edema

Chest pain or discomfort is one of the most important symptoms you will assess as a clinician. As you listen to the patient’s story, you must always keep serious adverse events in mind, such as angina pectoris, myocardial infarction, or even a dissecting aortic aneurysm. This section approaches chest symp258

See Table 6-1, Chest Pain, pp. __–__.




toms from the cardiac standpoint, including chest pain, palpitations, orthopnea, paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea (PND), and edema. For this complaint, however, it is wise to think through the range of possible cardiac, pulmonary, and extrathoracic etiologies. You should review the Health History section of Chapter 6, The Thorax and Lungs, which enumerates the various possible sources of chest pain: the myocardium, the pericardium, the aorta, the trachea and large bronchi, the parietal pleura, the esophagus, the chest wall, and extrathoracic structures such as the neck, gallbladder, and stomach. This review is important, since symptoms such as dyspnea, wheezing, cough, and even hemoptysis (see pp.__–__) can be cardiac as well as pulmonary in origin. Exertional chest pain with radiation to the left side of the neck and down the left arm in angina pectoris; sharp pain radating into the back or into the neck in aortic dissection.

Palpitations are an unpleasant awareness of the heartbeat. When reporting these sensations, patients use various terms such as skipping, racing, fluttering, pounding, or stopping of the heart. Palpitations may result from an irregular heartbeat, from rapid acceleration or slowing of the heart, or from increased forcefulness of cardiac contraction. Such perceptions, however, also depend on the sensitivities of patients to their own body sensations. Palpitations do not necessarily mean heart disease. In contrast, the most serious dysrrhythmias, such as ventricular tachycardia, often do not produce palpitations.

See Table 3-10 and 3-11 for selected heart rates and rhythms (pp. __–__)

You may ask directly about palpitations, but if the patient does not understand your question, reword it. “Are you ever aware of your heartbeat? What is it like?” Ask the patient to tap out the rhythm with a hand or finger. Was it fast or slow? Regular or irregular? How long did it last? If there was an episode of rapid heartbeats, did they start and stop suddenly or gradually? (For this group of symptoms, an electrocardiogram is indicated.)

Clues in the history include transient skips and flipflops (possible premature contractions); rapid regular beating of sudden onset and offset (possible paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia); a rapid regular rate of less than 120 beats per minute, especially if starting and stopping more gradually (possible sinus tachycardia).


Your initial questions should be broad . . . “Do you have any pain or discomfort in your chest?” Ask the patient to point to the pain and to describe all seven of its attributes. After listening closely to the patient’s description, move on to more specific questions such as “Is the pain related to exertion?” and “What kinds of activities bring on the pain?” Also “How intense is the pain, on a scale of 1 to 10?” . . . “Does it radiate into the neck, shoulder, back, or down your arm?” . . . “Are there any associated symptoms like shortness of breath, sweating, palpitations, or nausea?” . . . “Does it ever wake you up at night?” . . . “What do you do to make it better?”

You may wish to teach selected patients how to make serial measurements of their pulse rates in case they have further episodes.

Symptoms or signs of irregular heart action warrant an electrocardiogram. Only atrial fibrillation, which is “irregularly irregular,” can be reliably identified at the bedside.

Shortness of breath is a common patient concern and may be reported as dyspnea, orthopnea, or paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea. Dyspnea is an uncomfortable awareness of breathing that is inappropriate to a given level of exertion. This complaint is often made by patients with cardiac and/or pulmonary problems, as discussed in Chapter 6, The Thorax and Lungs, p. __. Orthopnea is dyspnea that occurs when the patient is lying down and improves when the patient sits up. Classically, it is quantified according to the CHAPTER 7


Orthopnea suggests left ventricular heart failure or mitral stenosis; it 259



number of pillows the patient uses for sleeping, or by the fact that the patient needs to sleep sitting up. (Make sure, however, that the patient uses extra pillows or sleeps upright because of shortness of breath when supine and not for other reasons.)

may also accompany obstructive lung disease.

Paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea, or PND, describes episodes of sudden dyspnea and orthopnea that awaken the patient from sleep, usually 1 or 2 hours after going to bed, prompting the patient to sit up, stand up, or go to a window for air. There may be associated wheezing and coughing. The episode usually subsides but may recur at about the same time on subsequent nights.

PND suggests left ventricular heart failure or mitral stenosis and may be mimicked by nocturnal asthma attacks.

Edema refers to the accumulation of excessive fluid in the interstitial tissue spaces and appears as swelling. Questions about edema are typically included in the cardiac history, but edema has many other causes, both local and general. Focus your questions on the location, timing, and setting of the swelling, and on associated symptoms. “Have you had any swelling anywhere? Where? . . . Anywhere else? When does it occur? Is it worse in the morning or at night? Do your shoes get tight?”

See Table __, Mechanisms and Patterns of Edema, pp. __–__.

Continue with “Are the rings tight on your fingers? Are your eyelids puffy or swollen in the morning? Have you had to let out your belt?” Also, “Have your clothes gotten too tight around the middle?” It is useful to ask patients who retain fluid to record daily morning weights, since edema may not be obvious until several liters of extra fluid have accumulated.

Edema occurs in renal and liver disease: periorbital puffiness, tight rings in nephrotic syndrome; enlarged waistline from ascites and liver failure.

Dependent edema appears in the lowest body parts (the feet and lower legs) when sitting or the sacrum when bedridden. Causes may be cardiac (congestive heart failure), nutritional (hypoalbuminemia), or positional.



Common or Concerning Symptoms ■ ■ ■

Cholesterol level Lifestyle management: diet, weight reducgtion, exercise, smoking Screening for hypertension

Despite improvements in risk factor modification, cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death for both men and women, accounting for about one third of all U.S. deaths. Both primary prevention, in those without evidence of cardiovascular disease, and secondary prevention, in those with known cardiovascular events such as angina or myocardial infarction, remain important priorities for the office, the hospital, and the nation’s public health. Education and counseling will guide your patients to maintain optimal levels of cholesterol, weight, and exercise. 260


HEALTH PROMOTION AND COUNSELING In May 2001 the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health published the Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program Expert Panel, which sets standards for the detection, evaluation, and treatment of high cholesterol levels in adults.§ Students and clinicians are well-advised to review the Panel’s recommended guidelines, which can be summarized only briefly here. First, obtain a fasting lipid profile in all adults aged 20 years or older once every 5 years. Your counseling and interventions should be based on the patient’s levels of low- and high-density lipoproteins, or LDL and HDL, and on the presence of cardiac risk factors. The report notes that the risk of cardiac disease increases continuously as the LDL levels range from low to high. It sets new targets for optimal lipid levels (mg/dL): ■

LDL cholesterol


Total cholesterol


HDL cholesterol

<40 is low; ≥60 is high

Second, assess additional major risk factors and “risk equivalents.” Risk factors are smoking, hypertension if blood pressure is greater than 140/90 mm Hg or the patient is on medication, HDL less than 40 mg/dL, family history of premature coronary heart disease (affected male first degree relative younger than 55 years; affected female younger than 65 years), and age, namely men 45 years or older and women 55 years or older. Risk equivalents include diabetes; other forms of atherosclerotic disease—peripheral vascular disease, abdominal aortic aneurysm, and symptomatic carotid artery disease; and 2 or more risk factors, raising the 10-year risk of coronary heart disease to more than 20%. The report includes tables for assessing 10-year risk for men and for women if multiple risk factors are present.


The desired goal for the patient’s LDL level varies according to the number of risk factors, as shown below. Risk Category 0–1 risk factor 2+ or multiple risk factors Coronary heart disease (CHD) or CHD risk equivalents

LDL Level Goal (mg/dL) <160 <130 <100

Additional treatment is recommended if the triglyceride level exceeds 200 mg/dL. Once risk is assessed, your advice about risk reduction should cover lifestyle changes, including diet, weight reduction, and exercise, as well as drug ther§ Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel. Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults—Executive Summary. National Cholesterol Education Program, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health. NIH Publication No. 01-3670. May 2001. Accessed 8/31/01.




HEALTH PROMOTION AND COUNSELING apy when indicated. Dietary recommendations should begin with a dietary history (see pp.__–__), then target low intake of saturated fats (less than 7% of total calories) and cholesterol (less than 200 mg per day) and high intake of fiber, up to 20 to 30 grams per day. Together with the patient, review the basic principles for all healthy diets: high intake of fruits, vegetables, and grains; use of low-fat dairy products and lean meats, substituting chicken and fish when possible; and minimal intake of processed food and added salt and sugar, both when cooking and at the table. Eggs with yolks, the most concentrated source of cholesterol, should be limited to two to four per week. Sources of fiber include whole-grain breads; pasta; and oat, wheat, corn, or multigrain cereals. For counseling about weight, apply the principles for assessing body mass index enumerated in Chapter 3 (pp. __–__). To maintain a desirable body weight, energy expended must balance calories consumed. Excess calories are stored as fat. Metabolism of food fat, which contains 9 calories of potential energy per gram, uses up fewer calories than metabolism of foods high in carbohydrate or protein, which provide 4 calories of energy per gram. Patients with high fat intake are more likely to accumulate body fat than patients with increased protein and carbohydrate intake (and patients with low-fat diets may lose weight more quickly). Review the patient’s eating habits and weight patterns in the family. Set realistic goals that will help the patient maintain healthy eating patterns for life.


Regular exercise is the number one recommendation of the U.S. Public Health Service’s Healthy People 2000. To reduce risk for coronary artery disease, counsel patients to pursue aerobic exercise, or exercise that increases muscle oxygen uptake. (Anaerobic exercise relies on energy sources within contracting muscles rather than inhaled oxygen and is usually nonsustained.) Deep breathing, sweating in cool temperatures, and pulse rates exceeding 60% of the maximum normal age-adjusted heart rate (220 minus the person’s age) are markers of aerobic exercise. Since the cardiovascular benefits of exercise are long term, to help motivate patients be sure to emphasize that the patient will look and feel better as soon as exercise begins. Before selecting an exercise regimen, do a thorough evaluation of any cardiovascular, pulmonary, or musculoskeletal conditions presenting a risk for exercise. Guiding the patient to make time to exercise as a regular activity is often more important than the type of exercise chosen. For cardiovascular benefit, patients should exerise for 20 to 60 minutes at least 3 times a week. For patients losing weight, paradoxically, the metabolic rate may drop when caloric intake declines, known as the starvation response. Regular exercise will counteract this response.

During the physical examination, it is important to screen for hypertension and for lipid-containing nodules on the skin, known as xanthomas. Hypertension (see p. __) contributes significantly to death from CHD and stroke. Recommended blood pressure screening for healthy adults is generally once every 2 years. Search for xanthomas in patients with familial lipoprotein disorders. These may appear around the eyelids, over extensor tendons, and occasionally as small eruptive papules on the extremities, buttocks, and trunk. 262




Preview: Recording the Physical Examination— The Cardiovascular Examination Note that initially you may use sentences to describe your findings; later you will

use phrases. The style below contains phrases appropriate for most writeups. Unfamiliar terms are explained in the next section, Techniques of Examination. “The jugular venous pulse (JVP) is 3 cm above the sternal angle with the head of bed elevated to 30°. Carotid upstrokes are brisk, without bruits. The point of maximal impulse (PMI) is tapping, 7 cm lateral to the midsternal line in the 5th intercostal space. Good S1 and S2. No murmurs or extra sounds.” OR


“The JVP is 5 cm above the sternal angle with the head of bed elevated to 50°. Carotid upstrokes are brisk; a bruit is heard over the left carotid artery. The PMI is diffuse, 3 cm in diameter, palpated at the anterior axillary line in the 5th and 6th intercostal spaces. S1 and S2 are soft. S3 present. Harsh 2/6 holosystolic murmur best heard at the apex, radiating to the lower left sternal border (LLSB). No S4 or diastolic murmurs.”



Suggests possible congestive heart failure with possible left carotid occlusion and mitral regurgitation



TECHNIQUES OF EXAMINATION As you begin the cardiovascular examination, review the blood pressure and heart rate recorded during the General Survey and Vital Signs at the start of the physical examination. If you need to repeat these measurements, or if they have not already been done, take the time to measure the blood pressure and heart rate using optimal technique (see Chapter 3, Beginning the Physical Examination: General Survey and Vital Signs, especially pp. __–__). In brief, for blood pressure, after letting the patient rest for at least 5 minutes in a quiet setting, choose a correctly sized cuff and position the patient’s arm at heart level, either resting on a table if seated or supported at midchest level if standing. Make sure the bladder of the cuff is centered over the brachial artery. Inflate the cuff about 30 mm Hg above the pressure at which the radial pulse disappears. As you deflate the cuff, listen first for the sounds of at least two consecutive heartbeats—these mark the systolic pressure. Then listen for the disappearance point of the heartbeats, which marks the diastolic pressure. For heart rate, measure the radial pulse using the pads of your index and middle fingers, or assess the apical pulse using your stethoscope (see pp. __–__). Now you are ready to systematically assess the components of the cardiovascular system: ■

The jugular venous pressure

The carotid upstrokes and presence or absence of bruits

The point of maximal impulse (PMI) and any heaves, lifts, or thrills

The first and second heart sounds, S1 and S2

Presence or absence of extra heart sounds such as S3 or S4

Presence or absence of any cardiac murmurs.

Jugular Venous Pressure and Pulsations


Jugular Venous Pressure (JVP). Estimating the JVP is one of the most important and frequently used skills of physical examination. At first it will seem difficult, but with practice and supervision you will find that the JVP provides valuable information about the patient’s volume status and cardiac function. As you have learned, the JVP reflects pressure in the right atrium, or central venous pressure, and is best assessed from pulsations in the right internal jugular vein. Note, however, that the jugular veins and pulsations are difficult to see in children younger than 12 years of age, so they are not useful for evaluating the cardiovascular system in this age group (see Chapter 17, pp. __–__). To assist you in learning this portion of the cardiac examination, steps for assessing the JVP are outlined on the next page. As you begin your assessment, take a moment to reflect on the patient’s volume status and consider how you may need to alter the elevation of the head of the bed or examin-





ing table. The usual starting point for assessing the JVP is to elevate the head of the bed to 30°. Identify the external jugular vein on each side, then find the internal jugular venous pulsations transmitted from deep in the neck to the overlying soft tissues. The JVP is the elevation at which the highest oscillation point, or meniscus, of the jugular venous pulsations is usually evident in euvolemic patients. In patients who are hypovolemic, you may anticipate that the JVP will be low, causing you to subsequently lower the head of the bed, sometimes even to 0°, to see the point of oscillation best. Likewise, in volume-overloaded or hypervolemic patients, you may anticipate that the JVP will be high, causing you to subsequently raise the head of the bed.

A hypovolemic patient may have to lie flat before you see the veins. In contrast, when jugular venous pressure is increased, an elevation up to 60° or even 90° may be required. In all these positions, the sternal angle usually remains about 5 cm above the right atrium, as diagrammed on p. __.


Make the patient comfortable. Raise the head slightly on a pillow to relax the sternomastoid muscles. Raise the head of the bed or examining table to about 30°. Turn the patient’s head slightly away from the side you are inspecting. Use tangential lighting and examine both sides of the neck. Identify the external jugular vein on each side, then find the internal jugular venous pulsations. If necessary, raise or lower the head of the bed until you can see the oscillation point or meniscus of the internal jugular venous pulsations in the lower half of the neck. Focus on the right internal jugular vein. Look for pulsations in the suprasternal notch, between the attachments of the sternomastoid muscle on the sternum and clavicle, or just posterior to the sternomastoid. The table below helps you distinguish internal jugular pulsations from those of the carotid artery. Identify the highest point of pulsation in the right internal jugular vein. Extend a long rectangular object or card horizontally from this point and a centimeter ruler vertically from the sternal angle, making an exact right angle. Measure the vertical distance in centimeters above the sternal angle where the horizontal object crosses the ruler. This distance, measured in centimeters above the sternal angle or the atrium, is the JVP.


The following features help to distinguish jugular from carotid artery pulsations:

Internal Jugular Pulsations

Carotid Pulsations

Rarely palpable


Soft, rapid, undulating quality, usually with two elevations and two troughs per heart beat

A more vigorous thrust with a single outward component

Pulsations eliminated by light pressure on the vein(s) just above the sternal end of the clavicle

Pulsations not eliminated by this pressure

Level of the pulsations changes with position, dropping as the patient becomes more upright.

Level of the pulsations unchanged by position

Level of the pulsations usually descends with inspiration.

Level of the pulsations not affected by inspiration






Establishing the true vertical and horizontal lines to measure the JVP is difficult, much like the problem of hanging a picture straight when you are close to it. Place your ruler on the sternal angle and line it up with something in the room that you know to be vertical. Then place a card or rectangular object at an exact right angle to the ruler. This constitutes your horizontal line. Move it up or down—still horizontal—so that the lower edge rests at the top of the jugular pulsations, and read the vertical distance on the ruler. Round your measurement off to the nearest centimeter.

Increased pressure suggests rightsided heart failure or, less commonly, constrictive pericarditis, tricuspid stenosis, or superior vena cava obstruction. In patients with obstructive lung disease, venous pressure may appear elevated on expiration only; the veins collapse on inspiration. This finding does not indicate congestive heart failure.

Venous pressure measured at greater than 3 cm or possibly 4 cm above the sternal angle, or more than 8 cm or 9 cm in total distance above the right atrium, is considered elevated above normal.


If you are unable to see pulsations in the internal jugular veins, look for them in the external jugulars, although they may not be visible here. If you see none, use the point above which the external jugular veins appear to collapse. Make this observation on each side of the neck. Measure the vertical distance of this point from the sternal angle.

Unilateral distention of the external jugular vein is usually due to local kinking or obstruction. Occasionally, even bilateral distention has a local cause.

The highest point of venous pulsations may lie below the level of the sternal angle. Under these circumstances, venous pressure is not elevated and seldom needs to be measured. Even though students may not see clinicians making these measurements very frequently in clinical settings, practicing exact techniques for measuring the JVP is important. Eventually, with experience, clinicians and cardiologists come to identify the JVP and estimate its height visually.

Jugular Venous Pulsations.

Observe the amplitude and timing of the jugular venous pulsations. In order to time these pulsations, feel the left carotid artery with your right thumb or listen to the heart simultaneously.


Prominent a waves indicate increased resistance to right atrial contraction, as in tricuspid stenosis




The a wave just precedes S1 and the carotid pulse, the x descent can be seen as a systolic collapse, the v wave almost coincides with S2, and the y descent follows early in diastole. Look for absent or unusually prominent waves.

or, more commonly, the decreased compliance of a hypertrophied right ventricle. The a waves disappear in atrial fibrillation. Larger v waves characterize tricuspid regurgitation.

a v y x







Considerable practice and experience are required to master jugular venous pulsations. A beginner is probably well-advised to concentrate primarily on jugular venous pressure.

The Carotid Pulse After you measure the JVP, move on to assessment of the carotid pulse. The carotid pulse provides valuable information about cardiac function and is especially useful for detecting stenosis or insufficiency of the aortic valve. Take the time to assess the quality of the carotid upstroke, its amplitude and contour, and presence or absence of any overlying thrills or bruits.


To assess amplitude and contour, the patient should be lying down with the head of the bed still elevated to about 30°. When feeling for the carotid artery, first inspect the neck for carotid pulsations. These may be visible just medial to the sternomastoid muscles. Then place your left index and middle fingers (or left thumb||) on the right carotid artery in the lower third of the neck, press posteriorly, and feel for pulsations.

For irregular rhythms, see Table 3-10, Selected Heart Rates and Rhythms (p. __), and Table 3-4, Selected Irregular Rhythms (p.__).

A tortuous and kinked carotid artery may produce a unilateral pulsatile bulge.

Decreased pulsations may be caused by decreased stroke volume, but may also be due to local factors in the artery such as atherosclerotic narrowing or occlusion.


Although there is a widespread prejudice against using thumbs to assess pulses, they are useful for palpating large arteries.






Press just inside the medial border of a well-relaxed sternomastoid muscle, roughly at the level of the cricoid cartilage. Avoid pressing on the carotid sinus, which lies at the level of the top of the thyroid cartilage. For the left carotid artery, use your right fingers or thumb. Never press both carotids at the same time. This may decrease blood flow to the brain and induce syncope. Slowly increase pressure until you feel a maximal pulsation, then slowly decrease pressure until you best sense the arterial pressure and contour. Try to assess:

Pressure on the carotid sinus may cause a reflex drop in pulse rate or blood pressure.

See Table 3-9, Abnormalities of the Arterial Pulse and Pressure Waves (p. __).

The amplitude of the pulse. This correlates reasonably well with the pulse pressure.

Small, thready, or weak pulse in cardiogenic shock; bounding pulse in aortic insufficiency (see p. __).

The contour of the pulse wave, namely the speed of the upstroke, the duration of its summit, and the speed of the downstroke. The normal upstroke is brisk. It is smooth, rapid, and follows S1 almost immediately. The summit is smooth, rounded, and roughly midsystolic. The downstroke is less abrupt than the upstroke.

Delayed carotid upstroke in aortic stenosis

Any variations in amplitude, either from beat to beat or with respiration.

Pulsus alternans, bigeminal pulse (beat-to-beat variation); paradoxical pulse (respiratory variation)

Thrills and Bruits.

During palpation of the carotid artery, you may detect humming vibrations, or thrills, that feel like the throat of a purring cat. Routinely, but especially in the presence of a thrill, you should listen over both carotid arteries with the diaphragm of your stethoscope for a bruit, a murmur-like sound of vascular rather than cardiac origin. You should also listen for bruits over the carotid arteries if the patient is middle-aged or elderly or if you suspect cerebrovascular disease. Ask the patient to hold breathing for a moment so that breath sounds do not obscure the vascular sound. Heart sounds alone do not constitute a bruit.


Further examination of arterial pulses is described in Chapter 14, The Peripheral Vascular System.

A carotid bruit with or without a thrill in a middle-aged or older person suggests but does not prove arterial narrowing. An aortic murmur may radiate to the carotid artery and sound like a bruit.

The Brachial Artery. The carotid arteries reflect aortic pulsations more accurately, but in patients with carotid obstruction, kinking, or thrills, they are unsuitable. If so, assess the pulse in the brachial artery, applying the techniques described above for determining amplitude and contour. Use the index and middle fingers or thumb of your opposite hand. Cup





your hand under the patient’s elbow and feel for the pulse just medial to the biceps tendon. The patient’s arm should rest with the elbow extended, palm up. With your free hand, you may need to flex the elbow to a varying degree to get optimal muscular relaxation.

The Heart For most of the cardiac examination, the patient should be supine with the upper body raised by elevating the head of the bed or table to about 30°. Two other positions are also needed: (1) turning to the left side, and (2) leaning forward. The examiner should stand at the patient’s right side. The table below summarizes patient positions and a suggested sequence for the examination.

Sequence of the Cardiac Examination Patient Position


Supine, with the head elevated 30°

Inspect and palpate the precordium: the 2nd interspaces; the right ventricle; and the left ventricle, including the apical impulse (diameter, location, amplitude, duration).

Left lateral decubitus

Palpate the apical impulse if not previously detected. Listen at the apex with the bell of the stethoscope.

Supine, with the head elevated 30°

Listen at the tricuspid area with the bell.

Accentuated Findings

Low-pitched extra sounds (S 3, opening snap, diastolic rumble of mitral stenosis)

Listen at all the auscultatory areas with the diaphragm. Sitting, leaning forward, after full exhalation

Listen along the left sternal border and at the apex.

Soft decrescendo diastolic murmur of aortic insufficiency


During the cardiac examination, remember to correlate your findings with the patient’s jugular venous pressure and carotid pulse. It is also important to identify both the anatomic location of your findings and their timing in the cardiac cycle. ■

Note the anatomic location of sounds in terms of interspaces and their distance from the midsternal, midclavicular, or axillary lines. The midsternal line offers the most reliable zero point for measurement, but some feel that the midclavicular line accommodates the different sizes and shapes of patients.

Identify the timing of impulses or sounds in relation to the cardiac cycle. Timing of sounds is often possible through auscultation alone. In most people with normal or slow heart rates, it is easy to identify the paired heart sounds by listening through a stethoscope. S1 is the first of these sounds, S2 is the second, and the relatively long diastolic interval separates one pair from the next.







S2 Systole

S1 Diastole

S2 Systole

The relative intensity of these sounds may also be helpful. S1 is usually louder than S2 at the apex; more reliably, S2 is usually louder than S1 at the base. Even experienced clinicians are sometimes uncertain about the timing of what they hear, especially when they encounter extra heart sounds and murmurs. “Inching” can then be helpful. Return to a place on the chest—most often the base—where it is easy to identify S1 and S2. Get their rhythm clearly in mind. Then inch your stethoscope down the chest in steps until you hear the new sound. Auscultation alone, however, can be misleading. The intensities of S1 and S2, for example, may be abnormal. At rapid heart rates, moreover, diastole shortens, and at about a rate of 120 the durations of systole and diastole become indistinguishable. Use palpation of either the carotid pulse or the apical impulse to guide the timing of your observations. Both occur in early systole, right after the first heart sound.

For example, S1 is decreased in first-degree heart block, and S2 is decreased in aortic stenosis.

INSPECTION AND PALPATION Careful inspection of the anterior chest may reveal the location of the apical impulse or point of maximal impluse (PMI), or less commonly, the ventricular movements of a left-sided S3 or S4. Tangential light is best for making these observations.


Use palpation to confirm the characteristics of the apical impulse. Palpation is also valuable for detecting thrills and the ventricular movements of an S3 or S4. Be sure to assess the right ventricle by palpating the right ventricular area at the lower left sternal border and in the subxiphoid area, the pulmonary artery in the left 2nd interspace, and the aortic area in the right 2nd interspace. Review the diagram on the next page. Note that the “areas” designated for the left and right ventricle, the pulmonary artery, and the aorta pertain to the majority of patients whose hearts are situated in the left chest, with normal anatomy of the great vessels. Begin with general palpation of the chest wall. First palpate for impulses using your fingerpads. Hold them flat or obliquely on the body surface, using light pressure for an S3 or S4, and firmer pressure for S1 and S2. Ventricular impulses may heave or lift your fingers. Then check for thrills by pressing the ball of your hand firmly on the chest. If subsequent auscultation reveals a loud murmur, go back and check for thrills over that area again.


Thrills may accompany loud, harsh, or rumbling murmurs as in aortic stenosis, patent ductus arteriosus, ventricular septal defect, and, less commonly, mitral stenosis. They are palpated more easily in patient positions that accentuate the murmur.


TECHNIQUES OF EXAMINATION Right 2nd interspace— aortic area

EXAMPLES OF ABNORMALITIES Left 2nd interspace— pulmonic area

Left sternal border right ventricular area

Epigastric (subxiphoid)

Apex left ventricular area

The Apical Impulse or Point of Maximal Impulse (PMI)—Left Ventricular Area. The apical impulse represents the brief early pulsation of the left ventricle as it moves anteriorly during contraction and touches the chest wall. Note that in most examinations the apical impulse is the point of maximal impulse, or PMI; however, some pathologic conditions may produce a pulsation that is more prominent than the apex beat, such as an enlarged right ventricle, a dilated pulmonary artery, or an aneurysm of the aorta.


If you cannot identify the apical impulse with the patient supine, ask the patient to roll partly onto the left side—this is the left lateral decubitus position. Palpate again using the palmar surfaces of several fingers. If you cannot find the apical impulse, ask the patient to exhale fully and stop breathing for a few seconds. When examining a woman, it may be helpful to displace the left breast upward or laterally as necessary; alternatively, ask her to do this for you.



On rare occasions, a patient has dextrocardia—a heart situated on the right side. The apical impulse will then be found on the right. If you cannot find an apical impulse, percuss for the dullness of heart and liver and for the tympany of the stomach. In situs inversus, all three of these structures are on opposite sides from normal. A right-sided heart with a normally placed liver and stomach is usually associated with congenital heart disease.




Once you have found the apical impulse, make finer assessments with your fingertips, and then with one finger.

With experience, you will learn to feel the apical impulse in a high percentage of patients, but obesity, a very muscular chest wall, or an increased anteroposterior diameter of the chest may make it undetectable. Some apical impulses hide behind the rib cage, despite positioning. Now assess the location, diameter, amplitude, and duration of the apical impulse. You may wish to have the patient breathe out and briefly stop breathing to check your findings. Location. Try to assess location with the patient supine, since the left lateral decubitus position displaces the apical impulse to the left. Locate two points: the interspaces, usually the 5th or possibly the 4th, which give the vertical location; and the distance in centimeters from the midsternal line, which gives the horizontal location. (Note that even though the apical impulse normally falls roughly at the midclavicular line, measurements from this line are less reproducible since clinicians vary in their estimates of the midpoint of the clavicle.)



See Table 7-1, Variations and Abnormalities of the Ventricular Impulses (p. __).

The apical impulse may be displaced upward and to the left by pregnancy or a high left diaphragm. Lateral displacement from cardiac enlargement in congestive heart failure, cardiomyopathy, ischemic heart disease. Displacement in deformities of the thorax and mediastinal shift.

2 3 4 5 Apical pulse Midsternal line

Midclavicular line




Diameter. Assess the diameter of the apical impulse. In the supine patient, it usually measures less than 2.5 cm and occupies only one interspace. It may be larger in the left lateral decubitus position.

In the left lateral decubitus position, a diameter greater than 3 cm indicates left ventricular enlargement.

Amplitude. Estimate the amplitude of the impulse. It is usually small and feels brisk and tapping. Some young persons have an increased amplitude, or hyperkinetic impulse, especially when excited or after exercise; its duration, however, is normal.

Increased amplitude may also reflect hyperthyroidism, severe anemia, pressure overload of the left ventricle (e.g., aortic stenosis), or volume overload of the left ventricle (e.g., mitral regurgitation).


S2 Normal


S2 Hyperkinetic

Duration. Duration is the most useful characteristic of the apical impulse for identifying hypertrophy of the left ventricle. To assess duration, listen to the heart sounds as you feel the apical impulse, or watch the movement of your stethoscope as you listen at the apex. Estimate the proportion of systole occupied by the apical impulse. Normally it lasts through the first two thirds of systole, and often less, but does not continue to the second heart sound.


S2 Normal


S2 Sustained

A sustained, high-amplitude impulse that is normally located suggests left ventricular hypertrophy from pressure overload (as in hypertension). If such an impulse is displaced laterally, consider volume overload.




A sustained low-amplitude (hypokinetic) impulse may result from dilated cardiomyopathy.

S3 and S4. By inspection and palpation, you may detect ventricular movements that are synchronous with pathologic third and fourth heart sounds. For the left ventricular impulses, feel the apical beat gently with one finger. The patient should lie partly on the left side, breathe out, and briefly stop breathing. By inking an X on the apex you may be able to see these movements.

A brief middiastolic impulse indicates an S3; an impulse just before the systolic apical beat itself indicates an S4.

The Left Sternal Border in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Interspaces— Right Ventricular Area. The patient should rest supine at 30°. Place the tips of your curved fingers in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th interspaces and try to feel the systolic impulse of the right ventricle. Again, asking the patient to breathe out and then briefly stop breathing improves your observation.






If an impulse is palpable, assess its location, amplitude, and duration. A brief systolic tap of low or slightly increased amplitude is sometimes felt in thin or shallow-chested persons, especially when stroke volume is increased, as by anxiety.

A marked increase in amplitude with little or no change in duration occurs in chronic volume overload of the right ventricle, as from an atrial septal defect. An impulse with increased amplitude and duration occurs with pressure overload of the right ventricle, as in pulmonic stenosis or pulmonary hypertension.

The diastolic movements of right-sided third and fourth heart sounds may be felt occasionally. Feel for them in the 4th and 5th left interspaces. Time them by auscultation or carotid palpation.


In patients with an increased anteroposterior (AP) diameter, palpation of the right ventricle in the epigastric or subxiphoid area is also useful. With your hand flattened, press your index finger just under the rib cage and up toward the left shoulder and try to feel right ventricular pulsations.


In obstructive pulmonary disease, hyperinflated lung may prevent palpation of an enlarged right ventricle in the left parasternal area. The impulse is felt easily, however, high in the epigastrium and heart sounds are also often heard best here.




Asking the patient to inhale and briefly stop breathing is helpful. The inspiratory position moves your hand well away from the pulsations of the abdominal aorta, which might otherwise be confusing. The diastolic movements of S3 and S4, if present, may also be felt here.

The Left 2nd Interspace—Pulmonic Area.

This interspace overlies the pulmonary artery. As the patient holds expiration, look and feel for an impulse and feel for possible heart sounds. In thin or shallow-chested patients, the pulsation of a pulmonary artery may sometimes be felt here, especially after exercise or with excitement.

A prominent pulsation here often accompanies dilatation or increased flow in the pulmonary artery. A palpable S2 suggests increased pressure in the pulmonary artery (pulmonary hypertension).

The Right 2nd Interspace—Aortic Area.

A palpable S2 suggests systemic hypertension. A pulsation here suggests a dilated or aneurysmal aorta.

This interspace overlies the aortic outflow tract. Search for pulsations and palpable heart sounds.

PERCUSSION In most cases, palpation has replaced percussion in the estimation of cardiac size. When you cannot feel the apical impulse, however, percussion may suggest where to search for it. Occasionally, percussion may be your only tool. Under these circumstances, cardiac dullness often occupies a large area. Starting well to the left on the chest, percuss from resonance toward cardiac dullness in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and possibly 6th interspaces.

A markedly dilated failing heart may have a hypokinetic apical impulse that is displaced far to the left. A large pericardial effusion may make the impulse undetectable.



Auscultation of heart sounds and murmurs is a rewarding and important skill of physical examination that leads directly to several clinical diagnoses. In this section, you will learn the techniques for identifying S1 and S2, extra sounds in systole and diastole, and systolic and diastolic murmurs. Review the auscultatory areas on the next page with the following caveats: (1) some authorities discourage use of these names since murmurs of more than one origin may occur in a given area; and (2) these areas may not apply to patients with dextrocardia or anomalies of the great vessels. Also, if the heart is enlarged or displaced, your pattern of auscultation should be altered accordingly. Listen to the heart with your stethoscope in the right 2nd interspace close to the sternum, along the left sternal border in each interspace from the 2nd through the 5th, and at the apex. Recall that the upper margins of the heart are sometimes termed the “base” of the heart. Some clinicians begin auscultation at the apex, others at the base. Either pattern is satisfactory. The room should be quiet. You should also listen in any area where you detect an abnormality and in areas adjacent to murmurs to determine where they are loudest and where they radiate. CHAPTER 7




2nd right interspace – aortic area


2nd left interspace – pulmonic area

Heart sounds and murmurs that originate in the four valves are illustrated in the diagram below. Pulmonic sounds are usually heard best in the 2nd and 3rd left interspaces, but may extend further. Aortic


Apex – mitral area Lower left sternal border – tricuspid area

Know your stethoscope! It is important to understand the uses of both the diaphragm and the bell. ■

The diaphragm. The diaphragm is better for picking up the relatively highpitched sounds of S1 and S2, the murmurs of aortic and mitral regurgitation, and pericardial friction rubs. Listen throughout the precordium with the diaphragm, pressing it firmly against the chest.

The bell. The bell is more sensitive to the low-pitched sounds of S3 and S4 and the murmur of mitral stenosis. Apply the bell lightly, with just enough pressure to produce an air seal with its full rim. Use the bell at the apex, then move medially along the lower sternal border. Resting the heel of your hand on the chest like a fulcrum may help you to maintain light pressure.



(Redrawn from Leatham A: Introduction to the Examination of the Cardiovascular System, 2nd ed. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1979)


Pressing the bell firmly on the chest makes it function more like the diaphragm by stretching the underlying skin. Low-pitched sounds such as S3 and S4 may disappear with this technique—an observation that may help to identify them. In contrast, high-pitched sounds such as a midsystolic click, an ejection sound, or an opening snap, will persist or get louder. Listen to the entire precordium with the patient supine. For new patients and patients needing a complete cardiac examination, use two other important positions to listen for mitral stenosis and aortic regurgitation.

Ask the patient to roll partly onto the left side into the left lateral decubitus position, bringing the left ventricle close to the chest wall. Place the bell of your stethoscope lightly on the apical impulse.


This position accentuates or brings out a left-sided S3 and S4 and mitral murmurs, especially mitral stenosis. You may otherwise miss these important findings.



Ask the patient to sit up, lean forward, exhale completely, and stop breathing in expiration. Pressing the diaphragm of your stethoscope on the chest, listen along the left sternal border and at the apex, pausing periodically so the patient may breathe.



This position accentuates or brings out aortic murmurs. You may easily miss the soft diastolic murmur of aortic regurgitation unless you use this position.

Listening for Heart Sounds.

Throughout your examination, take your time at each auscultatory area. Concentrate on each of the events in the cardiac cycle listed on the next page and sounds you may hear in systole and diastole.






Auscultatory Sounds Heart Sounds

Guides to Auscultation


Note its intensity and any apparent splitting. Normal splitting is detectable along the lower left sternal border.


Note its intensity.

Split S2

Listen for splitting of this sound in the 2nd and 3rd left interspaces. Ask the patient to breathe quietly, and then slightly more deeply than normal. Does S2 split into its two components, as it normally does? If not, ask the patient to (1) breathe a little more deeply, or (2) sit up. Listen again. A thick chest wall may make the pulmonic component of S1 inaudible.

See Table 7-2, Variations in the First Heart Sound (p. __). See Table 7-3, Variations in the Second Heart Sound (p. __). When either A2 or P2 is absent, as in disease of the respective valves, S2 is persistently single.

Width of split. How wide is the split? It is normally quite narrow. Timing of split. When in the respiratory cycle do you hear the split? It is normally heard late in inspiration.

Expiratory splitting suggests an abnormality (p. __).

Does the split disappear as it should, during exhalation? If not, listen again with the patient sitting up.

Persistent splitting results from delayed closure of the pulmonic valve or early closure of the aortic valve.

Intensity of A2 and P2. Compare the intensity of the two components, A2 and P2. A2 is usually louder.

A loud P2 suggests pulmonary hypertension.

Extra Sounds in Systole

Such as ejection sounds or systolic clicks

The systolic click of mitral valve prolapse is the most common of these sounds. See Table 7-4, Extra Heart Sounds in Systole (p. __).

Extra Sounds in Diastole

Such as S3, S4, or an opening snap


Systolic and Diastolic Murmurs

Note their location, timing, intensity, and pitch, and the effects of respiration on the sounds.

Note the location, timing, intensity, and pitch, and the effects of respiration on the sounds. (An S3 or S4 in athletes is a normal finding.) Murmurs are differentiated from heart sounds by their longer duration.

See Table 7-5, Extra Heart Sounds in Diastole (p. __).

See Table 7-6, Midsystolic Murmurs (pp. __–__), Table 7-7, Pansystolic (Holosystolic) Murmurs (p. __), and Table 7-8, Diastolic Murmurs (p. __).

Attributes of Heart Murmurs.

If you detect a heart murmur, you must learn to identify and describe its timing, shape, location of maximal intensity, radiation or transmission from this location, intensity, pitch, and quality.

Timing. First decide if you are hearing a systolic murmur, falling between S1 and S2, or a diastolic murmur, falling between S2 and S1. Palpating the carotid pulse as you listen can help you with timing. Murmurs that coincide with the carotid upstroke are systolic.

Diastolic murmurs usually indicate valvular heart disease. Systolic murmurs may indicate valvular disease, but often occur when the heart is entirely normal.

Systolic murmurs are usually midsystolic or pansystolic. Late systolic murmurs may also be heard.













A midsystolic murmur begins after S1 and stops before S2. Brief gaps are audible between the murmur and the heart sounds. Listen carefully for the gap just before S2. It is heard more easily and, if present, usually confirms the murmur as midsystolic, not pansystolic.

Midsystolic murmurs most often are related to blood flow across the semilunar (aortic and pulmonic) valves. See Table 7-6, Midsystolic Murmurs (pp. __–__).

A pansystolic (holosystolic) murmur starts with S1 and stops at S2, without a gap between murmur and heart sounds.

Pansystolic murmurs often occur with regurgitant (backward) flow across the atrioventricular valves. See Table 7-7, Pansystolic (Holosystolic) Murmurs (p. __).

A late systolic murmur usually starts in mid- or late systole and persists up to S2.

This is the murmur of mitral valve prolapse and is often, but not always, preceded by a systolic click (see p. __).


Diastolic murmurs may be early diastolic, middiastolic, or late diastolic.








An early diastolic murmur starts right after S2, without a discernible gap, and then usually fades into silence before the next S1.

Early diastolic murmurs typically accompany regurgitant flow across incompetent semilunar valves.

A middiastolic murmur starts a short time after S2. It may fade away, as illustrated, or merge into a late diastolic murmur.

Middiastolic and presystolic murmurs reflect turbulent flow across the atrioventricular valves. See Table 7-8, Diastolic Murmurs (p. __).

A late diastolic (presystolic) murmur starts late in diastole and typically continues up to S1.

An occasional murmur, such as the murmur of a patent ductus arteriosus, starts in systole and continues without pause through S2 into but not necessarily throughout diastole. It is then called a continuous murmur. Other cardiovascular sounds, such as pericardial friction rubs or venous hums, have both systolic and diastolic components. Observe and describe these sounds according to the characteristics used for systolic and diastolic murmurs.



The combination of systolic and diastolic murmurs, each with its own characteristics, may have similar timing. See Table 7-9, Cardiovascular Sounds With Both Systolic and Diastolic Components (p. __).




Shape. The shape or configuration of a murmur is determined by its intensity over time. A crescendo murmur grows louder.

The presystolic murmur of mitral stenosis in normal sinus rhythm

A decrescendo murmur grows softer.

The early diastolic murmur of aortic regurgitation

A crescendo–descrescendo murmur first rises in intensity, then falls.

The midsystolic murmur of aortic stenosis and innocent flow murmurs

A plateau murmur has the same intensity throughout.

The pansystolic murmur of mitral regurgitation

Location of Maximal Intensity. This is determined by the site where the murmur originates. Find the location by exploring the area where you hear the murmur. Describe where you hear it best in terms of the interspace and its relation to the sternum, the apex, or the midsternal, the midclavicular, or one of the axillary lines.

For example, a murmur best heard in the 2nd right interspace usually originates at or near the aortic valve.

Radiation or Transmission from the Point of Maximal Intensity. This reflects not only the site of origin but also the intensity of the murmur and the direction of blood flow. Explore the area around a murmur and determine where else you can hear it.

A loud murmur of aortic stenosis often radiates into the neck (in the direction of arterial flow).

Intensity. This is usually graded on a 6-point scale and expressed as a fraction. The numerator describes the intensity of the murmur wherever it is loudest, and the denominator indicates the scale you are using. Intensity is influenced by the thickness of the chest wall and the presence of intervening tissue.

An identical degree of turbulence would cause a louder murmur in a thin person than in a very muscular or obese one. Emphysematous lungs may diminish the intensity of murmurs.










Learn to grade murmurs using the 6-point scale below. Note that grades 4 through 6 require the added presence of a palpable thrill. Gradations of Murmurs Grade


Grade 1

Very faint, heard only after listener has “tuned in”; may not be heard in all positions

Grade 2

Quiet, but heard immediately after placing the stethoscope on the chest

Grade 3

Moderately loud

Grade 4

Loud, with palpable thrill

Grade 5

Very loud, with thrill. May be heard when the stethoscope is partly off the chest

Grade 6

Very loud, with thrill. May be heard with stethoscope entirely off the chest




Pitch. This is categorized as high, medium, or low.

Quality. This is described in terms such as blowing, harsh, rumbling, and musical.

Other useful characteristics of murmurs—and heart sounds too—include variation with respiration, with the position of the patient, or with other special maneuvers.

EXAMPLES OF ABNORMALITIES A fully described murmur might be: a “medium-pitched, grade 2/6, blowing decrescendo murmur, heard best in the 4th left interspace, with radiation to the apex” (aortic regurgitation). Murmurs originating in the right side of the heart tend to change more with respiration than leftsided murmurs.

A Note on Cardiovascular Assessment A good cardiovascular examination requires more than observation. You need to think about the possible meanings of your individual observations, fit them together in a logical pattern, and correlate your cardiac findings with the patient’s blood pressure, arterial pulses, venous pulsations, jugular venous pressure, the remainder of your physical examination, and the patient’s history.


Evaluating the common systolic murmur illustrates this point. In examining an asymptomatic teenager, for example, you might hear a grade 2/6 midsystolic murmur in the 2nd and 3rd left interspaces. Since this suggests a murmur of pulmonic origin, you should assess the size of the right ventricle by carefully palpating the left parasternal area. Because pulmonic stenosis and atrial septal defects can occasionally cause such murmurs, listen carefully to the splitting of the second heart sound and try to hear any ejection sounds. Listen to the murmur after the patient sits up. Look for evidence of anemia, hyperthyroidism, or pregnancy that could produce such a murmur by increasing the flow across the aortic or the pulmonic valve. If all your findings are normal, your patient probably has an innocent murmur—one with no pathologic significance.

In a 60-year-old person with angina, you might hear a harsh 3/6 midsystolic crescendo–decrescendo murmur in the right 2nd interspace radiating to the neck. These findings suggest aortic stenosis, but could arise from aortic sclerosis (leaflets sclerotic but not stenotic), a dilated aorta, or increased flow across a normal valve. Check the apical impulse for left ventricular enlargement. Listen for aortic regurgitation as the patient leans forward and exhales. Assess any delay in the carotid upstroke and the blood pressure for evidence of aortic stenosis. Put all this information together to make a tentative hypothesis about the origin of the murmur.

Special Techniques

Aids to Identify Systolic Murmurs.

Elsewhere in this chapter you have learned how to improve your auscultation of heart sounds and murmurs by placing the patient in different positions. Two additional techniques will help you distinguish the murmurs of mitral valve prolapse and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy from aortic stenosis.

(1) Standing and Squatting. When a person stands, venous return to the heart decreases as does peripheral vascular resistance. Arterial blood pressure, stroke volume, and the volume of blood in the left ventricle all decline. On squatting, changes occur in the opposite direction. These changes






help (1) to identify a prolapsed mitral valve, and (2) to distinguish hypertrophic cardiomyopathy from aortic stenosis. Secure the patient’s gown so that it will not interfere with your examination, and ready yourself for prompt auscultation. Instruct the patient to squat next to the examining table and hold on to it for balance. Listen to the heart with the patient in the squatting position and again in the standing position. (2) Valsalva Maneuver. When a person strains down against a closed glottis, venous return to the right heart is decreased and after a few seconds left ventricular volume and arterial blood pressure both fall. Release of the effort has the opposite effects. These changes help to distinguish prolapse of the mitral valve and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy from aortic stenosis. The patient should be lying down. Ask the patient to “bear down,” or place one hand on the midabdomen and instruct the patient to strain against it. By adjusting the pressure of your hand you can alter the patient’s effort to the desired level. Use your other hand to place your stethoscope on the patient’s chest. Maneuvers to Identify Systolic Murmurs Effect on Systolic Sounds and Murmurs Maneuver

Standing; Strain Phase of Valsalva


Squatting; Release of Valsalva

Mitral Valve Prolapse

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

Aortic Stenosis

          

↑ prolapse of mitral valve

↑ outflow obstruction

↓ blood volume ejected into aorta

↑ intensity of murmur

↑ intensity of murmur

↓ intensity of murmur

          

↓ prolapse of mitral valve

↓ outflow obstruction

↑ blood volume ejected into aorta

↓ intensity of murmur

↑ intensity of murmur

Cardiovascular Effect       

       

Decreased left ventricular volume from ↓ venous return to heart Decreased vascular tone: ↓ arterial blood pressure; ↓ peripheral vascular resistance

Increased left ventricular volume from ↑ venous return to heart Increased vascular tone: ↑ arterial blood pressure; ↑ peripheral vascular resistance

Pulsus Alternans.

Click moves earlier in systole and murmur lengthens

Delay of click and murmur shortens ↓ intensity of murmur

If you suspect left-sided heart failure, feel the pulse specifically for alternating amplitudes. These are usually felt best in the radial or the femoral arteries. A blood-pressure cuff gives you a more sensitive method. After raising the cuff pressure, lower it slowly to the systolic level and then below it. While you do this, the patient should breathe quietly or stop breathing in the respiratory midposition. If dyspnea prevents this, help the patient to sit up and dangle both legs over the side of the bed.


Alternately loud and soft Korotkoff sounds or a sudden doubling of the apparent heart rate as the cuff pressure declines indicates a pulsus alternans (see p. __). The upright position may accentuate the alternation.




Paradoxical Pulse.

The level identified by first hearing Korotkoff sounds is the highest systolic pressure during the respiratory cycle. The level identified by hearing sounds throughout the cycle is the lowest systolic pressure. A difference between these levels of more than 10 mm Hg indicates a paradoxical pulse and suggests pericardial tamponade, possibly constrictive pericarditis, but most commonly obstructive airway disease (see p. __).


If you have noted that the pulse varies in amplitude with respiration or if you suspect pericardial tamponade (because of increased jugular venous pressure, a rapid and diminished pulse, and dyspnea, for example), use a blood-pressure cuff to check for a paradoxical pulse. This is a greater than normal drop in systolic pressure during inspiration. As the patient breathes, quietly if possible, lower the cuff pressure slowly to the systolic level. Note the pressure level at which the first sounds can be heard. Then drop the pressure very slowly until sounds can be heard throughout the respiratory cycle. Again note the pressure level. The difference between these two levels is normally no greater than 3 or 4 mm Hg.





Little more than 2 cm in adults (1 cm in children); 3 cm or less in leftsided position

Small, gentle

Usually less than 2⁄3 of systole; the impulse stops before S2




Examples of Causes

5th or possibly 4th left interspace, medial to the midclavicular line

The Impulse



Anxiety, hyperthyroidism, severe anemia



Normal, though increased amplitude may make it seem larger



Aortic stenosis, hypertension

Prolonged, may be sustained up to S2




Pressure Overload

Left Ventricle

Aortic or mitral regurgitation

Often slightly prolonged




Not palpable beyond infancy




Anxiety, hyperthyroidism, severe anemia


Slightly increased

Not useful

3rd, 4th, or 5th left interspaces


Pulmonic stenosis, pulmonary hypertension



Not useful

3rd, 4th, or 5th left interspaces, also subxiphoid

Pressure Overload

Right Ventricle

Atrial septal defect

Normal to slightly prolonged

Slightly to markedly increased

Not useful

Left sternal border, extending toward the left cardiac border, also subxiphoid

Volume Overload

its walls. A hyperkinetic impulse results from increased stroke volume and does not necessarily signify heart disease. An impulse may feel hyperkinetic when the chest wall is unusually thin.

Displaced to the left and possibly downward

Volume Overload

When a ventricle works under conditions of chronic pressure overload or increased afterload, its walls gradually thicken or hypertrophy. Volume overload (increased preload), in contrast, produces dilatation of the ventricle as well as thickening of

TABLE 7-1 ■ Variations and Abnormalities of the Ventricular Impulses

  TABLE 7-1 ■ Variations and Abnormalities of the Ventricular Impulses




Split S1

Varying S1

Diminished S1

Accentuated S1

Normal Variations















S1 may be split normally along the lower left sternal border where the tricuspid component, often too faint to be heard, becomes audible. This split may sometimes be heard at the apex, but consider also an S4, an aortic ejection sound, and an early systolic click. Abnormal splitting of both heart sounds may be heard in right bundle branch block and in premature ventricular contractions.

S1 varies in intensity (1) in complete heart block, when atria and ventricles are beating independently of each other, and (2) in any totally irregular rhythm (e.g., atrial fibrillation). In these situations, the mitral valve is in varying positions before being shut by ventricular contraction. Its closure sound, therefore, varies in loudness.

S1 is diminished in first-degree heart block (delayed conduction from atria to ventricles). Here the mitral valve has had time after atrial contraction to float back into an almost closed position before ventricular contraction shuts it. It closes less loudly. S1 is also diminished (1) when the mitral valve is calcified and relatively immobile, as in mitral regurgitation, and (2) when left ventricular contractility is markedly reduced, as in congestive heart failure or coronary heart disease.

S1 is accentuated in (1) tachycardia, rhythms with a short PR interval, and high cardiac output states (e.g., exercise, anemia, hyperthyroidism), and (2) mitral stenosis. In these conditions, the mitral valve is still open wide at the onset of ventricular systole, and then closes quickly.

S1 is often but not always louder than S2 at the apex.

S1 is softer than S2 at the base (right and left 2nd interspaces).

TABLE 7-2 ■ Variations in the First Heart Sound


TABLE 7-2 ■ Variations in the First Heart Sound





Paradoxical or reversed splitting refers to splitting that appears on expiration and disappears on inspiration. Closure of the aortic valve is abnormally delayed so that A2 follows P2 in expiration. Normal inspiratory delay of P2 makes the split disappear. The most common cause of paradoxical splitting is left bundle branch block.

Fixed splitting refers to wide splitting that does not vary with respiration. It occurs in atrial septal defect and right ventricular failure.

Wide splitting of S2 refers to an increase in the usual splitting that persists throughout the respiratory cycle. Wide splitting can be caused by delayed closure of the pulmonic valve (e.g., by pulmonic stenosis or right bundle branch block). As illustrated here, right bundle branch block also causes splitting of S1 into its mitral and tricuspid components. Wide splitting can also be caused by early closure of the aortic valve, as in mitral regurgitation.

is noted in calcific aortic stenosis because of immobility of the valve. If A2 is inaudible, no splitting is heard.

A Decreased or Absent A2 in the Right Second Interspace

anteroposterior diameter of the chest associated with aging. It can also result from pulmonic stenosis. If P2 is inaudible, no splitting is heard.

A Decreased or Absent P2 is most commonly due to the increased

pulmonary hypertension may be suspected. Other causes include a dilated pulmonary artery and an atrial septal defect. Splitting of the second heart sound that is heard widely, even at the apex and the right base, indicates an accentuated P2.





Physiologic splitting of the second heart sound can usually be detected in the 2nd or 3rd left interspace. The pulmonic component of S2 is usually too faint to be heard at the apex or aortic area, where S2 is single and derived from aortic valve closure alone. Normal splitting is accentuated by inspiration and usually disappears on expiration. In some patients, however, especially younger ones, S2 may not become completely single on expiration. It may do so when the patient sits up.

Increased Intensity of P2. When P2 is equal to or louder than A2,







(where only A2 can usually be heard) occurs in systemic hypertension because of the increased pressure. It also occurs when the aortic root is dilated, probably because the aortic valve is then closer to the chest wall.







Increased Intensity of A2 in the Right Second Interspace



(All of these involve S1 splitting during expiration and all suggest heart disease.)

Pathologic Splitting

Physiologic Splitting


  TABLE 7-3 ■ Variations in the Second Heart Sound TABLE 7-3 ■ Variations in the Second Heart Sound






Systolic Clicks

Early Systolic Ejection Sounds




S1 Ej








Auscultatory findings are notably variable. Most patients have only a click, some have only a murmur, and some have both. Findings vary from time to time and often change with body position. Several positions are recommended to identify the syndrome: supine, seated, squatting, and standing. Squatting delays the click and murmur; standing moves them closer to S1.

Systolic clicks are usually due to mitral valve prolapse—an abnormal systolic ballooning of part of the mitral valve into the left atrium. The clicks are usually mid- or late systolic. Prolapse of the mitral valve is a common cardiac condition, affecting about 5% of the general population. It is now felt to have equal prevalence in men and women. The click is usually single, but more than one may be heard. A click is heard best at or medial to the apex but may also be heard at the lower left sternal border. It is high-pitched and heard better with the diaphragm. The click is often followed by a late systolic murmur, which usually represents mitral regurgitation—a flow of blood from left ventricle to left atrium. The murmur usually crescendos up to S2. Systolic clicks may also be of extracardial or mediastinal origin.

A pulmonic ejection sound is heard best in the 2nd and 3rd left interspaces. When the first heart sound, usually relatively soft in this area, appears to be loud, you may instead be hearing a pulmonic ejection sound. Its intensity often decreases with inspiration. Causes include dilatation of the pulmonary artery, pulmonary hypertension, and pulmonic stenosis.

An aortic ejection sound is heard at both base and apex and may be louder at the apex. It does not usually vary with respiration. An aortic ejection sound may accompany a dilated aorta or aortic valve disease, such as congenital stenosis or a bicuspid valve.

Early systolic ejection sounds occur shortly after the first heart sound, coincident with the opening of the aortic and pulmonic valves. They are relatively high in pitch, have a sharp, clicking quality, and are heard better with the diaphragm of the stethoscope. An ejection sound indicates cardiovascular disease.

Extra heart sounds in systole are of two kinds: (1) early ejection sounds, and (2) clicks, most commonly heard in midand late systole.

TABLE 7-4 ■ Extra Heart Sounds in Systole


TABLE 7-4 ■ Extra Heart Sounds in Systole





Opening Snap








S4 S1



Occasionally, a patient has both an S3 and an S4, producing a quadruple rhythm of four heart sounds. At rapid heart rates the S3 and S4 may merge into one loud extra heart sound, called a summation gallop.

An S4 may also be associated with delayed conduction between atria and ventricles. This delay separates the normally faint atrial sound from the louder S1 and makes it audible. An S4 is never heard in the absence of atrial contraction, as occurs with atrial fibrillation.

An S4 (atrial sound or atrial gallop) occurs just before S1. It is dull, low in pitch, and heard better with the bell. An S4 is heard occasionally in an apparently normal person, especially in trained athletes and older age groups. More commonly, it is due to increased resistance to ventricular filling following atrial contraction. This increased resistance is related to decreased compliance (increased stiffness) of the ventricular myocardium. Causes of a left-sided S4 include hypertensive heart disease, coronary artery disease, aortic stenosis, and cardiomyopathy. A leftsided S4 is heard best at the apex in the left lateral position; it may sound like “Tennessee.” The less common right-sided S4 is heard along the lower left sternal border or below the xiphoid. It often gets louder with inspiration. Causes of a right-sided S4 include pulmonary hypertension and pulmonic stenosis.

A pathologic S3 or ventricular gallop sounds just like a physiologic S3. An S3 in a person over age 40 (possibly a little older in women) is almost certainly pathologic. Causes include decreased myocardial contractility, myocardial failure, and volume overloading of a ventricle, as in mitral or tricuspid regurgitation. A left-sided S3 is heard typically at the apex in the left lateral position. A right-sided S3 is usually heard along the lower left sternal border or below the xiphoid with the patient supine. It is louder on inspiration. The term gallop comes from the cadence of three heart sounds, especially at rapid heart rates, and sounds like “Kentucky.”

A physiologic third heart sound is heard frequently in children. It may persist in young adults to the age of 35 or 40. It is common during the last trimester of pregnancy. Occurring early in diastole during rapid ventricular filling, it is later than an opening snap, dull and low in pitch, and heard best at the apex in the left lateral decubitus position. The bell of the stethoscope should be used with very light pressure.

The opening snap is a very early diastolic sound usually produced by the opening of a stenotic mitral valve. It is heard best just medial to the apex and along the lower left sternal border. When it is loud, an opening snap radiates to the apex and to the pulmonic area, where it may be mistaken for the pulmonic component of a split S2. Its high pitch and snapping quality help to distinguish it from an S2. It is heard better with the diaphragm.

TABLE 7-5 ■ Extra Heart Sounds in Diastole

  TABLE 7-5 ■ Extra Heart Sounds in Diastole




S1 Ej

Pulmonic Stenosis

Pathologic Murmurs





Stenosis of the pulmonic valve impairs flow across the valve, increasing afterload on the right ventricle. It is congenital and most often found in children. Pathologically increased flow across the pulmonic valve may mimic the murmur of pulmonic stenosis. The systolic murmur of an atrial septal defect originates from this flow, not the defect itself.

Turbulence due to a temporary increase in blood flow causes this murmur. Predisposing conditions include anemia, pregnancy, fever, and hyperthyroidism.


Physiologic Murmurs


Innocent murmurs result from turbulent blood flow, probably generated by left ventricular ejection of blood into the aorta. Occasionally, turbulence from right ventricular ejection may also cause them. There is no evidence of cardiovascular disease. Innocent murmurs—very common in children and young adults—may also be heard in older people.

Innocent Murmurs


Midsystolic ejection murmurs are the most common kind of heart murmur. They may be (1) innocent—without any detectable physiologic or structural abnormality; (2) physiologic—from physiologic changes in body metabolism; or (3) pathologic— arising from a structural abnormality in the heart or great vessels. Midsystolic mur-

TABLE 7-6 ■ Midsystolic Murmurs


Quality. Often harsh

Pitch. Medium

Intensity. Soft to loud; if loud, associated with a thrill

Radiation. If loud, toward the left shoulder and neck

Location. 2nd and 3rd left interspaces

Similar to innocent murmurs

Aids. Usually decreases or disappears on sitting

Quality. Variable

Pitch. Medium

Intensity. Grade 1 to 2, possibly 3

(table continues on next page)

A right-sided S4 may be present. The right ventricular impulse is often increased in amplitude and may be prolonged.

An early pulmonic ejection sound is common.

In severe stenosis, S2 is widely split and P2 is diminished. When P2 is inaudible, no splitting is heard.

Possible signs of a likely cause

None: normal splitting, no ejection sounds, no diastolic murmurs, and no palpable evidence of ventricular enlargement. Occasionally, a patient has both an innocent murmur and another kind of murmur.

Location. 2nd to 4th left interspaces between the left sternal border and the apex Radiation. Little

Associated Findings


murs tend to peak near midsystole and usually stop before S2. The crescendo– decrescendo or “diamond” shape is not always audible, but the gap between the murmur and S2 helps to distinguish midsystolic from pansystolic murmurs.

TABLE 7-6 ■ Midsystolic Murmurs






May be decreased

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy


Aortic Stenosis

Massive hypertrophy of ventricular muscle is associated with unusually rapid ejection of blood from the left ventricle during systole. Obstruction to flow may coexist. Accompanying distortion of the mitral valve may cause mitral regurgitation.

Other conditions may mimic the murmur of aortic stenosis without obstructing flow: ■ Aortic sclerosis, a stiffening of aortic valve leaflets associated with aging ■ A bicuspid aortic valve, a congenital condition, which may not be recognized until adulthood ■ A dilated aorta, as from arteriosclerosis, syphilis, or Marfan’s syndrome ■ A pathologically increased flow across the aortic valve during systole, as in aortic regurgitation

Significant stenosis of the aortic valve impairs blood flow across the valve, causing turbulence, and increases the afterload on the left ventricle. Causes are congenital, rheumatic, and degenerative, and findings may differ with each cause.


TABLE 7-6 ■ Midsystolic Murmurs (Continued)


Aids. Decreases with squatting, increases with straining down

Quality. Harsh

Pitch. Medium

Intensity. Variable

Radiation. Down the left sternal border to the apex, possibly to the base, but not to the neck

Location. 3rd and 4th left interspaces

Aids. Heard best with the patient sitting and leaning forward

Quality. Often harsh; at the apex it may be more musical

Pitch. Medium; at the apex, it may be higher

Intensity. Sometimes soft but often loud, with a thrill

Radiation. Often to the neck and down the left sternal border, even to the apex

Location. Right 2nd interspace


The carotid pulse rises quickly (unlike the pulse in aortic stenosis).

The apical impulse may be sustained and have two palpable components.

An S4 is often present at the apex (unlike mitral regurgitation).

An S3 may be present.

A2 decreases as the stenosis worsens. A2 may be delayed, merging with P2 to form a single expiratory sound or causing paradoxical splitting. An S4, reflecting the decreased compliance of the hypertrophied left ventricle, may be present at the apex. An aortic ejection sound, if present, suggests a congenital cause. A sustained apical impulse often reveals left ventricular hypertrophy. The carotid artery impulse may rise slowly and feel small in amplitude.

Associated Findings

TABLE 7-6 ■ Midsystolic Murmurs








A ventricular septal defect is a congenital abnormality in which blood flows from the relatively high-pressure left ventricle into the low-pressure right ventricle through a hole. The defect may be accompanied by other abnormalities, but an uncomplicated lesion is described here.


Ventricular Septal Defect


When the tricuspid valve fails to close fully in systole, blood regurgitates from right ventricle to right atrium, producing a murmur. The most common cause is right ventricular failure and dilatation, with resulting enlargement of the tricuspid orifice. Either pulmonary hypertension or left ventricular failure is the usual initiating cause.


When the mitral valve fails to close fully in systole, blood regurgitates from left ventricle to left atrium, causing a murmur. This leakage creates a volume overload on the left ventricle, with subsequent dilatation and hypertrophy. Several structural abnormalities cause this condition, and findings may vary accordingly.

Tricuspid Regurgitation



Mitral Regurgitation


Pansystolic (holosystolic) murmurs are pathologic. They are heard when blood flows from a chamber of high pressure to one of lower pressure through a valve or

TABLE 7-7 ■ Pansystolic (Holosystolic) Murmurs


An apical S3 reflects volume overload on the left ventricle. The apical impulse is increased in amplitude and may be prolonged.

Radiation. To the left axilla, less often to the left sternal border Intensity. Soft to loud; if loud, associated with an apical thrill

Findings vary with the severity of the defect and with associated lesions.

Radiation. Often wide

Quality. Often harsh

Pitch. High

Intensity. Often very loud, with a thrill

A2 may be obscured by the loud murmur.

An S3 may be audible along the lower left sternal border. The jugular venous pressure is often elevated, and large v waves may be seen in the jugular veins.

Location. 3rd, 4th, and 5th left interspaces

Aids. Unlike mitral regurgitation, the intensity may increase slightly with inspiration.

Quality. Blowing

Pitch. Medium

Intensity. Variable

Radiation. To the right of the sternum, to the xiphoid area, and perhaps to the left midclavicular line, but not into the axilla

Location. Lower left sternal border

Aids. Unlike tricuspid regurgitation, it does not become louder in inspiration.

Quality. Blowing

The right ventricular impulse is increased in amplitude and may be prolonged.

S1 is often decreased.

Location. Apex

Pitch. Medium to high

Associated Findings


other structure that should be closed. The murmur begins immediately with S1 and continues up to S2.

TABLE 7-7 ■ Pansystolic (Holosystolic) Murmurs





Mitral Stenosis




Aortic Regurgitation

When the leaflets of the mitral valve thicken, stiffen, and become distorted from the effects of rheumatic fever, the valve fails to open sufficiently in diastole. The resulting murmur has two components: (1) middiastolic (during rapid ventricular filling), and (2) presystolic (during atrial contraction). The latter disappears if atrial fibrillation develops, leaving only a middiastolic rumble.


The leaflets of the aortic valve fail to close completely during diastole, and blood regurgitates from the aorta back into the left ventricle. Volume overload on the left ventricle results. Two other murmurs may be associated: (1) a midsystolic murmur from the resulting increased forward flow across the aortic valve, and (2) a mitral diastolic (Austin Flint) murmur. The latter is attributed to diastolic impingement of the regurgitant flow on the anterior leaflet of the mitral valve.


Diastolic murmurs almost always indicate heart disease. There are two basic types. Early decrescendo diastolic murmurs signify regurgitant flow through an incompetent

TABLE 7-8 ■ Diastolic Murmurs


Progressive changes in the apical impulse include increased amplitude, displacement laterally and downward, widened diameter, and increased duration.

Intensity. Grade 1 to 3

Aids. Placing the bell exactly on the apical impulse, turning the patient into a left lateral position, and mild exercise all help to make the murmur audible. It is heard better in exhalation.

Pitch. Low. Use the bell.

Intensity. Grade 1 to 4

Radiation. Little or none

Location. Usually limited to the apex

Aids. The murmur is heard best with the patient sitting, leaning forward, with breath held in exhalation.

Quality. Blowing; may be mistaken for breath sounds

Mitral regurgitation and aortic valve disease may be associated with mitral stenosis.

If pulmonary hypertension develops, P2 is accentuated and the right ventricular impulse becomes palpable.

An opening snap (OS) often follows S2 and initiates the murmur.

S1 is accentuated and may be palpable at the apex.

The pulse pressure increases, and arterial pulses are often large and bounding. A midsystolic flow murmur or an Austin Flint murmur suggests large regurgitant flow.

An S3 or S4, if present, suggests severe regurgitation.

Radiation. If loud, to the apex, perhaps to the right sternal border Pitch. High. Use the diaphragm.

An ejection sound may be present.

Associated Findings

Location. 2nd to 4th left interspaces


semilunar valve, more commonly the aortic. Rumbling diastolic murmurs in mid- or late diastole suggest stenosis of an atrioventricular valve, more often the mitral.

TABLE 7-8 ■ Diastolic Murmurs




Usually loud, sometimes associated with a thrill

Variable. May increase when the patient leans forward, exhales, and holds breath (in contrast to pleural rub)

Quality Pitch

Toward the left clavicle


Harsh, machinerylike Medium

Scratchy, scraping

High (heard better with a diaphragm)

Left 2nd interspace

Radiation Intensity


Variable, but usually heard best in the 3rd interspace to the left of the sternum


Continuous murmur in both systole and diastole, often with a silent interval late in diastole. Is loudest in late systole, obscures S2, and fades in diastole







May have three short components, each associated with cardiac movement: (1) atrial systole, (2) ventricular systole, and (3) ventricular diastole. Usually the first two components are present; all three make diagnosis easy; only one (usually the systolic) invites confusion with a murmur.

Atrial systole

Ventricular diastole

Patent Ductus Arteriosus




Low (heard better with a bell)

Humming, roaring

Soft to moderate. Can be obliterated by pressure on the jugular veins

1st and 2nd interspaces

Above the medial third of the clavicles, especially on the right

Continuous murmur without a silent interval. Loudest in diastole



Venous Hum

veins (common in children). Their characteristics are contrasted below. Continuous murmurs begin in systole and continue through the second sound into all or part of diastole. Therefore the murmur of patent ductus arteriosus may be classified as continuous.



Ventricular systole

Pericardial Friction Rub

Some cardiovascular sounds are not confined to one portion of the cardiac cycle. Three examples are: (1) a pericardial friction rub, produced by inflammation of the pericardial sac; (2) patent ductus arteriosus, a congenital abnormality in which an open channel persists between aorta and pulmonary artery; and (3) a venous hum, a benign sound produced by turbulence of blood in the jugular

TABLE 7-9 ■ Cardiovascular Sounds With Both Systolic and Diastolic Components


TABLE 7-9 ■ Cardiovascular Sounds



The Breasts and Axillae


ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY The female breast lies against the anterior thoracic wall, extending from the clavicle and 2nd rib down to the 6th rib, and from the sternum across to the midaxillary line. Its surface area is generally rectangular rather than round. The breast overlies the pectoralis major and at its inferior margin, the serratus anterior.

Pectoralis major

Subclavian vein Subclavian lymph nodes Axillary vein Axillary lymph nodes

Fat Gland lobules

Nipple Areola

Serratus anterior




ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY To describe clinical findings, the breast is often divided into four quadrants based on horizontal and vertical lines crossing at the nipple. An axillary tail of breast tissue extends toward the anterior axillary fold. Alternatively, findings can be localized as the time on the face of a clock (e.g., 3 o’clock) and the distance in centimeters from the nipple.

12 Tail

Upper inner quadrant

Upper outer quadrant 9

3 Lower inner quadrant

Lower outer quadrant 6

The breast is hormonally sensitive tissue, responsive to the changes of monthly cycling and aging. Glandular tissue, namely secretory tubuloalveolar glands and ducts, forms 15 to 20 septated lobes radiating around the nipple. Within each lobe are many smaller lobules. These drain into milk-producing ducts and sinuses that open onto the surface of the areola, or nipple. Fibrous connective tissue provides structural support in the form of fibrous bands or suspensory ligaments connected to both the skin and the underlying fascia. Adipose tissue, or fat, surrounds the breast, predominantly in the superficial and peripheral areas. The proportions of these components vary with age, the general state of nutrition, pregnancy, exogenous hormone use, and other factors. 298


Pectoral muscle

Suspensory ligament

Glandular tissue




ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY The surface of the areola has small, rounded elevations formed by sebaceous glands, sweat glands, and accessory areolar glands. A few hairs are often seen on the areola. Both the nipple and the areola are well supplied with smooth muscle that contracts to express milk from the ductal system during breast-feeding. Rich sensory innervation, especially in the nipple, triggers “milk letdown” following neurohormonal stimulation from infant sucking. Tactile stimulation of the area, including the breast examination, makes the nipple smaller, firmer, and more erect, while the areola puckers and wrinkles. These normal smooth muscle reflexes should not be mistaken for signs of breast disease.

Smooth muscle

Nipple Duct opening

Sebaceous gland


Occasionally, one or more extra or supernumerary nipples are located along the “milk line,” illustrated on the right. Only a small nipple and areola are usually present, often mistaken for a common mole. There may be underlying glandular tissue. An extra nipple has no pathologic significance. The male breast consists chiefly of a small nipple and areola. These overlie a thin disc of undeveloped breast tissue that may not be distinguishable clinically from the surrounding tissues. A firm button of breast tissue 2 cm or more in diameter has been described in roughly one out of three adult men. The limits of normal have not yet been clearly established.

Changes With Aging Adulthood. The normal adult breast may be soft, but it often feels granular, nodular, or lumpy. This uneven texture is normal and may be termed physiologic nodularity. It is often bilateral. It may be evident throughout the breast or only in parts of it. The nodularity may increase premenstrually—a time when breasts often enlarge and become tender or even painful. For breast changes during adolescence and pregnancy, see p. 409 and pp. 699–700. CHAPTER 8



ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY Aging. The breasts of an aging woman tend to diminish in size as glandular tissue atrophies and is replaced by fat. Although the proportion of fat increases, its total amount may also decrease. The breasts often become flaccid and more pendulous. The ducts surrounding the nipple may become more easily palpable as firm, stringy strands. Axillary hair diminishes.

Lymphatics Lymphatics from most of the breast drain toward the axilla. Of the axillary lymph nodes, the central nodes are palpable most frequently. They lie along the chest wall, usually high in the axilla and midway between the anterior and posterior axillary folds. Into them drain channels from three other groups of lymph nodes, which are seldom palpable: ■

Pectoral nodes—anterior, located along the lower border of the pectoralis major inside the anterior axillary fold. These nodes drain the anterior chest wall and much of the breast.

Subscapular nodes—posterior, located along the lateral border of the scapula; palpated deep in the posterior axillary fold. They drain the posterior chest wall and a portion of the arm.

Lateral nodes—located along the upper humerus. They drain most of the arm.

Supraclavicular Infraclavicular Lateral Central (deep within the axillae) Subscapular (posterior) Pectoral (anterior)


Lymph drains from the central axillary nodes to the infraclavicular and supraclavicular nodes. Not all the lymphatics of the breast drain into the axilla. Malignant cells from a breast cancer may spread directly to the infraclavicular nodes or into deep channels within the chest. 300




THE HEALTH HISTORY Common or Concerning Symptoms ■ ■ ■

Breast lump or mass Breast pain or discomfort Nipple discharge

Questions about a woman’s breasts may be included in the history or deferred to the physical examination. Ask “Do you examine your breasts?” . . . “How often?” In menstruating women, inquire “When during your monthly cycle?” Ask if she has any lumps, pain, or discomfort in her breasts. Approximately 50% of women have palpable lumps or nodularity in their breasts. Premenstrual enlargement and tenderness are common.

Lumps may be physiologic or pathologic, ranging from cysts and fibroadenomas to breast cancer. See Table 8-1, Visible Signs of Breast Cancer (p. 314), and Table 8-2, Common Breast Masses, (p. 315).

Also ask about any discharge from the nipples and when it occurs. If it appears only after squeezing the nipple, it is considered physiologic. If the discharge is spontaneous and seen on the underwear or nightclothes without local stimulation, ask about its color, consistency, and quantity. Is it unilateral or bilateral?

A milky bilateral discharge, or galactorrhea, may reflect pregnancy or prolactin or other hormonal imbalance. A nonmilky unilateral discharge suggests local breast disease.

HEALTH PROMOTION AND COUNSELING Important Topics for Health Promotion and Counseling ■ ■ ■

Risk factors for breast cancer Breast cancer screening Breast self-examination (BSE)

Women may experience a wide range of changes in breast tissue and sensation, from cyclic swelling and nodularity to a distinct lump or mass. The examination of the breast provides a meaningful opportunity for the clinician and the woman patient to explore concerns important to women’s health— what to do if a lump or mass is detected, risk factors for breast cancer, and screening measures such as breast self-examination, the clinical breast examination (CBE) by a skilled clinician, and mammography. Breast masses show marked variation in etiology, from fibroadenomas and cysts seen in younger women, to abscess or mastitis, to primary breast cancer. All breast masses warrant careful evaluation. On initial assessment, the woman’s age and physical characteristics of the mass provide clues to its origin, but definitive diagnostic measures should be pursued. CHAPTER 8




Palpable Masses of the Breast Age

Common Lesion




Usually fine, round, mobile, nontender



Usually soft to firm, round, mobile; often tender

Fibrocystic changes

Nodular, ropelike


Irregular, stellate, firm, not clearly delineated from surrounding tissue

Over 50

Cancer until proven otherwise

As above


Lactating adenomas, cysts, mastitis, and cancer

As above

Adapted from Schultz MZ, Ward BA, Reiss M: Ch. 149. Breast Diseases. In Noble J, Greene HL, Levinson W, Modest GA, Young MJ (eds): Primary Care Medicine, 2nd ed. St. Louis, Mosby, 1996.

Risk Factors for Breast Cancer.

Breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer in women worldwide, accounting for 18% of all female malignancies. In the United States, a woman has more than a 12% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer and an approximately 22% risk of dying from the disease.* Although 70% of affected women have no known predisposing factors, definite risk factors are well-established. The clinician and the inquiring patient should understand and review factors such as age, family history, reproductive history, and previous history of benign breast disease, especially if a previous biopsy showed atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ.

To calculate an individual woman’s risk of breast cancer, you may wish to make use of the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool of the National Cancer Institute ( or other available clinical models such as the Gail model (see Bibliography). Advise your patients that more than two thirds of new cases of breast cancer localized to the breast are attributed to earlier detection. Age. Although one in eight women will eventually develop breast cancer, it is important to note that this is a cumulative lifetime risk that increases with age. More than three fourths of breast cancer cases occur in women 50 years or older; more than half in women older than age 65. For women between the ages of 35 and 55 without major risk factors, the chance of developing breast cancer is approximately 2.5%. Family History. The relative risk (or risk relative to an individual without a given risk factor) of breast cancer associated with menstrual history, preg*Harris JR, Morrow M, Bonadonna G: Cancer of the breast. In DeVita VT, Hellman S, Rosenberg SA (eds): Cancer Principles & Practice of Oncology, 5th ed. Philadelphia, Lippincott-Raven, 1997.




Summary of Breast Cancer Risk Factors Factor

Relative Risk (%)

Family History

First-degree relative with breast cancer Premenopausal Premenopausal and bilateral Postmenopausal Postmenopausal and bilateral

1.2–3.0 3.1 8.5–9.0 1.5 4.0–5.4

Menstrual History

Age at menarche <12 Age at menopause >55

1.3 1.5–2.0


First live birth from ages 25–29 First live birth after age 30 First live birth after age 35 Nulliparous

1.5 1.9 2.0–3.0 3.0

Breast Conditions and Diseases

Nonproliferative disease Proliferative disease Proliferative with atypical hyperplasia Lobular carcinoma in situ

1.0 1.9 4.4 6.9–12.0

Adapted from Bilmoria MM and Morrow M: The woman at increased risk for breast cancer: evaluation and management strategies. Ca 45(5):263, 1995. See also American Cancer Society,

nancy, and breast conditions and diseases is summarized in the table above. Risk from familial breast cancer falls into two patterns: family history of breast cancer and genetic predisposition. First-degree relatives, namely a mother or sister with breast cancer, establish a “positive family history.” Within this group, menopausal status and extent of disease play a key role. Having firstdegree relatives with breast cancer who are premenopausal with bilateral disease confers the highest risk. Even when a mother and a sister have bilateral breast cancer, however, the probability of breast cancer is only 25%. Inherited disease in women carrying mutations in the breast cancer susceptibility genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 accounts for only 5% to 10% of breast cancers. However, these genes confer a 50% risk of the disease in women under 50, and an 80% risk by age 65. Red flags for possible inherited disease include multiple relatives (maternal or paternal) with breast cancer, a family history of combined breast cancer and ovarian cancer, and a family history of bilateral and/or early onset of breast cancer. Menstrual History and Pregnancy. Early menarche, delayed menopause, and first live birth after age 35 or no pregnancy all raise the risk of breast cancer two- to three-fold. Breast Conditions and Diseases. Benign breast disease with biopsy findings of atypical hyperplasia or lobular carcinoma in situ carry significantly increased relative risks—4.4 and 6.9 to 12.0, respectively. CHAPTER 8





Breast Cancer Screening. Although not yet confirmed as a method for increasing detection, it is wise to teach all women the breast self-examination to promote health awareness (see pp. 312–313). To enhance early detection, the American Cancer Society recommends monthly breast selfexamination beginning at age 20, clinical breast examination (CBE) by a health care professional every 3 years for women between the ages of 20 and 39, and annually after age 40, and yearly mammography for women 40 and older.* For women at increased risk, many clinicians advise a screening mammogram at age 35 or 40, then every 2 to 3 years until age 50. Mammography is less accurate when breast tissue is more glandular and dense, especially before menopause, resulting in different recommendations about the benefits of mammography for women in the 40-to-50 age group.† For women aged 50 to 69, mammography and CBE are widely recommended every 1 to 2 years. After age 70, the benefits of mammography are less well studied, and testing should be considered on an individual basis.

Preview: Recording the Physical Examination— Breasts and Axillae Note that initially you may use sentences to describe your findings; later you will use phrases. The style below contains phrases appropriate for most write-ups. Unfamiliar terms are explained in the next section, Techniques of Examination. “Breasts symmetric and without masses. Nipples without discharge.” (Axillary adenopathy usually included after Neck in section on Lymph Nodes, see p. 143.) OR: “Breasts pendulous with diffuse fibrocystic changes. Single firm 1 × 1 cm mass, mobile and nontender, with overlying peau d’orange appearance in right breast, upper outer quadrant at 11 o’clock.”

Suggests possible breast cancer

*American Cancer Society. Accessed 9/1/01. †U.S. Preventive Services Task Force: “Screening for Breast Cancer” in Guide to Clinical Preventive Services, 2nd ed. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, pp. 73–87, 1996.





TECHNIQUES OF EXAMINATION The Female Breast The clinical breast examination is an important component of women’s health care: it enhances detection of breast cancers that mammography may miss and provides an opportunity to demonstrate techniques for self-examination to the patient. Clinical investigation has shown, however, that variations in examiner experience and technique affect the value of the clinical breast examination. Clinicians are advised to adopt a more standardized approach, especially for palpation, and to use a systemic and thorough search pattern, varying palpation pressure, and a circular motion with the fingerpads.* These techniques will be discussed in more detail in the following pages. Inspection is routinely recommended, but its value in breast cancer detection is less well studied. As you begin the examination of the breasts, be aware that women and girls may feel apprehensive. Be reassuring and adopt a courteous and gentle approach. Before you begin, let the patient know that you are about to examine her breasts. This may be a good time to ask if she has noticed any lumps or other problems and if she performs a monthly breast self-examination. If she does not, teach her good technique and watch as she repeats the steps of examination after you, giving helpful correction as needed.

Risk factors for breast cancer include previous breast cancer, an affected mother or sister, biopsy showing atypical hyperplasia, increasing age, early menarche, late menopause, late or no pregnancies, and previous radiation to the chest wall.

See Patient Instructions for the Breast Self-Examination, p. 313.

An adequate inspection requires full exposure of the chest, but later in the examination you may find it helpful to cover one breast while you are palpating the other. Because breasts tend to swell and become more nodular before menses as a result of increasing estrogen stimulation, the best time for examination is 5 to 7 days after the onset of menstruation. Nodules appearing during the premenstrual phase should be reevaluated at this later time.

INSPECTION Inspect the breasts and nipples with the patient in the sitting position and disrobed to the waist. A thorough examination of the breast includes careful inspection for skin changes, symmetry, contours, and retraction in four views— arms at sides, arms over head, arms pressed against hips, and leaning forward. When examining an adolescent girl, assess her breast development according to Tanner’s sex maturity ratings described on page 700.

*Barton MB, Harris R, and Fletcher S: Does This Patient Have Breast Cancer? The Screening Clinical Breast Examination: Should It be Done? How? JAMA 282 (13); 1270–1280, 1999.






Note the clinical features listed below.

The appearance of the skin, including Color

Redness from local infection or inflammatory carcinoma

Thickening of the skin and unusually prominent pores, which may accompany lymphatic obstruction

Thickening and prominent pores suggest a breast cancer.

The size and symmetry of the breasts. Some difference in the size of the breasts, including the areolae, is common and is usually normal, as shown in the photograph below.

The contour of the breasts. Look for changes such as masses, dimpling, or flattening. Compare one side with the other.

Flattening of the normally convex breast suggests cancer. See Table 8-1, Visible Signs of Breast Cancer (p. 314).


The characteristics of the nipples, including size and shape, direction in which they point, any rashes or ulceration, or any discharge.

Occasionally, the shape of the nipple in inverted, or depressed below the areolar surface. It may be enveloped by folds of areolar skin, as illustrated. Long-standing inversion is usually a normal variant of no clinical consequence, except for possible difficulty when breast-feeding.


Asymmetry of directions in which nipples point suggests an underlying cancer. Rash or ulceration in Paget’s disease of the breast (see p. 314). Recent or fixed flattening or depression of the nipple suggests nipple retraction. A retracted nipple may also be broadened and thickened, suggesting an underlying cancer.




Arms Over Head; Hands Pressed Against Hips; Leaning Forward. To bring out dimpling or retraction that may otherwise be invisible, ask the patient to raise her arms over her head, then press her hands against her hips to contract the pectoral muscles. Inspect the breast contours carefully in each position. If the breasts are large or pendulous, it may be useful to have the patient stand and lean forward, supported by the back of the chair or the examiner’s hands. Dimpling or retraction of the breasts in these positions suggests an underlying cancer. When a cancer or its associated fibrous strands are attached to both the skin and the fascia overlying the pectoral muscles, pectoral contraction can draw the skin inward, causing dimpling.


Occasionally, these signs may be associated with benign lesions such as posttraumatic fat necrosis or mammary duct ectasia, but they must always be evaluated with great care.


This position may reveal an asymmetry of the breast or nipple not otherwise visible. Retraction of the nipple and areola suggests an underlying cancer. See Table 8-1, Visible Signs of Breast Cancer (p. 314).







PALPATION The Breast. Palpation is best performed when the breast tissue is flattened. The patient should be supine. Plan to palpate a rectangular area extending from the clavicle to the inframammary fold or bra line, and from the midsternal line to the posterior axillary line and well into the axilla for the tail of the breast. A thorough examination will take 3 minutes for each breast. Use the fingerpads of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fingers, keeping the fingers slightly flexed. It is important to be systematic. Although a circular or wedge pattern can be used, the vertical strip pattern is currently the best validated technique for detecting breast masses. Palpate in small, concentric circles at each examining point, if possible applying light, medium, and deep pressure. You will need to press more firmly to reach the deeper tissues of a large breast. Your examination should cover the entire breast, including the periphery, tail, and axilla. ■

To examine the lateral portion of the breast, ask the patient to roll onto the opposite hip, placing her hand on her forehead but keeping the shoulders pressed against the bed or examining table. This flattens the lateral breast tissue. Begin palpation in the axilla, moving in a straight line down to the bra line, then move the fingers medially and palpate in a vertical strip up the chest to the clavicle. Continue in vertical overlapping strips until you reach the nipple, then reposition the patient to flatten the medial portion of the breast.

When pressing deeply on the breast, you may mistake a normal rib for a hard breast mass.

Nodules in the tail of the breast are sometimes mistaken for enlarged axillary lymph nodes (and vice versa).

To examine the medial portion of the breast, ask the patient to lie with her shoulders flat against the bed or examining table, placing her hand at her neck and lifting up her elbow until it is even with her shoulder. Palpate in a straight line down from the nipple to the bra line, then back to the clavicle, continuing in vertical overlapping strips to the midsternum.

Examine the breast tissue carefully for: ■

Consistency of the tissues. Normal consistency varies widely, depending in part on the relative proportions of firmer glandular tissue and soft fat. Physiologic nodularity may be present, increasing before menses. There may be a firm transverse ridge of compressed tissue along the lower mar-


Tender cords suggest mammary duct ectasia, a benign but sometimes painful condition of dilated ducts with surrounding inflamma-


TECHNIQUES OF EXAMINATION gin of the breast, especially in large breasts. This is the normal inframammary ridge, not a tumor. ■

Tenderness, as in premenstrual fullness

Nodules. Palpate carefully for any lump or mass that is qualitatively different from or larger than the rest of the breast tissue. This is sometimes called a dominant mass and may reflect a pathologic change that requires evaluation by mammogram, aspiration, or biopsy. Assess and describe the characteristics of any nodule: Location—by quadrant or clock, with centimeters from the nipple Size—in centimeters Shape—round or cystic, disclike, or irregular in contour

EXAMPLES OF ABNORMALITIES tion, sometimes with associated masses.

See Table 8-2, Common Breast Masses (p. 315).

Hard, irregular, poorly circumscribed nodules, fixed to the skin or underlying tissues, strongly suggest cancer.

Consistency—soft, firm, or hard Delimitation—well circumscribed or not Tenderness Mobility—in relation to the skin, pectoral fascia, and chest wall. Gently move the breast near the mass and watch for dimpling.

Next, try to move the mass itself while the patient relaxes her arm and then while she presses her hand against her hip.



Cysts, inflamed areas, some cancers may be tender

A mobile mass that becomes fixed when the arm relaxes is attached to the ribs and intercostal muscles; if fixed when the hand is pressed against the hip, it is attached to the pectoral fascia. 309



The Nipple.

Thickening of the nipple and loss of elasticity suggest an underlying cancer.

Palpate each nipple, noting its elasticity.

The Male Breast Examination of the male breast may be brief but is sometimes important. Inspect the nipple and areola for nodules, swelling, or ulceration. Palpate the areola and breast tissue for nodules. If the breast appears enlarged, distinguish between the soft fatty enlargement of obesity and the firm disc of glandular enlargement, called gynecomastia.

Gynecomastia is attributed to an imbalance of estrogens and androgens, sometimes drug-related. A hard, irregular, eccentric, or ulcerating nodule is not gynecomastia and suggests breast cancer.

The Axillae Although the axillae may be examined with the patient lying down, a sitting position is preferable.

INSPECTION Inspect the skin of each axilla, noting evidence of: ■


Deodorant and other rashes


Sweat gland infection (hidradenitis suppurativa)

Unusual pigmentation

Deeply pigmented, velvety axillary skin suggests acanthosis nigricans, one form of which is associated with internal malignancy.

PALPATION To examine the left axilla, ask the patient to relax with the left arm down. Help by supporting the left wrist or hand with your left hand. Cup together the fingers of your right hand and reach as high as you can toward the apex of the axilla. Warn the patient that this may feel uncomfortable. Your fingers should lie directly behind the pectoral muscles, pointing toward the midclavicle. Now press your fingers in toward the chest wall and slide them downward, trying to feel the central nodes against the chest wall. Of the axillary nodes, these are the most often palpable. One or more soft, small (<1 cm), nontender nodes are frequently felt.


Enlarged axillary nodes from infection of the hand or arm, recent immunizations or skin tests in the arm, or part of a generalized lymphadenopathy. Check the epitrochlear nodes and other groups of lymph nodes. Nodes that are large (≥1 cm) and firm or hard, matted together, or fixed to the skin or to underlying tissues suggest malignant involvement.




Use your left hand to examine the right axilla. If the central nodes feel large, hard, or tender, or if there is a suspicious lesion in the drainage areas for the axillary nodes, feel for the other groups of axillary lymph nodes: ■

Pectoral nodes—grasp the anterior axillary fold between your thumb and fingers, and with your fingers palpate inside the border of the pectoral muscle.

Lateral nodes—from high in the axilla, feel along the upper humerus.

Subscapular nodes—step behind the patient and with your fingers feel inside the muscle of the posterior axillary fold.

Also, feel for infraclavicular nodes and reexamine the supraclavicular nodes.

Special Techniques Assessment of Spontaneous Nipple Discharge. If there is a history of spontaneous nipple discharge, try to determine its origin by compressing the areola with your index finger, placed in radial positions around the nipple. Watch for discharge appearing through one of the duct openings on the nipple’s surface. Note the color, consistency, and quantity of any discharge and the exact location where it appears.



Milky discharge unrelated to a prior pregnancy and lactation is called nonpuerperal galactorrhea. Leading causes are hormonal and pharmacologic.





A nonmilky unilateral discharge suggests local breast disease. The causative lesion is usually benign, but may be malignant, especially in elderly women. A benign intraductal papilloma is shown above in its usual subareolar location. Note the drop of blood exuding from a duct opening.

Examination of The Mastectomy Patient. The woman with a mastectomy warrants special care on examination. Inspect the mastectomy scar and axilla carefully for any masses or unusual nodularity. Note any change in color or signs of inflammation. Lymphedema may be present in the axilla and upper arm from impaired lymph drainage after surgery. Palpate gently along the scar—these tissues may be unusually sensitive. Use a circular motion with two or three fingers. Pay special attention to the upper outer quadrant and axilla. Note any enlargement of the lymph nodes or signs of inflammation or infection.

Masses, nodularity, change in color or inflammation, especially in the incision line, suggest recurrence of breast cancer.

It is especially important to carefully palpate the breast tissue and incision lines of women with breast augmentation or reconstruction.

Instructions for The Breast Self-Examination. The office or hospital visit is an important time to teach the patient how to perform the breast self-examination (BSE). A high proportion of breast masses are detected by women examining their own breasts. Although BSE has not been shown to reduce breast cancer mortality, monthly BSE is inexpensive and may promote stronger health awareness and more active self-care. For early detection of breast cancer, the BSE is most useful when coupled with regular breast examination by an experienced clinician and mammography. The BSE is best timed just after menses, when hormonal stimulation of breast tissue is low.





1. Lie down with a pillow under your right shoulder. Place your right arm behind your head. 2. Use the finger pads of the three middle fingers on your left hand to feel for lumps in the right breast. The finger pads are the top third of each finger. 3. Press firmly enough to know how your breast feels. A firm ridge in the lower curve of each breast is normal. If you’re not sure how hard to press, talk with your health care provider, or try to copy the way the doctor or nurse does it.

4. Press firmly on the breast in an up-and-down or “strip” pattern. You can also use a circular or wedge pattern, but be sure to use the same pattern every time. Check the entire breast area, and remember how your breast feels from month to month. 5. Repeat the examination on your left breast, using the finger pads of the right hand. 6. If you find any changes, see your doctor right away.


1. Repeat the examination of both breasts while standing, with one arm behind your head. The upright position makes it easier to check the upper outer part of the breasts (toward your armpit). This is where about half of breast cancers are found. You may want to do the upright part of the BSE while you are in the shower. Your soapy hands will make it easy to check

how your breasts feel as they glide over the wet skin. 2. For added safety, you might want to check your breasts by standing in front of a mirror right after your BSE each month. See if there are any changes in the way your breasts look, such as dimpling of the skin, changes in the nipple, redness, or swelling. 3. If you find any changes, see your doctor right away.

Adapted from the American Cancer Society, Accessed 9/1/01.




314 Look for this sign with the patient’s arm at rest, during special positioning, and on moving or compressing the breast, as illustrated here.

Nipple Retraction and Deviation A retracted nipple is flattened or pulled inward, as illustrated here. It may also be broadened, and feels thickened. When involvement is radially asymmetric, the nipple may deviate, i.e., point in a different direction from its normal counterpart, typically toward the underlying cancer.

Abnormal Contours

Look for any variation in the normal convexity of each breast, and compare one side with the other. Special positioning may again be useful. Shown here is marked flattening of the lower outer quadrant of the left breast.

Skin Dimpling

As breast cancer advances, it causes fibrosis (scar tissue). Shortening of this fibrotic tissue produces retraction signs, including dimpling, changes in contour, and retraction or deviation of the nipple. Other causes of retraction include fat necrosis and mammary duct ectasia.

Retraction Signs Mechanism

Retracted nipple



TABLE 8-1 ■ Visible Signs of Breast Cancer

This is an uncommon form of breast cancer that usually starts as a scaly, eczemalike lesion. The skin may also weep, crust, or erode. A breast mass may be present. Suspect Paget’s disease in any persisting dermatitis of the nipple and areola.

Paget’s Disease of the Nipple

Erosion of nipple

Dermatitis of areola

Edema of the skin is produced by lymphatic blockade. It appears as thickened skin with enlarged pores—the so-called peau d’orange (orange peel) sign. It is often seen first in the lower portion of the breast or areola.

Edema of the Skin

TABLE 8-1 ■ Visible Signs of Breast Cancer




Irregular or stellate Firm or hard Not clearly delineated from surrounding tissues

Usually nontender May be present

Round Soft to firm, usually elastic Well delineated

Often tender Absent

Round, disclike, or lobular

May be soft, usually firm

Well delineated

Very mobile

Usually nontender



Tenderness Retraction Signs


May be fixed to skin or underlying tissues

Usually single, although may coexist with other nodules

Shape Consistency Delimitation

Single or multiple

Usually single, may be multiple

30–90, most common over 50 in middle-aged and elderly women


30–50, regress after menopause except with estrogen therapy


15–25, usually puberty and young adulthood, but up to age 55


be identified early, when the mass is small. Fibrocystic changes, not illustrated, are also commonly palpable as nodular, ropelike densities in women ages 25–50. They may be tender or painful. They are considered benign and are not considered a risk factor for breast cancer.

Usual Age


The three most common kinds of breast masses are fibroadenoma (a benign tumor), cysts, and breast cancer. The clinical characteristics of these masses are listed below. However, any breast mass should be carefully evaluated and usually warrants further investigation by ultrasound, aspiration, mammography, or biopsy. The masses depicted below are rather large, for purposes of illustration. Ideally, breast cancer should

TABLE 8-2 ■ Common Breast Masses

TABLE 8-2 ■ Common Breast Masses




The Abdomen

ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY Inspect the abdominal wall and pelvis, and visualize or palpate the landmarks illustrated. The rectus abdominis muscles become more prominent when the patient raises the head and shoulders from the supine position.

Xiphoid process Rectus abdominis muscle

Costal margin Midline, overlying linea alba Iliac crest


Anterior superior iliac spine

Inguinal ligament

Pubic tubercle


Symphysis pubis



ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY For descriptive purposes, the abdomen is often divided by imaginary lines crossing at the umbilicus, forming the right upper, right lower, left upper, and left lower quadrants. Another system divides the abdomen into nine sections. Terms for three of them are commonly used: epigastric, umbilical, and hypogastric, or suprapubic. When examining the abdomen, you may be able to feel several normal structures. The sigmoid colon is frequently palpable as a firm, narrow tube in the left lower quadrant, while the cecum and part of the ascending colon form a softer, wider tube in the right lower quadrant. Portions of the transverse and descending colon may also be palpable. None of these structures should be mistaken for a tumor. Although the normal liver often extends down just below the right costal margin, its soft consistency makes it difficult to feel through the abdominal wall. The lower margin of the liver, the liver edge, is often palpable. Also in the right upper quadrant, but usually at a deeper level, lies the lower pole of the right kidney. It is occasionally palpable, especially in thin individuals with relaxed abdominal muscles. Pulsations of the abdominal aorta are frequently visible and usually palpable in the upper abdomen, while the pulsations of the iliac arteries may sometimes be felt in the lower quadrants.





Epigastric Umbilical Hypogastric or suprapubic

Xiphoid process Liver Aorta

Lower pole of right kidney

Transverse colon

Ascending colon Cecum

Descending and sigmoid colon

Sacral promontory

Iliac artery

Pregnant uterus

Full bladder

The abdominal cavity extends up under the rib cage to the dome of the diaphragm. In this protected location, beyond the reach of the palpating hand, are much of the liver and stomach and all of the usual normal spleen. The spleen lies against the diaphragm at the level of the 9th, 10th, and 11th ribs, mostly posterior to the left midaxillary line. It is lateral to and behind the stomach, and just above the left kidney. The tip of a normal spleen is palpable below the left costal margin in a small percentage of adults. Most of the normal gallbladder lies deep to the liver and cannot be distinguished from it clinically. The duodenum and pancreas lie deep in the upper abdomen, where they are not normally palpable. 318










A distended bladder may be palpable above the symphysis pubis. The bladder accommodates roughly 300 ml of urine filtered by the kidneys into the renal pelvis and the ureters. Bladder expansion stimulates contraction of bladder smooth muscle, the detrusor muscle, at relatively low pressures. Rising pressure in the bladder triggers the conscious urge to void. Increased intraurethral pressure can overcome rising pressures in the bladder and prevent incontinence. Intraurethral pressure is related to such factors as smooth muscle tone in the internal urethral sphincter, the thickness of the urethral mucosa, and in women, sufficient support to the bladder and proximal urethra from pelvic muscles and ligaments to maintain proper anatomic relationships. Striated muscle around the urethra can also contract voluntarily to interrupt voiding. Neuroregulatory control of the bladder functions at several levels. In infants, the bladder empties by reflex mechanisms in the sacral spinal cord. Voluntary control of the bladder depends on higher centers in the brain and on motor and sensory pathways between the brain and the reflex arcs of the sacral spinal cord. When voiding is inconvenient, higher centers in the brain can inhibit detrusor contractions until the capacity of the bladder, about 400 to 500 ml, is exceeded. The integrity of the sacral nerves that innervate the bladder can be tested by assessing perirectal and perineal sensation in the S2, S3, and S4 dermatomes (see p. 546). Other structures sometimes palpable in the lower abdomen include the uterus enlarged by pregnancy or fibroids, which may also rise above the symphysis pubis, and the sacral promontory, the anterior edge of the first sacral vertebra. Until you are familiar with this normal structure, you may mistake its stony hard outlines for a tumor. Another stony hard lump that can sometimes mislead you, and may occasionally alarm a patient, is a normal xiphoid process. The kidneys are posterior organs. Their upper portions are protected by the ribs. The costovertebral angle—the angle formed by the lower border of the CHAPTER 9



THE HEALTH HISTORY Costovertebral angle

11th rib 12th rib



12th rib and the transverse processes of the upper lumbar vertebrae—defines the region to assess for kidney tenderness.

Changes With Aging During the middle and later years, fat tends to accumulate in the lower abdomen and near the hips, even when total body weight is stable. This accumulation, together with weakening of the abdominal muscles, often produces a potbelly. Occasionally a person notes this change with alarm and interprets it as fluid or evidence of disease. Old age may blunt the manifestations of acute abdominal disease. Pain may be less severe, fever is often less pronounced, and signs of peritoneal inflammation, such as muscular guarding and rebound tenderness (p. 335), may be diminished or even absent.

THE HEALTH HISTORY Common or Concerning Symptoms Gastrointestinal Disorders ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■

Indigestion or anorexia Nausea, vomiting, or hematemesis Abdominal pain Dysphagia and/or odynophagia Change in bowel function Constipation or diarrhea Jaundice

Urinary and Renal Disorders ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■


Suprapubic pain Dysuria, urgency, or frequency Hesitancy, decreased stream in males Polyuria or nocturia Urinary incontinence Hematuria Kidney or flank pain Ureteral colic




You will encounter a wide variety of gastrointestinal and urinary complaints in clinical practice. Careful interviewing will often lead you to the underlying disorder. This section addresses such gastrointestinal concerns as indigestion, anorexia, nausea or vomiting, hematemesis, abdominal pain, dysphagia or odynophagia, change in bowel function, constipation and diarrhea, and jaundice. There is also health history information on disorders of the urinary tract, including complaints of suprapubic pain, dysuria, urgency, frequency, hesitancy or decreased stream in males, polyuria, nocturia, incontinence, hematuria, kidney pain, and ureteral colic.

The Gastrointestinal Tract “How is your appetite?” is a good starting question and may lead into other important areas such as indigestion, nausea, vomiting, and anorexia. Patients often complain of indigestion, a common complaint that refers to distress associated with eating, but patients use the term for many different symptoms. Find out just what your patient means. Possibilities include:

Anorexia, nausea, vomiting in many gastrointestinal disorders; also in pregnancy, diabetic ketoacidosis, adrenal insufficiency, hypercalcemia, uremia, liver disease, emotional states, adverse drug reactions, and other conditions. Induced but without nausea in anorexia/ bulimia.

Heartburn, or a sense of burning or warmth that is retrosternal and may radiate from the epigastrium to the neck. It usually originates in the esophagus. If persistent, especially in the epigastric area, it may raise the question of heart disease. Some patients with coronary artery disease describe their pain as burning, “like indigestion.” Pay special attention to what brings on the discomfort and what relieves it. Is it precipitated by exertion and relieved by rest, suggesting angina, or is it related to meals and made worse during or after eating, suggesting gastroesophageal reflux?

Heartburn suggests gastric acid reflux into the esophagus; often precipitated by a heavy meal, lying down, or bending forward, also by ingested alcohol, citrus juices, or aspirin. If chronic, consider reflux esophagitis. See Table 6-1, Chest Pain, pp. 234–235.

Excessive gas, especially with frequent belching, abdominal bloating or distention, or flatus, the passage of gas by rectum, normally about 600 ml per day. Find out if these symptoms are associated with eating specific foods. Ask if symptoms are related to ingestion of milk or milk products.

Belching, but not bloating or excess flatus, normally seen in aerophagia, or swallowing air. Also consider legumes and other gas-producing foods, intestinal lactase deficiency, irritable bowel syndrome.

Unpleasant abdominal fullness after meals of normal size, or early satiety, the inability to eat a full meal.

Consider diabetic gastroparesis, anticholinergic drugs, gastric outlet obstruction, gastric cancer; early satiety in hepatitis.

Nausea and vomiting

Abdominal pain






Anorexia is a loss or lack of appetite. Find out if it arises from intolerance to certain foods or reluctance to eat due to anticipated discomfort. Nausea, often described as “feeling sick to my stomach,” may progress to retching or vomiting. Retching describes the spasmodic movements of the chest and diaphragm that precede and culminate in vomiting, the forceful expulsion of gastric contents out through the mouth.

Anorexia, nausea, vomiting in many gastrointestinal disorders; also in pregnancy, diabetic ketoacidosis, adrenal insufficiency, hypercalcemia, uremia, liver disease, emotional states, adverse drug reactions. Induced but without nausea in anorexia/bulimia nervosa.

Some patients may not actually vomit but raise esophageal or gastric contents in the absence of nausea or retching, called regurgitation.

Regurgitation in esophageal narrowing from stricture or cancer; also with incompetent gastroesophageal sphincter

Ask about any vomitus or regurgitated material and inspect it yourself if possible. What color is it? What does the vomitus smell like? How much has there been? Ask specifically if it contains any blood and try to determine how much. You may have to help the patient with the amount . . . a teaspoon? Two teaspoons? A cupful?

Fecal odor in small bowel obstruction or gastrocolic fistula

Gastric juice is clear or mucoid. Small amounts of yellowish or greenish bile are common and have no special significance. Brownish or blackish vomitus with a “coffee-grounds” appearance suggests blood altered by gastric acid. Coffee-grounds emesis or red blood are termed hematemesis.

Hematemesis in duodenal or peptic ulcer, esophageal or gastric varices, gastritis

Do the patient’s symptoms suggest any complications of vomiting such as aspiration into the lungs, seen in elderly, debilitated, or obtunded patients? Is there dehydration or electrolyte imbalance from prolonged vomiting, or significant loss of blood?

Symptoms of blood loss such as light-headedness or syncope depend on the rate and volume of bleeding, and rarely appear until blood loss ≥ 500 ml.

Abdominal pain has several possible mechanisms and clinical patterns and warrants careful clinical assessment. Be familiar with three broad categories of abdominal pain:

See Table 9-1, Abdominal Pain (pp. 350–351).

Visceral pain occurs when hollow abdominal organs such as the intestine or biliary tree contract unusually forcefully or when they are distended or stretched. Solid organs such as the liver can also become painful when their capsules are stretched. Visceral pain may be difficult to localize. It is typically, though not necessarily, palpable near the midline, at levels that vary according to the structure involved, as illustrated on the next page.

Visceral pain in the right upper quadrant from liver distention against its capsule in alcoholic hepatitis

Visceral pain varies in quality and may be gnawing, burning, cramping, or aching. When it becomes severe, it may be associated with sweating, pallor, nausea, vomiting, and restlessness.

Visceral periumbilical pain in early acute appendicitis from distention of inflamed appendix, gradually changing to parietal pain in the right lower quadrant from inflammation of the adjacent parietal peritoneum

Parietal pain originates in the parietal peritoneum and is caused by inflammation. It is a steady aching pain that is usually more severe than visceral pain and more precisely localized over the involved structure. It is typically aggravated by movement or coughing. Patients with this type of pain usually prefer to lie still.




Right upper quadrant or epigastric pain from the biliary tree and liver


Epigastric pain from the stomach, duodenum, or pancreas

Periumbilical pain from the small intestine, appendix, or proximal colon

Suprapubic or sacral pain from the rectum

Hypogastric pain from the colon, bladder, or uterus. Colonic pain may be more diffuse than illustrated.

Referred pain is felt in more distant sites, which are innervated at approximately the same spinal levels as the disordered structure. Referred pain often develops as the initial pain becomes more intense and thus seems to radiate or travel from the initial site. It may be felt superficially or deeply but is usually well localized.

Pain of duodenal or pancreatic origin may be referred to the back; pain from the biliary tree, to the right shoulder or the right posterior chest.

Pain may also be referred to the abdomen from the chest, spine, or pelvis, thus complicating the assessment of abdominal pain.

Pain from pleurisy or acute myocardial infarction may be referred to the upper abdomen.

Ask patients to describe the abdominal pain in their own words, then ask them to point to the pain. If clothes interfere, repeat the question during the physical examination. You may need to pursue important details: “Where does the pain start?” “Does it radiate or travel anywhere?” “What is the pain like?” If the patient has trouble describing the pain, try a multiple-choice question such as “Is it aching, burning, gnawing, or what?”

Cramping colicky pain often is related to peristalsis.

You need to ask “How severe is the pain?” “How about on a scale of 1 to 10?” Find out if it is bearable and if it interferes with the patient’s usual activities. Does it make the patient lie down? The description of the severity of the pain may tell you something about the patient’s responses to pain and its impact on the patient’s life, but it is not consistently helpful in assessing the pain’s cause. Sensitivity to abdominal pain varies widely and tends to diminish over the later years, masking acute abdominal problems in older people, especially those in or beyond their 70s.






Careful timing of the pain, on the other hand, is particularly helpful. Did it start suddenly or gradually? When did the pain begin? How long does it last? What is its pattern over a 24-hour period? Over weeks and months? Are you dealing with an acute illness or a chronic or recurring one? Determine what factors aggravate or relieve the pain, with special reference to meals, antacids, alcohol, medications (including aspirin and aspirinlike drugs and any over-the-counter drugs), emotional factors, and body position. Also, is the pain related to defecation, urination, or menstruation? You also need to elicit any symptoms that are associated with the pain, such as fever or chills, and ask in what sequence they occur.

Citrus fruits may aggravate the pain of reflux esophagitis; possible lactase deficiency if abdominal discomfort from milk ingestion

Less commonly, patients may report difficulty swallowing, or dysphagia, the sense that food or liquid is sticking, hesitating, or “won’t go down right.” Dysphagia may result from esophageal disorders or from difficulty transferring food from the mouth to the esophagus. The sensation of a lump in the throat or in the retrosternal area, unassociated with swallowing, is not true dysphagia.

For types of dysphagia, see Table 9-2, Dysphagia, p. 352.

Ask the patient to point to where the dysphagia occurs and describe with what types of food. Does it occur with relatively solid foods such as meat, with softer foods such as ground meat and mashed potatoes, or with hot or cold liquids? Has the pattern changed?

Pointing to the throat suggests a transfer or esophageal disorder; pointing to the chest suggests an esophageal disorder.

Establish the timing. When did it start? Is it intermittent or persistent? Is it progressing? If so, over what period of time? What are the associated symptoms and medical conditions?

Dysphagia with solid food in mechanical narrowing of the esophagus; dysphagia related to both solids and liquids suggests a disorder of esophageal motility.

Odynophagia, or pain on swallowing, may occur in two forms. A sharp, burning pain suggests mucosal inflammation, while a squeezing, cramping pain suggests a muscular cause. Odynophagia may accompany dysphagia, but either symptom may occur independently.

Mucosal inflammation in reflux esophagitis or infection from Candida, herpesvirus, or cytomegalovirus.

With respect to the lower gastrointestinal tract, you will frequently need to assess bowel function. Start with open-ended questions: “How are your bowel movements?” “How frequent are they?” “Do you have any difficulties?” “Have you noticed any change in your bowel habits?” Frequency of bowel movements normally ranges from about three times a day to twice a week. A change in pattern within these limits, however, may be significant for an individual patient. Patients vary widely in their views of constipation and diarrhea. Be sure to clarify what the patient means by these terms. For example, is constipation . . . a decrease in frequency of bowel movements? . . . The passage of hard and perhaps painful stools? . . . The need to strain unusually hard? . . . A sense of incomplete defecation or pressure in the rectum? Ask if the patient actually looks at the stool. If yes, what does the stool look like in terms of color and bulk? What remedies has the patient tried? Do medications, stress, unrealistic ideas 324

See Table 9-3, Constipation (p. 353). Thin pencil-like stool in an obstructing “apple-core” lesion of the sigmoid colon




about normal bowel habits, or time and setting allotted for defecation play a role? Occasionally there is complete constipation with no passage of either feces or gas, or obstipation.

Obstipation in intestinal obstruction

Inquire about the color of the stools and ask about any black tarry stools, suggesting melena, or red blood in the stools, known as hematochezia. If either condition is present, find out how long and how often. If the blood is red, how much is there? Is it pure blood mixed in with stool or on the surface of the stool? Is there blood on the toilet paper?

See Table 9-5, Black and Bloody Stools, p. 356.

Diarrhea is an excessive frequency in the passage of stools that are usually unformed or watery. Ask about size, frequency, and volume. Are the stools bulky or small? How many episodes of diarrhea occur each day?

Consistently large diarrheal stools often in small bowel or proximal colon disorders; small frequent stools with urgency of defecation in left colon or rectal disorders

Ask for descriptive terms. Are the stools greasy or oily? Frothy? Foul smelling? Floating on the surface because of excessive gas, making them difficult to flush? Accompanied by mucus, pus, or blood?

Large yellowish or gray greasy foul smelling, sometimes frothy or floating stools in steatorrhea, or fatty stools—seen in malabsorption

Assess the course of diarrhea over time. Is it acute, chronic, or recurrent? Or is your patient experiencing the first acute episode of a chronic or recurrent illness?

See Table 9-4, Diarrhea (pp. 354–355).

Look into other factors as well. Does the diarrhea awaken the patient at night? What seem to be the aggravating or relieving factors? Does the patient get relief from a bowel movement, or is there an intense urge with straining but little or no result, known as tenesmus. What is the setting? Does it entail travel, stress, or a new medication? Do family members or companions have similar symptoms? Are there associated symptoms?

Nocturnal diarrhea suggests a pathophysiologic cause.

Blood on the stool surface and on toilet paper in hemorrhoids

Relief after passing feces or gas suggests left colon or rectal disorders; tenesmus in rectal conditions near the anal sphincter

In some patients, you will be struck by jaundice or icterus, the yellowish discoloration of the skin and sclerae from increased levels of bilirubin, a bile pigment derived chiefly from the breakdown of hemoglobin. Normally the hepatocytes conjugate, or combine, unconjugated bilirubin with other substances, making the bile water soluble, and then excrete it into the bile. The bile passes through the cystic duct into the common bile duct, which also drains the extrahepatic ducts from the liver. More distally the common bile duct and the pancreatic ducts empty into the duodenum at the ampulla of Vater. Mechanisms of jaundice include: ■

Increased production of bilirubin

Decreased uptake of bilirubin by the hepatocytes

Decreased ability of the liver to conjugate bilirubin



Predominantly unconjugated bilirubin from the first three mechanisms, as in hemolytic anemia (increased production) and Gilbert’s syndrome




Decreased excretion of bilirubin into the bile, resulting in absorption of conjugated bilirubin back into the blood.

Intrahepatic jaundice can be hepatocellular, from damage to the hepatocytes, or cholestatic, from impaired excretion due to damaged hepatocytes or intrahepatic bile ducts. Extrahepatic jaundice arises from obstruction of the extrahepatic bile ducts, most commonly the cystic and common bile ducts.

Impaired excretion of conjugated bilirubin in viral hepatitis, cirrhosis, primary biliary cirrhosis, druginduced cholestasis, as with oral contraceptives, methyl testosterone, chlorpromazine

Obstruction of the common bile duct by gallstones or pancreatic carcinoma

As you assess the jaundiced patient, pay special attention to the associated symptoms and the setting in which the illness occurred. What was the color of the urine as the patient became ill? When the level of conjugated bilirubin increases in the blood, it may be excreted into the urine, turning the urine a dark yellowish brown or tea color. Unconjugated bilirubin is not watersoluble so is not excreted into urine.

Dark urine from bilirubin indicates impaired excretion of bilirubin into the gastrointestinal tract.

Ask also about the color of the stools. When excretion of bile into the intestine is completely obstructed, the stools become gray or light-colored, or acholic, without bile.

Acholic stools briefly in viral hepatitis, common in obstructive jaundice

Does the skin itch without other obvious explanation? Is there associated pain? What is its pattern? Has it been recurrent in the past?

Itching in cholestatic or obstructive jaundice; pain from a distended liver capsule, biliary cholic, pancreatic cancer

Are there risk factors for liver diseases such as: ■

Hepatitis: Travel or meals in areas of poor sanitation, ingestion of contaminated water or foodstuffs (hepatitis A); parenteral or mucous membrane exposure to infectious body fluids such as blood, serum, semen, and saliva, especially through sexual contact with an infected partner or use of shared needles for injection drug use (hepatitis B); intravenous illicit drug use or blood transfusion (hepatitis C)

Alcoholic hepatitis or alcoholic cirrhosis (interview the patient carefully about alcohol use)

Toxic liver damage from medications, industrial solvents, or environmental toxins

Gallbladder disease or surgery that may result in extrahepatic biliary obstruction

Hereditary disorders in the Family History





The Urinary Tract General questions for a urinary history include: “Do you have any difficulty passing your urine?” “How often do you go?” “Do you have to get up at night? How often?” “How much urine do you pass at a time?” “Is there any pain or burning?” “Do you ever have trouble getting to the toilet in time?” “Do you ever leak any urine? Or wet yourself involuntarily?” Does the patient sense when the bladder is full and when voiding occurs? Ask women if sudden coughing, sneezing, or laughing makes them lose urine. Roughly half of young women report this experience even before bearing children. Occasional leakage is not necessarily significant. Ask older men “Do you have trouble starting your stream?” “Do you have to stand close to the toilet to void?” “Is there a change in the force or size of your stream, or straining to void?” “Do you hesitate or stop in the middle of voiding?” “Is there dribbling when you’re through?”

What color is the urine? Has it ever been reddish or brown? Disorders in the urinary tract may cause pain in either the abdomen or the back. Bladder disorders may cause suprapubic pain. In bladder infection, pain in the lower abdomen is typically dull and pressurelike. In sudden overdistention of the bladder, pain is often agonizing; in contrast, chronic bladder distention is usually painless. Infection or irritation of either the bladder or urethra often provokes several symptoms. Frequently there is pain on urination, usually felt as a burning sensation. Some clinicians refer to this as dysuria, while others reserve the term dysuria for difficulty voiding. Women may report internal urethral discomfort, sometimes described as a pressure, or an external burning from the flow of urine across irritated or inflamed labia. Men typically feel a burning sensation proximal to the glans penis. In contrast, prostatic pain is felt in the perineum and occasionally in the rectum.

See Table 9-6, Frequency, Nocturia, and Polyuria (p. 357). Involuntary voiding or lack of awareness suggests cognitive or neurosensory deficits.

Stress incontinence from decreased intraurethral pressure (see below)

Common in men with partial bladder outlet obstruction from benign prostatic hyperplasia; also seen with urethral stricture Hematuria, or blood in the urine

Pain of sudden overdistention in acute urinary retention

Painful urination with cystitis or urethritis Also consider bladder stones, foreign bodies, tumors; also acute prostatitis. In women, internal burning in urethritis, external burning in vulvovaginitis

Commonly, there are other associated symptoms. Urinary urgency is an unusually intense and immediate desire to void, sometimes leading to involuntary voiding or urge incontinence. Urinary frequency, or abnormally frequent voiding, may occur. Ask about any related fever or chills, blood in the urine, or any pain in the abdomen, flank, or back (see the next page). Men with partial obstruction to urinary outflow often report hesitancy in starting the urine stream, straining to void, reduced caliber and force of the urinary stream, or dribbling as voiding is completed.

Urgency in bladder infection or irritation. In men, painful urination without frequency or urgency suggests urethritis.

Three additional terms describe important alterations in the pattern of urination. Polyuria refers to a significant increase in 24-hour urine volume,

Abnormally high renal production of urine in polyuria. Frequency






roughly defined as exceeding 3 liters. It should be distinguished from urinary frequency, which can involve voiding in high amounts, seen in polyuria, or in small amounts, as in infection. Nocturia refers to urinary frequency at night, sometimes defined as awakening the patient more than once; urine volumes may be large or small. Clarify any change in nocturnal voiding patterns and the number of trips to the bathroom.

without polyuria during the day or night in bladder disorder or impairment to flow at or below the bladder neck

Up to 30% of older patients are concerned about urinary incontinence, an involuntary loss of urine that may become socially embarrassing or cause problems with hygiene. If the patient reports incontinence, ask when it happens and how often. Find out if the patient has leaking of small amounts of urine with increased intra-abdominal pressure from coughing, sneezing, laughing, or lifting. Or is it difficult for the patient to hold the urine once there is an urge to void, and loss of large amounts of urine? Is there a sensation of bladder fullness, frequent leakage or voiding of small amounts but difficulty emptying the bladder?

See Table 9-7, Urinary Incontinence (pp. 358–359).

As described earlier, bladder control involves complex neuroregulatory and motor mechanisms (see p. 319). A number of central or peripheral nerve lesions may affect normal voiding. Can the patient sense when the bladder is full? And when voiding occurs? Although there are four broad categories of incontinence, a patient may have a combination of causes.

In addition, the patient’s functional status may have a significant impact on voiding behaviors even when the urinary tract is intact. Is the patient mobile? Alert? Able to respond to voiding cues and reach the bathroom? Is alertness or voiding affected by medications?

Stress incontinence with increased intra-abdominal pressure from decreased contractility of urethral sphincter or poor support of bladder neck; urge incontinence if unable to hold the urine, from detrusor overactivity; overflow incontinence when the bladder cannot be emptied until bladder pressure exceeds urethral pressure, from anatomic obstruction by prostatic hypertrophy or stricture, also neurogenic abnormalities Functional incontinence from impaired cognition, musculoskeletal problems, immobility

Blood is the urine, or hematuria, is an important cause for concern. When visible to the naked eye, it is called gross hematuria. The urine may appear

Kidney pain

Ureteral pain





frankly bloody. Blood may be detected only during microscopic urinalysis, known as microscopic hematuria. Smaller amounts of blood may tinge the urine with a pinkish or brownish cast. In women, be sure to distinguish menstrual blood from hematuria. If the urine is reddish, ask about ingestion of beets or medications that might discolor the urine. Test the urine with a dipstick and microscopic examination before you settle on the term hematuria. Disorders of the urinary tract may also cause kidney pain, often reported as flank pain at or below the posterior costal margin near the costovertebral angle. It may radiate anteriorly toward the umbilicus. Kidney pain is a visceral pain usually produced by distention of the renal capsule and typically dull, aching, and steady. Ureteral pain is dramatically different. It is usually severe and colicky, originating at the costovertebral angle and radiating around the trunk into the lower quadrant of the abdomen, or possibly into the upper thigh and testicle or labium. Ureteral pain results from sudden distention of the ureter and associated distention of the renal pelvis. Ask about any associated fever or chills, or hematuria.

Kidney pain occurs in acute pyelonephritis.

Renal or ureteral colic is caused by sudden obstruction of a ureter, as by urinary stones or blood clots.

HEALTH PROMOTION AND COUNSELING Important Topics for Health Promotion and Counseling ■ ■ ■

Screening for alcohol and substance abuse Risk factors for hepatitis A, B, and C Screening for colon cancer

Health promotion and counseling relevant to the abdomen include screening for alcoholism, risk of infectious hepatitis, and risk of colon cancer. Clues from social patterns and behavioral problems in the history and findings of liver enlargement or tenderness on physical examination often alert the clinician to possible alcoholism or risk of infectious hepatitis. Past medical history and family history are important when assessing risk of colon cancer. The impact of alcohol and substance abuse on public health may be even greater than that of illicit drugs. Assessing patients for use of alcohol and other substances is a primary responsibility of all clinicians. The clinician should focus on detection, counseling, and, for significant impairment, specific recommendations for treatment. These interventions need not be time-consuming. Use the four CAGE questions, validated across many studies, to screen for alcohol dependence or abuse in all adolescents and adults, including pregnant women (see p. 413). Brief counseling interventions have been shown to reduce alcohol consumption by up to 25%.* *U.S. Preventive Services Task Force: Guide to Clinical Preventive Services (2nd ed.). Baltimore, Williams & Wilkins, p. 572, 1996.




HEALTH PROMOTION AND COUNSELING Focus on (1) sharing concern about the adverse effects of alcohol and education about harmful consequences, and (2) setting goals for behavioral change and follow-up. Tailor recommendations for treatment to the severity of the problem, ranging from support groups to inpatient detoxification to more extended rehabilitation. Protective measures against infectious hepatitis include counseling about how the viruses are spread and the need for immunization. Transmission of hepatitis A is fecal–oral: fecal shedding in food handlers leads to contamination of water and foods. Illness occurs approximately 30 days after exposure. Hepatitis A vaccine is recommended for travelers to endemic areas, food handlers, military personnel, caretakers of children, Native Americans and Alaskan natives, and selected health care, sanitation, and laboratory workers. Vaccination is also recommended for homosexual contacts and injection drug users. For immediate protection and prophylaxis for household contacts and travelers, consider administering immune serum globulin. Hepatitis B poses more serious threats to patients’ health, including risk of fulminant hepatitis as well as chronic infection and subsequent cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Transmission occurs during contact with infected body fluids, such as blood, semen, saliva, and vaginal secretions. Adults between the ages of 20 and 39 are most affected, especially injection drug users and sex workers. Up to a tenth of infected adults become chronically infected asymptomatic carriers. Behavioral counseling and serologic screening are advised for patients at risk. Because up to 30% of patients have no identifiable risk factors, hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all young adults not previously immunized, injection drug users and their sexual partners, persons at risk for sexually transmitted disease, travelers to endemic areas, recipients of blood products as in hemodialysis, and health care workers with frequent exposure to blood products. Many of these groups should also be screened for HIV infection. It is also important to screen patients for colorectal cancer, second highest of the malignancies in both prevalence and mortality. Risk factors include family history of colonic polyps, history of colorectal cancer or adenoma in a first-degree relative, and a personal history of ulcerative colitis, adenomatous polyps, or prior diagnosis of endometrial, ovarian, or breast cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends annual testing of all persons over age 50 with the fecal occult blood test (FOBT), sigmoidoscopy, or both, but details several caveats.** The FOBT has a highly variable sensitivity (26%–92%), but good specificity (90%–99%). It produces many false positives related to diet, selected medications, and gastrointestinal conditions such as ulcer disease, diverticulosis, and hemorrhoids. The benefits of sigmoidoscopy are linked to the length of the sigmoidoscope and its depth of insertion. Detection rates for colorectal cancer and insertion depths are roughly as follows: 25%–30% at 20 cm; 50%–55% at 35 cm; 40%–65% at

** U.S. Preventive Services Task Force: Guide to Clinical Preventive Services (2nd ed.). Baltimore, Williams & Wilkins, pp. 89–103, 1996.





40–50 cm. Full colonoscopy or air contrast barium enema detects 80%–95% of colorectal cancers, but these procedures are more uncomfortable and colonoscopy is more expensive. When counseling patients about prevention, there is preliminary but inconsistent evidence that diets high in fiber may reduce risk of colorectal malignancy.

Preview: Recording the Physical Examination— The Abdomen Note that initially you may use sentences to describe your findings; later you will use phrases. The style below contains phrases appropriate for most write-ups. Unfamiliar terms are explained in the next section, Techniques of Examination. “Abdomen is protuberant with active bowel sounds. It is soft and nontender; no masses or hepatosplenomegaly. Liver span is 7 cm in the right midclavicular line; edge is smooth and palpable 1 cm below the right costal margin. Spleen and kidneys not felt. No costovertebral angle (CVA) tenderness.” OR “Abdomen is flat. No bowel sounds heard. It is firm and boardlike, with increased tenderness, guarding, and rebound in the right midquadrant. Liver percusses to 7 cm in the midclavicular line; edge not felt. Spleen and kidneys not felt. No CVA tenderness.



Suggests peritonitis from possible appendicitis (see pp. 347–348 and pp. 363–364)




TECHNIQUES OF EXAMINATION For a good abdominal examination you need (1) good light, (2) a relaxed patient, and (3) full exposure of the abdomen from above the xiphoid process to the symphysis pubis. The groin should be visible. The genitalia should remain draped. The abdominal muscles should be relaxed to enhance all aspects of the examination, but especially palpation. Steps for Enhancing Examination of the Abdomen ■ ■

■ ■

■ ■

The patient should have an empty bladder. Make the patient comfortable in a supine position, with a pillow for the head and perhaps another under the knees. Slide your hand under the low back to see if the patient is relaxed and flat on the table. Have the patient keep arms at the sides or folded across the chest. Often patients raise their arms over their heads, but this stretches and tightens the abdominal wall, making palpation difficult. Before you begin palpation, ask the patient to point to any areas of pain and examine these areas last. Warm your hands and stethoscope, and avoid long fingernails. You may need to rub your hands together or warm them up with hot water; you can also begin palpation through the patient’s gown to absorb warmth from the patient’s body before exposing the abdomen properly. Anxiety may make the hands cool, a problem that decreases over time. Approach slowly and avoid quick unexpected movements. Watch the patient’s face closely for any signs of pain or discomfort. Distract the patient if necessary with conversation or questions. If the patient is frightened or ticklish, begin palpation with the patient’s hand under yours. After a few moments, slip your hand underneath to palpate directly.

An arched back thrusts the abdomen forward, thus tightening the abdominal muscles.

Visualize each organ in the region you are examining. Stand at the patient’s right side and proceed in an orderly fashion with inspection, auscultation, percussion, and palpation. Assess the liver, spleen, kidneys, and aorta.

The Abdomen INSPECTION Starting from your usual standing position at the right side of the bed, inspect the abdomen. As you look at the contour of the abdomen and watch for peristalsis, it is helpful to sit or bend down so that you can view the abdomen tangentially. 332




Note: ■

The skin, including: Scars. Describe or diagram their location. Striae. Old silver striae or stretch marks, as illustrated above, are normal.

Pink–purple striae of Cushing’s syndrome

Dilated veins. A few small veins may be visible normally.

Dilated veins of hepatic cirrhosis or of inferior vena cava obstruction

Rashes and lesions ■

The umbilicus. Observe its contour and location, and any signs of inflammation or hernia

The contour of the abdomen

See Table 9-8, Localized Bulges in the Abdominal Wall (p. 360).

Is it flat, rounded, protuberant, or scaphoid (markedly concave or hollowed)?

See Table 9-9, Protuberant Abdomens (p. 361).

Do the flanks bulge or are there any local bulges? Include in this survey the inguinal and femoral areas.

Bulging flanks of ascites; suprapubic bulge of a distended bladder or pregnant uterus; hernias

Is the abdomen symmetric?

Asymmetry due to an enlarged organ or mass

Are there visible organs or masses? Look for an enlarged liver or spleen that has descended below the rib cage.

Lower abdominal mass of an ovarian or a uterine tumor






Peristalsis. Observe for several minutes if you suspect intestinal obstruction. Peristalsis may be visible normally in very thin people.

Increased peristaltic waves of intestinal obstruction

Pulsations. The normal aortic pulsation is frequently visible in the epigastrium.

Increased pulsation of an aortic aneurysm or of increased pulse pressure

AUSCULTATION Auscultation provides important information about bowel motility. Listen to the abdomen before performing percussion or palpation, since these maneuvers may alter the frequency of bowel sounds. You should practice auscultation until you are thoroughly familiar with variations in normal bowel sounds and can detect changes suggestive of inflammation or obstruction. Auscultation may also reveal bruits, vascular sounds resembling heart murmurs, over the aorta or other arteries in the abdomen, which suggest vascular occlusive disease. Place the diaphragm of your stethoscope gently on the abdomen. Listen for bowel sounds and note their frequency and character. Normal sounds consist of clicks and gurgles, occurring at an estimated frequency of 5 to 34 per minute. Occasionally you may hear borborygmi—long prolonged gurgles of hyperperistalsis—the familiar “stomach growling.” Because bowel sounds are widely transmitted through the abdomen, listening in one spot, such as the right lower quadrant, is usually sufficient.

Bowel sounds may be altered in diarrhea, intestinal obstruction, paralytic ileus, and peritonitis. See Table 9-10, Sounds in the Abdomen (p. 362).

If the patient has high blood pressure, listen in the epigastrium and in each upper quadrant for bruits. Later in the examination, when the patient sits up, listen also in the costovertebral angles. Epigastric bruits confined to systole may be heard in normal persons.

A bruit in one of these areas that has both systolic and diastolic components strongly suggests renal artery stenosis as the cause of hypertension.


Renal artery

Iliac artery

Femoral artery





If you suspect arterial insufficiency in the legs, listen for bruits over the aorta, the iliac arteries, and the femoral arteries. Bruits confined to systole are relatively common, however, and do not necessarily signify occlusive disease. Listening points for bruits in these vessels are illustrated on p. 334.

Bruits with both systolic and diastolic components suggest the turbulent blood flow of partial arterial occlusion. See Table 9-10, Sounds in the Abdomen (p. 362).

If you suspect a liver tumor, gonococcal infection around the liver, or splenic infarction, listen over the liver and spleen for friction rubs.

See Table 9-10, Sounds in the Abdomen (p. 362).

PERCUSSION Percussion helps you to assess the amount and distribution of gas in the abdomen and to identify possible masses that are solid or fluid filled. Its use in estimating the size of the liver and spleen will be described in later sections. Percuss the abdomen lightly in all four quadrants to assess the distribution of tympany and dullness. Tympany usually predominates because of gas in the gastrointestinal tract, but scattered areas of dullness due to fluid and feces there are also typical.

A protuberant abdomen that is tympanitic throughout suggests intestinal obstruction. See Table 9-9, Protuberant Abdomens (p. 361).

Note any large dull areas that might indicate an underlying mass or enlarged organ. This observation will guide your palpation.

Pregnant uterus, ovarian tumor, distended bladder, large liver or spleen

On each side of a protuberant abdomen, note where abdominal tympany changes to the dullness of solid posterior structures.

Dullness in both flanks indicates further assessment for ascites (see pp. 345–347).

Briefly percuss the lower anterior chest, between lungs above and costal margins below. On the right, you will usually find the dullness of liver; on the left, the tympany that overlies the gastric air bubble and the splenic flexure of the colon.

In situs inversus (rare), organs are reversed: air bubble on the right, liver dullness on the left.

PALPATION Light Palpation.

Feeling the abdomen gently is especially helpful in identifying abdominal tenderness, muscular resistance, and some superficial organs and masses. It also serves to reassure and relax the patient. Keeping your hand and forearm on a horizontal plane, with fingers together and flat on the abdominal surface, palpate the abdomen with a light, gentle, dipping motion. When moving your hand from place to place, raise it just off the skin. Moving smoothly, feel in all quadrants. Identify any superficial organs or masses and any area of tenderness or increased resistance to your hand. If resistance is present, try to distinguish voluntary guarding from involuntary muscular spasm. To do this:

Try all the relaxing methods you know (see p. 332).



Involuntary rigidity (muscular spasm) typically persists despite these maneuvers. It indicates peritoneal inflammation. 335



Feel for the relaxation of abdominal muscles that normally accompanies exhalation.

Ask the patient to mouth-breathe with jaw dropped open.

Voluntary guarding usually decreases with these maneuvers.

Deep Palpation. This is usually required to delineate abdominal masses. Again using the palmar surfaces of your fingers, feel in all four quadrants. Identify any masses and note their location, size, shape, consistency, tenderness, pulsations, and any mobility with respiration or with the examining hand. Correlate your palpable findings with their percussion notes.

Abdominal masses may be categorized in several ways: physiologic (pregnant uterus), inflammatory (diverticulitis of the colon), vascular (an aneurysm of the abdominal aorta), neoplastic (carcinoma of the colon), or obstructive (a distended bladder or dilated loop of bowel).






Assessment for Peritoneal Inflammation. Abdominal pain and tenderness, especially when associated with muscular spasm, suggest inflammation of the parietal peritoneum. Localize the pain as accurately as possible. First, even before palpation, ask the patient to cough and determine where the cough produced pain. Then, palpate gently with one finger to map the tender area. Pain produced by light percussion has similar localizing value. These gentle maneuvers may be all you need to establish an area of peritoneal inflammation.

Abdominal pain on coughing or with light percussion suggests peritoneal inflammation. See Table 9-11, Tender Abdomens (pp. 363–364).

If not, look for rebound tenderness. Press your fingers in firmly and slowly, and then quickly withdraw them. Watch and listen to the patient for signs of pain. Ask the patient (1) to compare which hurt more, the pressing or the letting go, and (2) to show you exactly where it hurt. Pain induced or increased by quick withdrawal constitutes rebound tenderness. It results from the rapid movement of an inflamed peritoneum.

Rebound tenderness suggests peritoneal inflammation. If tenderness is felt elsewhere than where you were trying to elicit rebound, that area may be the real source of the problem.

The Liver Because most of the liver is sheltered by the rib cage, assessing it is difficult. Its size and shape can be estimated by percussion and perhaps palpation, however, and the palpating hand may enable you to evaluate its surface, consistency, and tenderness.

PERCUSSION Measure the vertical span of liver dullness in the right midclavicular line. Starting at a level below the umbilicus (in an area of tympany, not dullness), lightly percuss upward toward the liver. Ascertain the lower border of liver dullness in the midclavicular line. Next, identify the upper border of liver dullness in the midclavicular line. Lightly percuss from lung resonance down toward liver dullness. Gently displace a woman’s breast as necessary to be sure that you start in a resonant area. The course of percussion is shown below.

The span of liver dullness is increased when the liver is enlarged. The span of liver dullness is decreased when the liver is small, or when free air is present below the diaphragm, as from a perforated hollow viscus. Serial observations may show a decreasing span of dullness with resolution of hepatitis or congestive heart failure or, less commonly, with progression of fulminant hepatitis.




Liver dullness may be displaced downward by the low diaphragm of chronic obstructive lung disease. Span, however, remains normal. 337



Now measure in centimeters the distance between your two points—the vertical span of liver dullness. Normal liver spans, shown below, are generally greater in men than in women, in tall people than in short. If the liver seems to be enlarged, outline the lower edge by percussing in other areas. Dullness of a right pleural effusion or consolidated lung, if adjacent to liver dullness, may falsely increase the estimate of liver size.

4 – 8 cm in midsternal line

Gas in the colon may produce tympany in the right upper quadrant, obscure liver dullness, and falsely decrease the estimate of liver size.

6 – 12 cm in right midclavicular line


Although percussion is probably the most accurate clinical method for estimating the vertical size of the liver, it typically leads to underestimation.

PALPATION Place your left hand behind the patient, parallel to and supporting the right 11th and 12th ribs and adjacent soft tissues below. Remind the patient to relax on your hand if necessary. By pressing your left hand forward, the patient’s liver may be felt more easily by your other hand. Place your right hand on the patient’s right abdomen lateral to the rectus muscle, with your fingertips well below the lower border of liver dullness. Some examiners like to point their fingers up toward the patient’s head, while others prefer a somewhat more oblique position, as shown on the next page. In either case, press gently in and up. Ask the patient to take a deep breath. Try to feel the liver edge as it comes down to meet your fingertips. If you feel it, lighten the pressure of your palpating hand slightly so that the liver can slip under your finger pads and you can feel its anterior surface. Note any tenderness. If palpable at all, the edge of a normal liver is soft, sharp, and regular, its surface smooth. The normal liver may be slightly tender. On inspiration, the liver (on the following page) is palpable about 3 cm below the right costal margin in the midclavicular line.


Firmness or hardness of the liver, bluntness or rounding of its edge, and irregularity of its contour suggest an abnormality of the liver. An obstructed, distended gallbladder may form an oval mass below the edge of the liver and merging with it. It is dull to percussion.




Some people breathe more with their chests than with their diaphragms. It may be helpful to train such a patient to “breathe with the abdomen,” thus bringing the liver, as well as the spleen and kidneys, into a palpable position during inspiration. Try to trace the liver edge both laterally and medially. Palpation through the rectus muscles, however, is especially difficult. Describe or sketch the liver edge, and measure its distance from the right costal margin in the midclavicular line.

See Table 9-12, Liver Enlargement: Apparent and Real (pp. 365–366).

In order to feel the liver, you may have to alter your pressure according to the thickness and resistance of the abdominal wall. If you cannot feel it, move your palpating hand closer to the costal margin and try again.

The edge of an enlarged liver may be missed by starting palpation too high in the abdomen, as shown below.






The “hooking technique” may be helpful, especially when the patient is obese. Stand to the right of the patient’s chest. Place both hands, side by side, on the right abdomen below the border of liver dullness. Press in with your fingers and up toward the costal margin. Ask the patient to take a deep breath. The liver edge shown below is palpable with the fingerpads of both hands.

Assessing Tenderness of a Nonpalpable Liver.

Place your left hand flat on the lower right rib cage and then gently strike your hand with the ulnar surface of your right fist. Ask the patient to compare the sensation with that produced by a similar strike on the left side.

Tenderness over the liver suggests inflammation, as in hepatitis, or congestion, as in heart failure.

The Spleen When a spleen enlarges, it expands anteriorly, downward, and medially, often replacing the tympany of stomach and colon with the dullness of a solid organ. It then becomes palpable below the costal margin. Percussion cannot confirm splenic enlargement but can raise your suspicions of it. Palpation can confirm the enlargement, but often misses large spleens that do not descend below the costal margin.

PERCUSSION Two techniques may help you to detect splenomegaly, an enlarged spleen: ■

Percuss the left lower anterior chest wall between lung resonance above and the costal margin (an area termed Traube’s space). As you percuss along the routes suggested by the arrows in the following figures, note the lateral extent of tympany.


Dullness, as shown on the following page, raises the question of splenomegaly.




Anterior axillary line Midaxillary line Normal spleen

This is variable, but if tympany is prominent, especially laterally, splenomegaly is not likely. The dullness of a normal spleen is usually hidden within the dullness of other posterior tissues.

Fluid or solids in the stomach or colon may also cause dullness in Traube’s space.

Check for a splenic percussion sign. Percuss the lowest interspace in the left anterior axillary line, as shown below. This area is usually tympanitic. Then ask the patient to take a deep breath, and percuss again. When spleen size is normal, the percussion note usually remains tympanitic.

A change in percussion note from tympany to dullness on inspiration suggests splenic enlargement. This is a positive splenic percussion sign.

Percuss here Anterior axillary line Midaxillary line Inspiratory movement



If either or both of these tests is positive, pay extra attention to palpating the spleen.

The splenic percussion sign may also be positive when spleen size is normal.

PALPATION With your left hand, reach over and around the patient to support and press forward the lower left rib cage and adjacent soft tissue. With your right hand below the left costal margin, press in toward the spleen. Begin palpation low CHAPTER 9


An enlarged spleen may be missed if the examiner starts too high in the abdomen to feel the lower edge. 341



enough so that you are below a possibly enlarged spleen. (If your hand is close to the costal margin, moreover, it is not sufficiently mobile to reach up under the rib cage.) Ask the patient to take a deep breath. Try to feel the tip or edge of the spleen as it comes down to meet your fingertips. Note any tenderness, assess the splenic contour, and measure the distance between the spleen’s lowest point and the left costal margin. In a small percentage of normal adults, the tip of the spleen is palpable. Causes include a low, flat diaphragm, as in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and a deep inspiratory descent of the diaphragm.

A palpable spleen tip, though not necessarily abnormal, may indicate splenic enlargement. The spleen tip below is just palpable deep to the left costal margin.

Repeat with the patient lying on the right side with legs somewhat flexed at hips and knees. In this position, gravity may bring the spleen forward and to the right into a palpable location.

The enlarged spleen shown below is palpable about 2 cm below the left costal margin on deep inspiration.






The Kidneys PALPATION Although kidneys are not usually palpable, you should learn and practice the techniques. Detecting an enlarged kidney may prove to be very important.

Palpation of the Left Kidney. Move to the patient’s left side. Place your right hand behind the patient just below and parallel to the 12th rib, with your fingertips just reaching the costovertebral angle. Lift, trying to displace the kidney anteriorly. Place your left hand gently in the left upper quadrant, lateral and parallel to the rectus muscle. Ask the patient to take a deep breath. At the peak of inspiration, press your left hand firmly and deeply into the left upper quadrant, just below the costal margin, and try to “capture” the kidney between your two hands. Ask the patient to breathe out and then to stop breathing briefly. Slowly release the pressure of your left hand, feeling at the same time for the kidney to slide back into its expiratory position. If the kidney is palpable, describe its size, contour, and any tenderness. Alternatively, try to feel for the left kidney by a method similar to feeling for the spleen. With your left hand, reach over and around the patient to lift the left loin, and with your right hand feel deep in the left upper quadrant. Ask the patient to take a deep breath, and feel for a mass. A normal left kidney is rarely palpable.

A left flank mass (see the solid line on photo on previous page) may represent marked splenomegaly or an enlarged left kidney. Suspect splenomegaly if notch palpated on medial border, edge extends beyond the midline, percussion is dull, and your fingers can probe deep to the medial and lateral borders but not between the mass and the costal margin. Confirm findings with further evaluation.

Attributes favoring an enlarged kidney over an enlarged spleen include preservation of normal tympany in the left upper quadrant and the ability to probe with your fingers between the mass and the costal margin but not deep to its medial and lower borders.

Palpation of the Right Kidney. To capture the right kidney, return to the patient’s right side. Use your left hand to lift from in back, and your right hand to feel deep in the left upper quadrant. Proceed as before.






A normal right kidney may be palpable, especially in thin, well-relaxed women. It may or may not be slightly tender. The patient is usually aware of a capture and release. Occasionally, a right kidney is located more anteriorly than usual and then must be distinguished from the liver. The edge of the liver, if palpable, tends to be sharper and to extend farther medially and laterally. It cannot be captured. The lower pole of the kidney is rounded.

Causes of kidney enlargement include hydronephrosis, cysts, and tumors. Bilateral enlargement suggests polycystic disease.

Assessing Kidney Tenderness. You may note

Pain with pressure or fist percussion suggests pyelonephritis, but may also have a musculoskeletal cause.

tenderness when examining the abdomen, but also search for it at each costovertebral angle. Pressure from your fingertips may be enough to elicit tenderness, but if not, use fist percussion. Place the ball of one hand in the costovertebral angle and strike it with the ulnar surface of your fist. Use enough force to cause a perceptible but painless jar or thud in a normal person. To save the patient needless exertion, integrate this assessment with your examination of the back (see p. 10).


The Bladder The bladder normally cannot be examined unless it is distended above the symphysis pubis. On palpation, the dome of the distended bladder feels smooth and round. Check for tenderness. Use percussion to check for dullness and to determine how high the bladder rises above the symphysis pubis.

Bladder distention from outlet obstruction due to urethral stricture, prostatic hyperplasia; also from medications and neurologic disorders such as stroke, multiple sclerosis. Suprapubic tenderness in bladder infection

The Aorta Press firmly deep in the upper abdomen, slightly to the left of the midline, and identify the aortic pulsations. In persons over age 50, try to assess the width of the aorta by pressing deeply in the upper abdomen with one hand on each side of the aorta, as illustrated. In this age group, a normal aorta is 344

In an older person, a periumbilical or upper abdominal mass with expansile pulsations suggests an aortic aneurysm.




not more than 3.0 cm wide (average 2.5 cm). This measurement does not include the thickness of the abdominal wall. The ease of feeling aortic pulsations varies greatly with the thickness of the abdominal wall and with the anteroposterior diameter of the abdomen.

An aortic aneurysm is a pathologic dilatation of the aorta, usually due to arteriosclerosis. A merely tortuous abdominal aorta, however, may be difficult to distinguish from an aneurysm on clinical grounds. Although an aneurysm is usually painless, pain may herald its most dreaded and frequent complication—rupture of the aorta. Apparent enlargement of the aorta indicates assessment by ultrasound.

Special Techniques Assessment Techniques for: ■ ■ ■

Ascites Appendicitis Acute cholecystitis

■ ■

Ventral hernia Mass in abdominal wall

ASSESSING POSSIBLE ASCITES A protuberant abdomen with bulging flanks suggests the possibility of ascitic fluid. Because ascitic fluid characteristically sinks with gravity, while gas-filled loops of bowel float to the top, percussion gives a dull note in dependent areas of the abdomen. Look for such a pattern by percussing outward in several directions from the central area of tympany. Map the border between tympany and dullness. CHAPTER 9


Tympany Dullness




Two further techniques help to confirm the presence of ascites, although both signs may be misleading. ■

Test for shifting dullness. After mapping the borders of tympany and dullness, ask the patient to turn onto one side. Percuss and mark the borders again. In a person without ascites, the borders between tympany and dullness usually stay relatively constant.

In ascites, dullness shifts to the more dependent side, while tympany shifts to the top.



Test for a fluid wave. Ask the patient or an assistant to press the edges of both hands firmly down the midline of the abdomen. This pressure helps to stop the transmission of a wave through fat. While you tap one flank sharply with your fingertips, feel on the opposite flank for an impulse transmitted through the fluid. Unfortunately, this sign is often negative until ascites is obvious, and it is sometimes positive in people without ascites.


An easily palpable impulse suggests ascites.




Identifying an Organ or a Mass in an Ascitic Abdomen.

Try to ballotte the organ or mass, exemplified here by an enlarged liver. Straighten and stiffen the fingers of one hand together, place them on the abdominal surface, and make a brief jabbing movement directly toward the anticipated structure. This quick movement often displaces the fluid so that your fingertips can briefly touch the surface of the structure through the abdominal wall.


The pain of appendicitis classically begins near the umbilicus, then shifts to the right lower quadrant, where coughing increases it. Elderly patients report this pattern less frequently than younger ones.

Ask the patient to point to where the pain began and where it is now. Ask the patient to cough. Determine whether and where pain results.

Search carefully for an area of local tenderness.

Localized tenderness anywhere in the right lower quadrant, even in the right flank, may indicate appendicitis.

Feel for muscular rigidity.

Early voluntary guarding may be replaced by involuntary muscular rigidity.

Perform a rectal examination and, in women, a pelvic examination. These maneuvers may not help you to discriminate well between a normal and an inflamed appendix, but they may help to identify an inflamed appendix atypically located within the pelvic cavity. They may also suggest other causes of the abdominal pain.

Right-sided rectal tenderness may be caused by, for example, inflamed adnexa or an inflamed seminal vesicle, as well as by an inflamed appendix.






Some additional techniques are sometimes helpful. ■

Check the tender area for rebound tenderness. (If other signs are typically positive, you can save the patient unnecessary pain by omitting this test.)

Rebound tenderness suggests peritoneal inflammation, as from appendicitis.

Check for Rovsing’s sign and for referred rebound tenderness. Press deeply and evenly in the left lower quadrant. Then quickly withdraw your fingers.

Pain in the right lower quadrant during left-sided pressure suggests appendicitis (a positive Rovsing’s sign). So does right lower quadrant pain on quick withdrawal (referred rebound tenderness).

Look for a psoas sign. Place your hand just above the patient’s right knee and ask the patient to raise that thigh against your hand. Alternatively, ask the patient to turn onto the left side. Then extend the patient’s right leg at the hip. Flexion of the leg at the hip makes the psoas muscle contract; extension stretches it.

Increased abdominal pain on either maneuver constitutes a positive psoas sign, suggesting irritation of the psoas muscle by an inflamed appendix.

Look for an obturator sign. Flex the patient’s right thigh at the hip, with the knee bent, and rotate the leg internally at the hip. This maneuver stretches the internal obturator muscle. (Internal rotation of the hip is described on p. 510.)

Right hypogastric pain constitutes a positive obturator sign, suggesting irritation of the obturator muscle by an inflamed appendix.

Test for cutaneous hyperesthesia. At a series of points down the abdominal wall, gently pick up a fold of skin between your thumb and index finger, without pinching it. This maneuver should not normally be painful.

Localized pain with this maneuver, in all or part of the right lower quadrant, may accompany appendicitis.

ASSESSING POSSIBLE ACUTE CHOLECYSTITIS When right upper quadrant pain and tenderness suggest acute cholecystitis, look for Murphy’s sign. Hook your left thumb or the fingers of your right hand under the costal margin at the point where the lateral border of the rectus muscle intersects with the costal margin. Alternatively, if the liver is enlarged, hook your thumb or fingers under the liver edge at a comparable point below. Ask the patient to take a deep breath. Watch the patient’s breathing and note the degree of tenderness.

A sharp increase in tenderness with a sudden stop in inspiratory effort constitutes a positive Murphy’s sign of acute cholecystitis. Hepatic tenderness may also increase with this maneuver, but is usually less well localized.

ASSESSING VENTRAL HERNIAS Ventral hernias are hernias in the abdominal wall exclusive of groin hernias. If you suspect but do not see an umbilical or incisional hernia, ask the patient to raise both head and shoulders off the table. 348

The bulge of a hernia will usually appear with this action (see p. 360).




Inguinal and femoral hernias are discussed in the next chapter. They can give rise to important abdominal problems and must not be overlooked.

The cause of intestinal obstruction or peritonitis may be missed by overlooking a strangulated femoral hernia.

MASS IN THE ABDOMINAL WALL To Distinguish an Abdominal Mass From a Mass in the Abdominal Wall. An occasional mass is in the abdominal wall rather than inside the abdominal cavity. Ask the patient either to raise the head and shoulders or to strain down, thus tightening the abdominal muscles. Feel for the mass again.



A mass in the abdominal wall remains palpable; an intra-abdominal mass is obscured by muscular contraction.


TABLE 9-1 ■ Abdominal Pain

TABLE 9-1 ■ Abdominal Pain





Peptic ulcer refers to a demonstrable ulcer, usually in the duodenum or disorders cannot be stomach. Dyspepsia causes similar reliably differentiated symptoms but no ulceration. Infection by symptoms and signs.) by Helicobacter pylori is often present.

Epigastric, may radiate to the back

Variable: gnawing burning, boring, aching, pressing, or hungerlike

Cancer of the Stomach

A malignant neoplasm



Acute Pancreatitis

An acute inflammation of the pancreas

Epigastric, may radiate to the back or other parts of the abdomen; may be poorly localized

Usually steady

Chronic Pancreatitis

Fibrosis of the pancreas secondary to recurrent inflammation

Epigastric, radiating through to the back

Steady, deep

Cancer of the Pancreas

A malignant neoplasm

Epigastric and in either upper quadrant; often radiates to the back

Steady, deep

Biliary Colic

Sudden obstruction of the cystic duct or common bile duct by a gallstone

Epigastric or right upper quadrant; may radiate to the right scapula and shoulder

Steady, aching; not colicky

Acute Cholecystitis Inflammation of the gallbladder, usually

Right upper quadrant or upper abdominal; may radiate to the right scapular area

Steady, aching

Left lower quadrant

May be cramping at first, but becomes steady

Peptic Ulcer and Dyspepsia (These

from obstruction of the cystic duct by a gallstone

Acute Diverticulitis Acute inflammation of a colonic diverticulum, a saclike mucosal outpouching through the colonic muscle

Acute Appendicitis Acute inflammation of the appendix

with distention or obstruction ■

Acute Mechanical Intestinal Obstruction

Mesenteric Ischemia


Poorly localized periumbilical pain, followed usually by Right lower quadrant pain

Mild but increasing, possibly cramping Steady and more severe

Obstruction of the bowel lumen, most commonly caused by (1) adhesions or hernias (small bowel), or (2) cancer or diverticulitis (colon)

Small bowel: periumbilical or upper abdominal


Colon: lower abdominal or generalized


Blood supply to the bowel and mesentery blocked from thrombosis or embolus (acute arterial occlusion), or reduced from hypoperfusion

May be periumbilical at first, then diffuse

Cramping at first, then steady


TABLE 9-1 ■ Abdominal Pain

Factors That May Aggravate


Factors That May Relieve

Associated Symptoms and Setting

Intermittent. Duodenal ulcer is more likely than gastric ulcer or dyspepsia to cause pain that (1) wakes the patient at night, and (2) occurs intermittently over a few weeks, then disappears for months, and then recurs.


Food and antacids may bring relief, but not necessarily in any of these disorders and least commonly in gastric ulcer.

Nausea, vomiting, belching, bloating; heartburn (more common in duodenal ulcer); weight loss (more common in gastric ulcer). Dyspepsia is more common in the young (20–29 yr), gastric ulcer in those over 50 yr, and duodenal ulcer in those from 30–60 yr.

The history of pain is typically shorter than in peptic ulcer. The pain is persistent and slowly progressive.

Often food

Not relieved by food or antacids

Anorexia, nausea, early satiety, weight loss, and sometimes bleeding. Most common in ages 50–70

Acute onset, persistent pain

Lying supine

Leaning forward with trunk flexed

Nausea, vomiting, abdominal distention, fever. Often a history of previous attacks and alcohol abuse or gallstones

Chronic or recurrent course

Alcohol, heavy or fatty meals

Possibly leaning forward with trunk flexed; often intractable

Symptoms of decreased pancreatic function may appear: diarrhea with fatty stools (steatorrhea) and diabetes mellitus.

Possibly leaning forward with trunk flexed; often intractable

Anorexia, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, and jaundice. Emotional symptoms, including depression

Persistent pain; relentlessly progressive illness Rapid onset over a few minutes, lasts one to several hours and subsides gradually. Often recurrent Gradual onset; course longer than in biliary colic

Anorexia, nausea, vomiting, restlessness

Anorexia, nausea, vomiting, and fever

Jarring, deep breathing

Often a gradual onset

Lasts roughly 4–6 hr

Depends on intervention

Paroxysmal; may decrease as bowel mobility is impaired

Paroxysmal, though typically milder

Usually abrupt in onset, then persistent



Fever, constipation. There may be initial brief diarrhea.

Movement or cough

If it subsides temporarily, suspect perforation of the appendix.

    

Anorexia, nausea, possibly vomiting, which typically follow the onset of pain; low fever ■

Vomiting of bile and mucus (high obstruction) or fecal material (low obstruction). Obstipation develops. Obstipation early. Vomiting late if at all. Prior symptoms of underlying cause.

Vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), constipation, shock


TABLE 9-2 ■ Dysphagia

TABLE 9-2 ■ Dysphagia

Process and Problem Timing Transfer Dysphagia, due to motor disorders affecting the pharyngeal muscles

Factors That Aggravate

Associated Symptoms and Conditions

Factors That Relieve

Acute or gradual onset and a variable course, depending on the underlying disorder

Attempts to start the swallowing process

Aspiration into the lungs or regurgitation into the nose with attempts to swallow. Neurologic evidence of stroke, bulbar palsy, or other neuromuscular conditions

Esophageal Dysphagia Mechanical Narrowing ■

Mucosal rings and webs


Solid foods

Regurgitation of the bolus of food

Usually none

Esophageal stricture

Intermittent, may become slowly progressive

Solid foods

Regurgitation of the bolus of food

A long history of heartburn and regurgitation

Esophageal cancer

May be intermittent at first; progressive over months

Solid foods, with progression to liquids

Regurgitation of the bolus of food

Pain in the chest and back and weight loss, especially late in the course of illness

Diffuse esophageal spasm


Solids or liquids

Maneuvers described below; sometimes nitroglycerin

Chest pain that mimics angina pectoris or myocardial infarction and lasts minutes to hours; possibly heartburn


Intermittent, may progress slowly

Solids or liquids


Intermittent, may progress

Solids or liquids

Motor Disorders ■


        

Repeated swallowing, movements such as straightening the back, raising the arms, or a Valsalva maneuver (straining down against a closed glottis)

        

Heartburn. Other manifestations of scleroderma Regurgitation, often at night when lying down, with nocturnal cough; possibly chest pain precipitated by eating


TABLE 9-3 ■ Constipation

TABLE 9-3 ■ Constipation Problem Life Activities and Habits Inadequate Time or Setting for the Defecation Reflex False Expectations of Bowel Habits Diet Deficient in Fiber Irritable Bowel Syndrome


Associated Symptoms and Setting

Ignoring the sensation of a full rectum inhibits the defecation reflex.

Hectic schedules, unfamiliar surroundings, bed rest

Expectations of “regularity” or more frequent stools than a person’s norm

Beliefs, treatments, and advertisements that promote the use of laxatives

Decreased fecal bulk

Other factors such as debilitation and constipating drugs may contribute.

A common disorder of bowel motility

Small, hard stools, often with mucus. Periods of diarrhea. Cramping abdominal pain. Stress may aggravate.

Mechanical Obstruction Cancer of the Rectum or Progressive narrowing of the bowel lumen Sigmoid Colon

Change in bowel habits; often diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bleeding. In rectal cancer, tenesmus and pencil-shaped stools

Fecal Impaction

A large, firm, immovable fecal mass, most often in the rectum

Rectal fullness, abdominal pain, and diarrhea around the impaction. Common in debilitated, bedridden, and often elderly patients

Other Obstructing Lesions (such as

Narrowing or complete obstruction of the bowel

Colicky abdominal pain, abdominal distention, and in intussusception, often “currant jelly” stools (red blood and mucus)

Painful Anal Lesions

Pain may cause spasm of the external sphincter and voluntary inhibition of the defecation reflex.

Anal fissures, painful hemorrhoids, perirectal abscesses


A variety of mechanisms

Opiates, anticholinergics, antacids containing calcium or aluminum, and many others


A disorder of mood. See Table 16-1, Disorders of Mood.

Fatigue, feelings of depression, and other somatic symptoms

Neurologic Disorders

Interference with the autonomic innervation of the bowel

Spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, Hirschsprung’s disease, and other conditions

Metabolic Conditions

Interference with bowel motility

Pregnancy, hypothyroidism, hypercalcemia

diverticulitis, volvulus, intussusception, or hernia)




TABLE 9-4 ■ Diarrhea

TABLE 9-4 ■ Diarrhea Problem


Characteristics of Stool

Infection by viruses, preformed bacterial toxins (such as Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens, toxigenic Escherichia coli, Vibrio cholerae), cryptosporidium, Giardia lamblia

Watery, without blood, pus, or mucus

Inflammatory Infections

Colonization or invasion of intestinal mucosa (nontyphoid Salmonella, Shigella, Yersinia, Campylobacter, enteropathic E. coli, Entamoeba histolytica)

Loose to watery, often with blood, pus, or mucus

Drug-Induced Diarrhea

Action of many drugs, such as magnesiumcontaining antacids, antibiotics, antineoplastic agents, and laxatives

Loose to watery

Acute Diarrhea Secretory Infections

Chronic Diarrhea Diarrheal Syndromes ■

Irritable bowel syndrome

A disorder of bowel motility with alternating diarrhea and constipation

Loose; may show mucus but no blood. Small, hard stools with constipation

Cancer of the sigmoid colon

Partial obstruction by a malignant neoplasm

May be blood-streaked

Inflammatory Bowel Disease ■

Ulcerative colitis

Inflammation of the mucosa and submucosa of the rectum and colon with ulceration; cause unknown

From soft to watery, often containing blood

Crohn’s disease of the small bowel (regional enteritis) or colon (granulomatous colitis)

Chronic inflammation of the bowel wall, typically involving the terminal ileum and/or proximal colon

Small, soft to loose or watery, usually free of gross blood (enteritis) or with less bleeding than ulcerative colitis (colitis)

Defective absorption of fat, including fat-soluble vitamins, with steatorrhea (excessive excretion of fat) as in pancreatic insufficiency, bile salt deficiency, bacterial overgrowth

Typically bulky, soft, light yellow to gray, mushy, greasy or oily, and sometimes frothy; particularly foulsmelling; usually floats in the toilet

Deficiency in intestinal lactase

Watery diarrhea of large volume

Laxative habit, often surreptitious

Watery diarrhea of large volume


Watery diarrhea of large volume

Voluminous Diarrheas ■

Malabsorption syndromes

Osmotic diarrheas Lactose intolerance

Abuse of osmotic purgatives ■


Secretory diarrheas from bacterial infection, secreting villous adenoma, fat or bile salt malabsorption, hormone-mediated conditions (gastrin in Zollinger–Ellison syndrome, vasoactive intestinal peptide [VIP])


TABLE 9-4 ■ Diarrhea


Associated Symptoms

Setting, Persons at Risk

Duration of a few days, possibly longer. Lactase deficiency may lead to a longer course.

Nausea, vomiting, periumbilical cramping pain. Temperature normal or slightly elevated

Often travel, a common food source, or an epidemic

An acute illness of varying duration

Lower abdominal cramping pain and often rectal urgency, tenesmus; fever

Travel, contaminated food or water. Men and women who have had frequent anal intercourse.

Acute, recurrent, or chronic

Possibly nausea; usually little if any pain

Prescribed or over-the-counter medications

Often worse in the morning. Diarrhea rarely wakes the patient at night.

Crampy lower abdominal pain, abdominal distention, flatulence, nausea, constipation

Young and middle-aged adults, especially women


Change in usual bowel habits, crampy lower abdominal pain, constipation

Middle-aged and older adults, especially over 55 yr

Onset ranges from insidious to acute. Typically recurrent, may be persistent. Diarrhea may wake the patient at night.

Crampy lower or generalized abdominal pain, anorexia, weakness, fever

Often young people

Insidious onset, chronic or recurrent. Diarrhea may wake the patient at night.

Crampy periumbilical or right lower quadrant (enteritis) or diffuse (colitis) pain, with anorexia, low fever, and/or weight loss. Perianal or perirectal abscesses and fistulas

Often young people, especially in the late teens, but also in the middle years. More common in people of Jewish descent

Onset of illness typically insidious

Anorexia, weight loss, fatigue, abdominal distention, often crampy lower abdominal pain. Symptoms of nutritional deficiencies such as bleeding (vitamin K), bone pain and fractures (vitamin D), glossitis (vitamin B), and edema (protein)

Variable, depending on cause

Follows the ingestion of milk and milk products; is relieved by fasting

Crampy abdominal pain, abdominal distention, flatulence

African Americans, Asians, Native Americans


Often none

Persons with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa


Weight loss, dehydration, nausea, vomiting, and cramping abdominal pain

Variable depending on cause




TABLE 9-5 ■ Black and Bloody Stools

TABLE 9-5 ■ Black and Bloody Stools Problem

Selected Causes

Associated Symptoms and Setting

Peptic ulcer

Often, but not necessarily, a history of epigastric pain Recent ingestion of alcohol, aspirin, or other anti-inflammatory drugs; recent bodily trauma, severe burns, surgery, or increased intracranial pressure Cirrhosis of the liver or other cause of portal hypertension History of heartburn Retching, vomiting, often recent ingestion of alcohol

Melena Melena refers to the passage of black, tarry (sticky and shiny) stools. Tests for occult blood are positive. Melena signifies the loss of at least 60 ml of blood into the gastrointestinal tract (less in infants and children), usually from the esophagus, stomach, or duodenum. Less commonly, when intestinal transit is slow, the blood may originate in the jejunum, ileum, or ascending colon. In infants, melena may result from swallowing blood during the birth process.

Gastritis or stress ulcers

Esophageal or gastric varices Reflux esophagitis Mallory–Weiss tear, a mucosal tear in the esophagus due to retching and vomiting

Black, Nonsticky Stools Black stools may result from other causes and then usually give negative results when tested for occult blood. (Ingestion of iron or other substances, however, may cause a positive test result in the absence of blood.) These stools have no pathologic significance.

Ingestion of iron, bismuth salts as in Pepto-Bismol, licorice, or even commercial chocolate cookies

Red Blood in the Stools Red blood usually originates in the colon, rectum, or anus, and much less frequently in the jejunum or ileum. Upper gastrointestinal hemorrhage, however, may also cause red stools. The amount of blood lost is then usually large (more than a liter). Transit time through the intestinal tract is accordingly rapid, giving insufficient time for the blood to turn black.

Cancer of the colon Benign polyps of the colon Diverticula of the colon Inflammatory conditions of the colon and rectum ■ Ulcerative colitis ■ Infectious dysenteries ■ Proctitis (various causes) in men or women who have had frequent anal intercourse Ischemic colitis Hemorrhoids Anal fissure

Often a change in bowel habits Often no other symptoms Often no other symptoms

See Table 9-5, Diarrhea. See Table 9-5, Diarrhea. Rectal urgency, tenesmus

Lower abdominal pain and sometimes fever or shock in persons over age 50 yr Blood on the toilet paper, on the surface of the stool, or dripping into the toilet Blood on the toilet paper or on the surface of the stool; anal pain

Reddish But Nonbloody Stools The ingestion of beets


Pink urine, which usually precedes the reddish stool


TABLE 9-6 ■ Frequency, Nocturia, and Polyuria

TABLE 9-6 ■ Frequency, Nocturia, and Polyuria Problem



Decreased capacity of the bladder ■ Increased bladder sensitivity to stretch because of inflammation ■ Decreased elasticity of the bladder wall ■

Decreased cortical inhibition of bladder contractions

Impaired emptying of the bladder, with residual urine in the bladder ■ Partial mechanical obstruction of the bladder neck or proximal urethra

Nocturia With High Volumes

With Low Volumes



Loss of peripheral nerve supply to the bladder

Selected Causes

Associated Symptoms

Infection, stones, tumor, or foreign body in the bladder

Burning on urination, urinary urgency, sometimes gross hematuria Symptoms of associated inflammation (see above) are common. Urinary urgency; neurologic symptoms such as weakness and paralysis

Infiltration by scar tissue or tumor Motor disorders of the central nervous system, such as a stroke

Most commonly, benign prostatic hyperplasia; also urethral stricture and other obstructive lesions of the bladder or prostate Neurologic disease affecting the sacral nerves or nerve roots, e.g., diabetic neuropathy

Prior obstructive symptoms: hesitancy in starting the urinary stream, straining to void, reduced size and force of the stream, and dribbling during or at the end of urination Weakness or sensory defects

Most types of polyuria (see pp. 327–328) Possibly other symptoms of renal insufficiency

Decreased concentrating ability of the kidney with loss of the normal decrease in nocturnal urinary output

Chronic renal insufficiency due to a number of diseases

Excessive fluid intake before bedtime

Habit, especially involving alcohol and coffee

Fluid-retaining, edematous states. Dependent edema accumulates during the day and is excreted when the patient lies down at night.

Congestive heart failure, nephrotic syndrome, hepatic cirrhosis with ascites, chronic venous insufficiency

Edema and other symptoms of the underlying disorder. Urinary output during the day may be reduced as fluid reaccumulates in the body. See Table 14-4, Some Peripheral Causes of Edema.

Voiding while up at night without a real urge, a “pseudo-frequency”



Deficiency of antidiuretic hormone (diabetes insipidus)

A disorder of the posterior pituitary and hypothalamus

Thirst and polydipsia, often severe and persistent; nocturia

Renal unresponsiveness to antidiuretic hormone (nephrogenic diabetes insipidus)

A number of kidney diseases, including hypercalcemic and hypokalemic nephropathy; drug toxicity, e.g., from lithium

Thirst and polydipsia, often severe and persistent; nocturia

Solute diuresis ■ Electrolytes, such as sodium salts ■ Nonelectrolytes, such as glucose

Large saline infusions, potent diuretics, certain kidney diseases Uncontrolled diabetes mellitus


Excessive water intake

Primary polydipsia

Polydipsia tends to be episodic. Thirst may not be present. Nocturia is usually absent.



Thirst, polydipsia, and nocturia


TABLE 9-7 ■ Urinary Incontinence

TABLE 9-7 ■ Urinary Incontinence* Problem


Stress Incontinence The urethral sphincter is weakened so that transient increases in intraabdominal pressure raise the bladder pressure to levels that exceed urethral resistance.

In women, most often a weakness of the pelvic floor with inadequate muscular support of the bladder and proximal urethra and a change in the angle between the bladder and the urethra. Suggested causes include childbirth and surgery. Local conditions affecting the internal urethral sphincter, such as postmenopausal atrophy of the mucosa and urethral infection, may also contribute. In men, stress incontinence may follow prostatic surgery.

Urge Incontinence Detrusor contractions are stronger than normal and overcome the normal urethral resistance. The bladder is typically small.

Decreased cortical inhibition of detrusor contractions, as by strokes, brain tumors, dementia, and lesions of the spinal cord above the sacral level Hyperexcitability of sensory pathways, caused by, for example, bladder infections, tumors, and fecal impaction Deconditioning of voiding reflexes, caused by, for example, frequent voluntary voiding at low bladder volumes

Overflow Incontinence Detrusor contractions are insufficient to overcome urethral resistance. The bladder is typically large, even after an effort to void.

Obstruction of the bladder outlet, as by benign prostatic hyperplasia or tumor Weakness of the detrusor muscle associated with peripheral nerve disease at the sacral level Impaired bladder sensation that interrupts the reflex arc, as from diabetic neuropathy

Functional Incontinence This is a functional inability to get to the toilet in time because of impaired health or environmental conditions.

Problems in mobility resulting from weakness, arthritis, poor vision, or other conditions. Environmental factors such as an unfamiliar setting, distant bathroom facilities, bedrails, or physical restraints

Incontinence Secondary to Medications Drugs may contribute to any type of incontinence listed.

Sedatives, tranquilizers, anticholinergics, sympathetic blockers, and potent diuretics

*Patients may have more than one kind of incontinence.



TABLE 9-7 ■ Urinary Incontinence


Physical Signs

Momentary leakage of small amounts of urine concurrent with stresses such as coughing, laughing, and sneezing while the person is in an upright position. A desire to urinate is not associated with pure stress incontinence.

The bladder is not detected on abdominal examination. Stress incontinence may be demonstrable, especially if the patient is examined before voiding and in a standing position. Atrophic vaginitis may be evident.

Incontinence preceded by an urge to void. The volume tends to be moderate. Urgency Frequency and nocturia with small to moderate volumes If acute inflammation is present, pain on urination Possibly “pseudo-stress incontinence”—voiding 10–20 sec after stresses such as a change of position, going up or down stairs, and possibly coughing, laughing, or sneezing

The bladder is not detectable on abdominal examination. When cortical inhibition is decreased, mental deficits or motor signs of central nervous system disease are often, though not necessarily, present. When sensory pathways are hyperexcitable, signs of local pelvic problems or a fecal impaction may be present.

Prior symptoms of partial urinary obstruction or other symptoms of peripheral nerve disease may be present.

An enlarged bladder is often found on abdominal examination and may be tender. Other possible signs include prostatic enlargement, motor signs of peripheral nerve disease, a decrease in sensation including perineal sensation, and diminished to absent reflexes.

Incontinence on the way to the toilet or only in the early morning

The bladder is not detectable on physical examination. Look for physical or environmental clues to the likely cause.

Variable. A careful history and chart review are important.


A continuous dripping or dribbling incontinence Decreased force of the urinary stream





Lipoma Lipomas are common, benign, fatty tumors usually located in the subcutaneous tissues almost anywhere in the body, including the abdominal wall. Small or large, they are usually soft and often lobulated. When your finger presses down on the edge of a lipoma, the tumor typically slips out from under it.

A rectus diastasis is a separation of the two rectus abdominis muscles, through which abdominal contents bulge to form a midline ridge when the patient raises head and shoulders. Repeated pregnancies, obesity, and chronic lung disease may predispose to it. It has no clinical consequences.

An epigastric hernia is a small midline protrusion through a defect in the linea alba, somewhere between the xiphoid process and the umbilicus. With the patient’s head and shoulders raised (or with the patient standing), look for it, and run your fingerpad down the linea alba to feel it.

Epigastric Hernia

Diastasis Recti

An incisional hernia protrudes through an operative scar. By palpation, note the length and width of the defect in the abdominal wall. A small defect, through which a large hernia has passed, has a greater risk of complications than a large defect.

Umbilical hernias protrude through a defective umbilical ring. They are most common in infants but also occur in adults. In infants, but not in adults, they usually close spontaneously within a year or two. Ridge

Incisional Hernia

Umbilical Hernia


Localized bulges in the abdominal wall include ventral hernias (defects in the wall through which tissue protrudes) and subcutaneous tumors such as lipomas. The more common ventral hernias are umbilical, incisional, and epigastric. Hernias and a rectus diastasis usually become more evident when the patient raises head and shoulders from a supine position.

TABLE 9-8 ■ Localized Bulges in the Abdominal Wall

TABLE 9-8 ■ Localized Bulges in the Abdominal Wall




Ascitic fluid seeks the lowest point in the abdomen, producing bulging flanks that are dull to percussion. The umbilicus may protrude. Turn the patient onto one side to detect the shift in position of the fluid level (shifting dullness). (See pp. 345–347 for the assessment of ascites.)

Pregnancy is a common cause of a pelvic “mass.” Listen for the fetal heart (see pp. 421–422).



Ascitic Fluid

Bulging flank

Umbilicus may be protuberant


A large, solid tumor, usually rising out of the pelvis, is dull to percussion. Air-filled bowel is displaced to the periphery. Causes include ovarian tumors and uterine myomata. Occasionally, a markedly distended bladder may be mistaken for such a tumor.







Gaseous distention may be localized or generalized. It causes a tympanitic percussion note. Increased intestinal gas production due to certain foods may cause mild distention. More serious are intestinal obstruction and adynamic (paralytic) ileus. Note the location of the distention. Distention becomes more marked in colonic than in small bowel obstruction.

Fat is the most common cause of a protuberant abdomen and is associated with generalized obesity. The abdominal wall is thick. Fat in the mesentery and omentum also contributes to abdominal size. The umbilicus may appear sunken. The percussion note is normal. A pannus, or apron of fatty tissue, may extend below the inguinal ligaments. Lift it to look for inflammation in the skin fold or even for a hidden hernia.




TABLE 9-9 ■ Protuberant Abdomens

TABLE 9-9 ■ Protuberant Abdomens


362 Epigastric and umbilical


Friction rubs are rare. They are grating sounds with respiratory variation. They indicate inflammation of the peritoneal surface of an organ, as from a liver tumor, chlamydial or gonococcal perihepatitis, recent liver biopsy, or splenic infarct. When a systolic bruit accompanies a hepatic friction rub, suspect carcinoma of the liver.

A venous hum is rare. It is a soft humming noise with both systolic and diastolic components. It indicates increased collateral circulation between portal and systemic venous systems, as in hepatic cirrhosis.


Friction Rubs

Venous Hum

High-pitched tinkling sounds suggest intestinal fluid and air under tension in a dilated bowel. Rushes of high-pitched sounds coinciding with an abdominal cramp indicate intestinal obstruction.

Iliac artery


A hepatic bruit suggests carcinoma of the liver or alcoholic hepatitis. Arterial bruits with both systolic and diastolic components suggest partial occlusion of the aorta or large arteries. Partial occlusion of a renal artery may cause and explain hypertension.

Bowel sounds may be: ■ Increased, as from diarrhea or early intestinal obstruction ■ Decreased, then absent, as in adynamic ileus and peritonitis. Before deciding that bowel sounds are absent, sit down and listen where shown for 2 min or even longer. Renal artery


Bowel Sounds

TABLE 9-10 ■ Sounds in the Abdomen

TABLE 9-10 ■ Sounds in the Abdomen




Deep tender areas

Superficial tender area

Acute Salpingitis Frequently bilateral, the tenderness of acute salpingitis (inflammation of the fallopian tubes) is usually maximal just above the inguinal ligaments. Rebound tenderness and rigidity may be present. On pelvic examination, motion of the uterus causes pain. (table continues next page)

Acute Pleurisy

Abdominal pain and tenderness may be due to acute pleural inflammation. When unilateral, it may mimic acute cholecystitis or appendicitis. Rebound tenderness and rigidity are less common; chest signs are usually present.

Unilateral or bilateral, upper or lower abdomen

Normal or spastic sigmoid colon

Normal aorta

The structures shown may be tender to deep palpation. Usually the discomfort is dull and there is no muscular rigidity or rebound tenderness. A reassuring explanation to the patient may prove quite helpful.

Normal cecum

Enlarged liver

Visceral Tenderness

Tenderness From Disease in the Chest and Pelvis

Tenderness may originate in the abdominal wall. When the patient raises head and shoulders, this tenderness persists, whereas tenderness from a deeper lesion (protected by the tightened muscles) decreases.

Abdominal Wall Tenderness

TABLE 9-11 ■ Tender Abdomens

TABLE 9-11 ■ Tender Abdomens



Acute Diverticulitis Acute diverticulitis most often involves the sigmoid colon and then resembles a left-sided appendicitis.

Acute Appendicitis

Right lower quadrant signs are typical of acute appendicitis, but may be absent early in the course. The typical area of tenderness is illustrated. Explore other portions of the right lower quadrant as well as the right flank.

Right rectal tenderness

In acute pancreatitis, epigastric tenderness and rebound tenderness are usually present, but the abdominal wall may be soft.

Signs are maximal in the right upper quadrant. Check for Murphy’s sign (see p. 348).

Just below the middle of a line joining the umbilicus and the anterior superior iliac spine

Acute Pancreatitis

Acute Cholecystitis

Tenderness associated with peritoneal inflammation is more severe than visceral tenderness. Muscular rigidity and rebound tenderness are frequently but not necessarily present. Generalized peritonitis causes exquisite tenderness throughout the abdomen, together with boardlike muscular rigidity. Local causes of peritoneal inflammation include:

Tenderness of Peritoneal Inflammation

TABLE 9-11 ■ Tender Abdomens (Continued)

TABLE 9-11 ■ Tender Abdomens




Normal Variations in Liver Shape In some persons, especially those with a lanky build, the liver tends to be somewhat elongated so that its right lobe is easily palpable as it projects downward toward the iliac crest. Such an elongation, sometimes called Riedel’s lobe, represents a variation in shape, not an increase in liver volume or size. This variant illustrates the basic limitations of assessing liver size. We can only estimate the upper and lower borders of an organ that has three dimensions and differing shapes. Some error is unavoidable. (table continues next page)

This is a common finding (e.g., in emphysema) when the diaphragm is low. The liver edge may be readily palpable well below the costal margin. Percussion, however, reveals a low upper edge also, and the vertical span of the liver is normal.

Elongated right lobe

Downward Displacement of the Liver by a Low Diaphragm

Height by percussion normal

Upper border low

A palpable liver does not necessarily indicate hepatomegaly (an enlarged liver), but more often results from a change in consistency—from the normal softness to an abnormal firmness or hardness, as in cirrhosis. Clinical estimates of liver size should be based on both percussion and palpation, although even then they are far from perfect.

TABLE 9-12 ■ Liver Enlargement: Apparent and Real

TABLE 9-12 ■ Liver Enlargement: Apparent and Real



Large Irregular Liver An enlarged liver that is firm or hard and has an irregular edge or surface suggests malignancy. There may be one or more nodules. The liver may or may not be tender.

Smooth Large Tender Liver

An enlarged liver with a smooth tender edge suggests inflammation, as in hepatitis, or venous congestion, as in right-sided heart failure.

Cirrhosis may produce an enlarged liver with a firm nontender edge. The liver is not always enlarged in this condition, however, and many other diseases may produce similar findings.

Smooth Large Nontender Liver

TABLE 9-12 ■ Liver Enlargement: Apparent and Real (Continued)

TABLE 9-12 ■ Liver Enlargement: Apparent and Real



Male Genitalia and Hernias


ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY Review the anatomy of the male genitalia.

Vas deferens

Blood vessels Urethra Corpus cavernosum Corpus spongiosum

Corona Glans

Prepuce Urethral meatus

Spermatic cord Epididymis

Cavity of tunica vaginalis






ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY The shaft of the penis is formed by three columns of vascular erectile tissue: the corpus spongiosum, containing the urethra, and two corpora cavernosa. The corpus spongiosum forms the bulb of the penis, ending in the coneshaped glans with its expanded base, or corona. In uncircumsized men, the glans is covered by a loose, hoodlike fold of skin called the prepuce or foreskin where smegma, or secretions of the glans, may collect. The urethra is located ventrally in the shaft of the penis; urethral abnormalities may sometimes be felt there. The urethra opens into the vertical, slitlike urethral meatus, located somewhat ventrally at the tip of the glans. The scrotum is a loose, wrinkled pouch divided into two compartments, each of which contains a testis or testicle. The testes are ovoid, somewhat rubbery structures, about 4.5 cm long in the adult, with a range from 3.5 cm to 5.5 cm. The left usually lies somewhat lower than the right. On the posterolateral surface of each testis is the softer, comma-shaped epididymis. It is most prominent along the superior margin of the testis. The epididymis may be located anteriorly in 6% to 7% of males. Surrounding the testis, except posteriorly, is the tunica vaginalis, a serous membrane enclosing a potential cavity. The testes produce spermatozoa and testosterone. Testosterone stimulates the pubertal growth of the male genitalia, prostate, and seminal vesicles. It also stimulates the development of masculine secondary sex characteristics, including the beard, body hair, musculoskeletal development, and enlarged larynx with the associated low-pitched voice. The vas deferens, a cordlike structure, begins at the tail of the epididymis, ascends within the scrotal sac, and passes through the external inguinal ring on its way to the abdomen and pelvis. Behind the bladder it is joined by the duct from the seminal vesicle and enters the urethra within the prostate gland. Sperm thus pass from the testis and the epididymis through the vas deferens into the urethra. Secretions from the vasa deferentia, the seminal vesicles, and the prostate all contribute to the semen. Within the scrotum each vas is closely associated with blood vessels, nerves, and muscle fibers. These structures make up the spermatic cord. Male sexual function depends on normal levels of testosterone, adequate arterial blood flow to the inferior epigastric artery and its cremasteric and pubic branches, and intact neural innervation from α-adrenergic and cholinergic pathways. Erection from venous engorgement of the corpora cavernosa results from two types of stimuli. Visual, auditory, or erotic cues trigger sympathetic outflow from higher brain centers to the T11 through L2 levels of the spinal cord. Tactile stimulation initiates sensory impulses from the genitalia to S2–S4 reflex arcs and parasympathetic pathways via the pudendal nerve. Both sets of stimuli appear to increase levels of nitric oxide and cyclic GMP, resulting in local vasodilation.


Lymphatics from the penile and scrotal surfaces drain into the inguinal nodes. When you find an inflammatory or possibly malignant lesion on these surfaces, assess the inguinal nodes especially carefully for en368


ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY largement or tenderness. The lymphatics of the testes, however, drain into the abdomen, where enlarged nodes are clinically undetectable. See page 452 for further discussion of the inguinal nodes.

Anatomy of the Groin. Because hernias are relatively common, it is important to understand the anatomy of the groin. The basic landmarks are the anterior superior iliac spine, the pubic tubercle, and the inguinal ligament that runs between them. Find these on yourself or a colleague. The inguinal canal, which lies above and approximately parallel to the inguinal ligament, forms a tunnel for the vas deferens as it passes through the abdominal muscles. The exterior opening of the tunnel—the external inguinal ring—is a triangular slitlike structure palpable just above and lateral to the pubic tubercle. The internal opening of the canal—or internal inguinal ring—is about 1 cm above the midpoint of the inguinal ligament. Neither canal nor internal ring is palpable through the abdominal wall. When loops of bowel force their way through weak areas of the inguinal canal they produce inguinal hernias, as illustrated on pp. 381–382.

Anterior superior iliac spine Internal inguinal ring Inguinal canal Site of femoral canal

External inguinal ring

Femoral artery Femoral vein Spermatic cord Pubic tubercle

Another potential route for a herniating mass is the femoral canal. This lies below the inguinal ligament. Although you cannot see it, you can estimate its location by placing your right index finger, from below, on the right femoral artery. Your middle finger will then overlie the femoral vein; your ring finger, the femoral canal. Femoral hernias protrude here.

Changes With Aging Note that in about 80% of men, pubic hair spreads farther up the abdomen in a triangular pattern pointing toward the umbilicus. Because this kind of spread, known as stage 6, is not completed until the mid-20s or later, it is not considered a pubertal change. Testosterone levels decline with aging and may affect both libido and sexual function. Erection becomes more dependent on tactile stimulation and less responsive to erotic cues. Pubic hair may decrease and become gray. The penis decreases in size and the testicles drop lower in the scrotum. Although the testes often decrease in size with protracted illnesses, they do not necessarily change size with aging per se. CHAPTER 10





THE HEALTH HISTORY Common or Concerning Symptoms ■ ■ ■ ■

Sexual function, sexual preference Sexual response: libido, arousal, orgasm, ejaculation Penile discharge or lesions Scrotal pain, swelling, or lesions

For men, questions about the genital system follow naturally after those dealing with the urinary system. You will need to review sexual function and screen for symptoms of infection. Begin with general questions such as “How is sexual function for you?” “Are you satisfied with your sexual life?” “What about your ability to perform sexually?” If the patient reports a sexual problem, ask him to tell you about it. Ask if there has been any change in desire or level of sexual activity in recent years. What does he think has caused it, what has he tried to do about it, and what are his hopes? Identify the patient’s sexual preference as to partners (male, female, or both). Find out if the patient’s partner has any concerns. Direct questions help you to assess each phase of the sexual response. To assess libido, or desire, ask “Have you maintained an interest in sex?” For the arousal phase, ask “Are you able to achieve and maintain an erection?” Explore the timing, severity, setting, and any other factors that may be contributing. Have any changes in the relationship with his partner or in his life circumstances coincided with onset of the problem? Are there circumstances when erection is normal? On awakening in the early morning or during the night? With other partners? With masturbation?

Lack of libido may arise from psychogenic causes such as depression, endocrine dysfunction, or side effects of medications.

Other questions relate to the phase of orgasm and ejaculation of semen. If ejaculation is premature, or early and out of control, ask “About how long does intercourse last?” “Do you climax too soon?” “Do you feel like you have any control over climaxing?” “Do you think your partner would like intercourse to last longer?” For reduced or absent ejaculation, “Do you find that you cannot have orgasm even though you can have an erection?” Try to determine if the problem involves the pleasurable sensation of orgasm, the ejaculation of seminal fluid, or both. Review the frequency and setting of the problem, medications, surgery, and neurologic symptoms.

Premature ejaculation is common, especially in young men. Less common is reduced or absent ejaculation affecting middle-aged or older men. Possible causes are medications, surgery, neurologic deficits, or lack of androgen. Lack of orgasm with ejaculation is usually psychogenic.

To assess the possibility of genital infection from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), ask about any discharge from the penis, dripping, or staining of underwear. If penile discharge is present, assess the amount, its color and consistency, and any fever, chills, rash, or associated symptoms.

Penile discharge in gonococcal (usually yellow) and nongonococcal urethritis (may be clear or white)


Erectile dysfunction from psychogenic causes, especially if early morning erection preserved; also from decreased testosterone, decreased blood flow in hypogastric arterial system, impaired neural innervation




Inquire about sores or growths on the penis, and any pain or swelling in the scrotum. Ask about previous genital symptoms or a past history of diseases such as herpes, gonorrhea, or syphilis. A patient who has multiple partners, is homosexual, uses illicit drugs, or has a prior history of STDs is at increased risk for STDs.

See Table 10-1, Abnormalities of the Penis (p. 378) and Table 10-2, Abnormalities of the Male Genitalia (pp. 379–380). In addition to STDs, many skin conditions affect the genitalia; likewise some STDs have minimal symptoms or signs.

Because STDs may involve other parts of the body, additional questions are often indicated. An introductory explanation may be useful. “Sexually transmitted diseases can involve any body opening where you have sex. It’s important for you to tell me which openings you use.” And further, as needed, “Do you have oral sex? Anal sex?” If the patient’s answers are affirmative, ask about symptoms such as sore throat, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, and anal itching or pain.

Infections from oral–penile transmission include gonorrhea, Chlamydia, syphilis, and herpes. Symptomatic or asymptomatic proctitis may follow anal intercourse.

For the many patients without symptoms or known risk factors, it is wise to ask, “Do you have any concerns about HIV infection?” and to continue with the more general questions suggested on pp. 45–46.

HEALTH PROMOTION AND COUNSELING Important Topics for Health Promotion and Counseling ■ ■

Prevention of STDs and HIV Testicular self-examination

Health promotion and counseling should address patient education about STDs and HIV, early detection of infection during history taking and physical examination, and identification and treatment of infected partners. Discussion of risk factors for STDs and HIV is especially important for adolescents and younger patients, the age groups that are most adversely affected. Clinicians must be comfortable with eliciting the sexual history and with asking frank but tactful questions about sexual practices. A minimal history includes identifying the patient’s sexual orientation, the number of sexual partners in the past month, and any history of STDs (see Chap. 2, p. 45). Questions should be clear and nonjudgmental. You should also identify use of alcohol and drugs, particularly injection drugs. Counsel patients at risk about limiting the number of partners, using condoms, and establishing regular medical care for treatment of STDs and HIV. It is important for men to seek prompt attention for any genital lesions or penile discharge. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends counseling and testing for HIV infection in the following groups: all persons at increased risk CHAPTER 10





for infection with HIV, STDs, or both; men with male partners; past or present injection drug users; any past or present partners of individuals with HIV infection, bisexual practices, or injection drug use; and patients with a history of transfusion between 1978 and 1985. In addition, encourage men, especially those between the ages of 15 and 35, to perform monthly testicular self-examinations and to seek physician evaluation for the following findings: any painless lump, swelling, or enlargement in either testicle; pain or discomfort in a testicle or the scrotum; a feeling of heaviness or a sudden fluid collection in the scrotum; or a dull ache in the lower abdomen or the groin. (See p. 377 for instructions to patients.)

Preview: Recording the Physical Examination— Male Genitalia and Hernias Note that initially you may use sentences to describe your findings; later you will use phrases. The style below contains phrases appropriate for most write-ups. Unfamiliar terms are explained in the next section, Techniques of Examination. “Circumsized male. No penile discharge or lesions. No scrotal swelling or discoloration. Testes descended bilaterally, smooth, without masses. Epididymis nontender. No inguinal or femoral hernias.” OR “Uncircumsized male; prepuce easily retractible. No penile discharge or lesions. No scrotal swelling or discoloration. Testes descended bilaterally; right testicle smooth; 1 × 1 cm firm nodule on left lateral testicle. It is fixed and nontender. Epididymis nontender. No inguinal or femoral hernias.”


Suspicious for testicular carcinoma, the most common form of cancer in men between the ages of 15 and 35




TECHNIQUES OF EXAMINATION Many students feel uneasy about examining a man’s genitalia. “How will the patient react?” “Will he have an erection?” “Will he let me examine him?” It may be reassuring to explain each step of the examination so the patient knows what to expect. A male patient may occasionally have an erection. If so, you should explain that this is a normal response, finish your examination, and proceed with an unruffled demeanor. If the man refuses to be examined, you should respect his wishes. A good genital examination can be done with the patient either standing or supine. To check for hernias or varicoceles, however, the patient should stand, and you should sit comfortably on a chair or stool. A gown conveniently covers the patient’s chest and abdomen. Wear gloves throughout the examination. Expose the genitalia and inguinal areas. For younger patients, review the sexual maturity ratings on p. 707.

The Penis INSPECTION Inspect the penis, including:

See Table 10-1, Abnormalities of the Penis (p. 378).

The skin

The prepuce (foreskin). If it is present, retract it or ask the patient to retract it. This step is essential for the detection of many chancres and carcinomas. Smegma, a cheesy, whitish material, may accumulate normally under the foreskin.

Phimosis is a tight prepuce that cannot be retracted over the glans. Paraphimosis is a tight prepuce that, once retracted, cannot be returned. Edema ensues.

The glans. Look for any ulcers, scars, nodules, or signs of inflammation.

Balanitis (inflammation of the glans); balanoposthitis (inflammation of the glans and prepuce)

Check the skin around the base of the penis for excoriations or inflammation. Look for nits or lice at the bases of the pubic hairs.

Pubic or genital excoriations suggest the possibility of lice (crabs) or sometimes scabies.

Note the location of the urethral meatus.

Hypospadias is a congenital, ventral displacement of the meatus on the penis (p. 378).

Compress the glans gently between your index finger above and your thumb below. This maneuver should open the urethral meatus and allow you to inspect it for discharge. Normally there is none.

Profuse yellow discharge in gonococcal urethritis; scanty white or clear discharge in nongonococcal urethritis. Definitive diagnosis requires Gram stain and culture.






If the patient has reported a discharge but you do not see any, ask him to strip, or milk, the shaft of the penis from its base to the glans. Alternatively, do it yourself. This maneuver may bring some discharge out of the urethral meatus for appropriate examination. Have a glass slide and culture materials ready.

PALPATION Palpate any abnormality of the penis, noting any tenderness or induration. Palpate the shaft of the penis between your thumb and first two fingers, noting any induration. Palpation of the shaft may be omitted in a young, asymptomatic male patient. If you retract the foreskin, replace it before proceeding on to examine the scrotum.

Induration along the ventral surface of the penis suggests a urethral stricture or possibly a carcinoma. Tenderness of such an indurated area suggests periurethral inflammation secondary to a urethral stricture.

The Scrotum and Its Contents INSPECTION

See Table 10-2, Abnormalities of the Male Genitalia (pp. 379–380).

Inspect the scrotum, including: ■

The skin. Lift up the scrotum so that you can see its posterior surface.

Rashes, epidermoid cysts, rarely skin cancer

The scrotal contours. Note any swelling, lumps, or veins.

A poorly developed scrotum on one or both sides suggests cryptorchidism (an undescended testicle). Common scrotal swellings include indirect inguinal hernias, hydroceles, and scrotal edema. Tender, painful scrotal swelling in acute epididymitis, acute orchitis, torsion of the spermatic cord, or a strangulated inguinal hernia.

PALPATION Palpate each testis and epididymis between your thumb and first two fingers. Note size, shape, consistency, and tenderness; feel for any nodules. Pressure on the testis normally produces a deep visceral pain.


Any painless nodule in the testis must raise the possibility of testicular cancer, a potentially curable cancer with a peak incidence between the ages of 15 and 35 years.



EXAMPLES OF ABNORMALITIES Palpate each spermatic cord, including the vas deferens, between your thumb and fingers from the epididymis to the superficial inguinal ring.

Multiple tortuous veins in this area, usually on the left, may be palpable and even visible. They indicate a varicocele (p. 380).

Note any nodules or swellings.

The vas deferens, if chronically infected, may feel thickened or beaded. A cystic structure in the spermatic cord suggests a hydrocele of the cord.

Swelling in the scrotum other than the testicles can be evaluated by transillumination. After darkening the room, shine the beam of a strong flashlight from behind the scrotum through the mass. Look for transmission of the light as a red glow.

Swellings containing serous fluid, as in hydroceles, light up with a red glow, or transilluminate. Those containing blood or tissue, such as a normal testis, a tumor, or most hernias, do not.

Hernias INSPECTION Inspect the inguinal and femoral areas carefully for bulges. While you continue your observation, ask the patient to strain down.

A bulge that appears on straining suggests a hernia.

PALPATION Palpate for an inguinal hernia. Using in turn your right hand for the patient’s right side and your left hand for the patient’s left side, invaginate loose scrotal skin with your index finger. Start at a point low enough to be sure that your finger will have enough mobility to reach as far as the internal inguinal ring if this proves possible. Follow the spermatic cord upward to above the inguinal ligament and find the triangular slitlike opening of the external inguinal ring. This is just above and lateral to the pubic tubercle. If the ring is somewhat enlarged, it may admit your index finger. If possible, gently follow the inguinal canal laterally in its oblique course. With your finger located either at the external ring or within the canal, ask the patient to strain down or cough. Note any palpable herniating mass as it touches your finger.



See Table 10-3, Course and Presentation of Hernias in the Groin (p. 381). See Table 10-4, Differentiation of Hernias in the Groin (p. 382).




Anterior superior iliac spine Inguinal ligament

External inguinal ring

Palpate for a femoral hernia by placing your fingers on the anterior thigh in the region of the femoral canal. Ask the patient to strain down again or cough. Note any swelling or tenderness.

Evaluating a Possible Scrotal Hernia. If you find a large scrotal mass and suspect that it may be a hernia, ask the patient to lie down. The mass may return to the abdomen by itself. If so, it is a hernia. If not: ■

Can you get your fingers above the mass in the scrotum?

If you can, suspect a hydrocele.

Listen to the mass with a stethoscope for bowel sounds.

Bowel sounds may be heard over a hernia, but not over a hydrocele.

If the findings suggest a hernia, gently try to reduce it (return it to the abdominal cavity) by sustained pressure with your fingers. Do not attempt this maneuver if the mass is tender or the patient reports nausea and vomiting. History may be helpful here. The patient can usually tell you what happens to his swelling on lying down and may be able to demonstrate how he reduces it himself. Remember to ask him.

A hernia is incarcerated when its contents cannot be returned to the abdominal cavity. A hernia is strangulated when the blood supply to the entrapped contents is compromised. Suspect strangulation in the presence of tenderness, nausea, and vomiting, and consider surgical intervention.

Special Techniques THE TESTICULAR SELF-EXAMINATION The incidence of testicular cancer is low, about 4 per 100,000 men, but it is the most common cancer of young men between ages 15 and 35. Although the testicular self-examination (TSE) has not been formally endorsed as a screen for testicular carcinoma, you may wish to teach your patient the TSE to enhance health awareness and self-care. When detected early, testicular 376


TECHNIQUES OF EXAMINATION carcinoma has an excellent prognosis. Risk factors include: cryptorchidism, which confers a high risk of testicular carcinoma in the undescended testicle; a history of carcinoma in the contralateral testicle; mumps orchitis; an inguinal hernia; and a hydrocele in childhood.

PATIENT INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE TESTICULAR SELF-EXAMINATION This examination is best performed after a warm bath or shower. The heat relaxes the scrotum and makes it easier to find anything unusual. ■ ■

Standing in front of a mirror, check for any swelling on the skin of the scrotum. Examine each testicle with both hands. Cup the index and middle fingers under the testicle and place the thumbs on top. Roll the testicle gently between the thumbs and fingers. One testicle may be larger than the other . . . that’s normal, but be concerned about any lump or area of pain. Find the epididymis. This is a soft, tubelike structure at the back of the testicle that collects and carries sperm, not an abnormal lump. If you find any lump, don’t wait. See your doctor. The lump may just be an infection, but if it is cancer, it will spread unless stopped by treatment.

*Adapted from the National Cancer Institute. Accessed 9/27/01.




378 Syphilitic Chancre A syphilitic chancre usually appears as an oval or round, dark red, painless erosion or ulcer with an indurated base. Nontender enlarged inguinal lymph nodes are typically associated. Chancres may be multiple, and when secondarily infected may be painful. They may then be mistaken for the lesions of herpes. Chancres are infectious.

Carcinoma of the Penis Carcinoma may appear as an indurated nodule or ulcer that is usually nontender. Limited almost completely to men who are not circumcised in childhood, it may be masked by the prepuce. Any persistent penile sore must be considered suspicious.

A cluster of small vesicles, followed by shallow, painful, nonindurated ulcers on red bases, suggests a herpes simplex infection. The lesions may occur anywhere on the penis. Usually there are fewer lesions when the infection recurs.

Peyronie’s Disease In Peyronie’s disease, there are palpable nontender hard plaques just beneath the skin, usually along the dorsum of the penis. The patient complains of crooked, painful erections.

Venereal warts are rapidly growing excrescences that are moist and often malodorous. They result from infection by human papillomavirus.


Hypospadias is a congenital displacement of the urethral meatus to the inferior surface of the penis. A groove extends from the actual urethral meatus to its normal location on the tip of the glans.

Venereal Wart (Condyloma acuminatum)

Genital Herpes

TABLE 10-1 ■ Abnormalities of the Penis

TABLE 10-1 ■ Abnormalities of the Penis




Small Testis

Acute Orchitis

In adults, the length is usually ≤ 3.5 cm. Small firm testes in Klinefelter’s syndrome, usually ≤ 2 cm. Small soft testes suggesting atrophy seen in cirrhosis, mytonic dystrophy, use of estrogens, hypopituitarism; may also follow orchitis.

A hernia within the scrotum is usually an indirect inguinal hernia. It comes through the external inguinal ring, so the examining fingers cannot get above it in the scrotum.

The testis is acutely inflamed, painful, tender, and swollen. It may be difficult to distinguish from the epididymis. The scrotum may be reddened. Seen in mumps and other viral infections; usually unilateral.

Scrotal Hernia

A hydrocele is a nontender, fluid-filled mass within the tunica vaginalis. It transilluminates and the examining fingers can get above the mass within the scrotum.

Fingers cannot get above mass


Fingers can get above mass

TABLE 10-2 ■ Abnormalities of the Male Genitalia

Usually appears as a painless nodule. Any nodule within the testis warrants investigation for malignancy.

Tumor of the Testis As a testicular neoplasm grows and spreads, it may seem to replace the entire organ. The testicle characteristically feels heavier than normal. (table continues next page)


In cryptorchidism, the testis is atrophied and may lie in the inguinal canal or the abdomen, resulting in an undeveloped scrotum as above. There is no palpable left testis or epididymis. Cryptorchidism markedly raises the risk of testicular cancer.

Pitting edema may make the scrotal skin taut. This may accompany the generalized edema of congestive heart failure or nephrotic syndrome.



Scrotal Edema

TABLE 10-2 ■ Abnormalities of the Male Genitalia


380 Torsion of the Spermatic Cord Torsion, or twisting, of the testicle on its spermatic cord produces an acutely painful, tender, and swollen organ that is retracted upward in the scrotum. The scrotum becomes red and edematous. There is no associated urinary infection. Torsion, most common in adolescents, is a surgical emergency because of obstructed circulation.

These are firm, yellowish, nontender, cutaneous cysts up to about 1 cm in diameter. They are common and frequently multiple.

Epidermoid Cysts

The chronic inflammation of tuberculosis produces a firm enlargement of the epididymis, which is sometimes tender, with thickening or beading of the vas deferens.

A painless, movable cystic mass just above the testis suggests a spermatocele or an epididymal cyst. Both transilluminate. The former contains sperm and the latter does not, but they are clinically indistinguishable.

Varicocele refers to varicose veins of the spermatic cord, usually found on the left. It feels like a soft “bag of worms” separate from the testis, and slowly collapses when the scrotum is elevated in the supine patient. Infertility may be associated.

Tuberculous Epididymitis

Spermatocele and Cyst of the Epididymis


An acutely inflamed epididymis is tender and swollen and may be difficult to distinguish from the testis. The scrotum may be reddened, and the vas deferens inflamed. It occurs chiefly in adults. Coexisting urinary tract infection or prostatitis supports the diagnosis.

Acute Epididymitis

TABLE 10-2 ■ Abnormalities of the Male Genitalia (Continued)

TABLE 10-2 ■ Abnormalities of the Male Genitalia





Femoral vein

Femoral artery


Internal inguinal ring

TABLE 10-3 ■ Course and Presentation of Hernias in the Groin

External inguinal ring


Inguinal canal

TABLE 10-3 ■ Course and Presentation of Hernias in the Groin


382 Often into the scrotum The hernia comes down the inguinal canal and touches the fingertip.


With the examining finger in the inguinal canal during straining or cough

The hernia bulges anteriorly and pushes the side of the finger forward.

Rarely into the scrotum

Above inguinal ligament, close to the pubic tubercle (near the external inguinal ring)

Usually in men over age 40, rare in women

Often in children, may be in adults Above inguinal ligament, near its midpoint (the internal inguinal ring)

Less common


Most common, all ages, both sexes

Point of Origin

Frequency Age and Sex



The inguinal canal is empty.

Never into the scrotum

Below the inguinal ligament; appears more lateral than an inguinal hernia and may be hard to differentiate from lymph nodes

More common in women than in men

Least common


Differentiation among these hernias is not always clinically possible. Understanding their features, however, improves your observation.

TABLE 10-4 ■ Differentiation of Hernias in the Groin

TABLE 10-4 ■ Differentiation of Hernias in the Groin




Female Genitalia

ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY Review the anatomy of the external female genitalia (vulva), including the mons pubis, a hair-covered fat pad overlying the symphysis pubis; the labia majora, rounded folds of adipose tissue; the labia minora, thinner pinkish red folds that extend anteriorly to form the prepuce; and the clitoris. The vestibule is the boat-shaped fossa between the labia minora. In its posterior portion lies the vaginal opening (introitus), which in virgins may be hidden by the hymen. The term perineum, as commonly used clinically, refers to the tissue between the introitus and the anus. Mons pubis Labium majus

Prepuce Clitoris

Labium minus

Urethral meatus Hymen Opening of paraurethral (Skene's) gland



Vestibule Opening of Bartholin's gland

Introitus Perinium


The urethral meatus opens into the vestibule between the clitoris and the vagina. Just posterior to it on either side lie the openings of the paraurethral (Skene’s) glands.




ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY The openings of Bartholin’s glands are located posteriorly on either side of the vaginal opening, but are not usually visible. Bartholin’s glands themselves are situated more deeply. The vagina is a hollow tube extending upward and posteriorly between the urethra and the rectum. Its upper third takes a horizontal plane and terminates in the cup-shaped fornix. The vaginal mucosa lies in transverse folds, or rugae. At almost right angles to the vagina sits the uterus, a flattened fibromuscular structure shaped like an inverted pear. The uterus has two parts: the body (corpus) and the cervix, which are joined together by the isthmus. The convex upper surface of the body is called the fundus of the uterus. The lower part of the uterus, the cervix, protrudes into the vagina, dividing the fornix into anterior, posterior, and lateral fornices.

Fallopian tube Ovary

Location of Bartholin's glands

Sacrum Rectum Rectouterine pouch

Uterus Fornix Bladder

Isthmus of uterus Cervix

Urethra Introitus




The vaginal surface of the cervix, the ectocervix, is seen easily with the help of a speculum. At its center is a round, oval, or slitlike depression, the external os of the cervix, which marks the opening into the endocervical canal. The ectocervix is covered by epithelium of two possible types: a plushy, red columnar epithelium surrounding the os, which resembles the lining of the endocervical canal; and a shiny pink squamous epithelium continous with the vaginal lining. The boundary between these two types of epithelium is the squamocolumnar junction. In puberty, the broad band of columnar epithelium encircling the os, called ectropion, is gradually replaced by columnar epithelium. The squamocolumnar junction migrates toward the os, creating the transformation zone. (This is the area at risk for later dysplasia, which is sampled by the Papanicolaou, or Pap, smear.) A fallopian tube with a fanlike tip extends from each side of the uterus toward the ovary. The two ovaries are almond-shaped structures that vary con-



ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY External os of the cervix

Transformation zone

Columnar eithelium

Squamocolumnar junction

Squamous epithelium

siderably in size but average about 3.5 × 2 × 1.5 cm from adulthood through menopause. The ovaries are palpable on pelvic examination in roughly half of women during the reproductive years. Normally, fallopian tubes cannot be felt. The term adnexa (a plural Latin word meaning appendages) refers to the ovaries, tubes, and supporting tissues. The ovaries have two primary functions: the production of ova and the secretion of hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Increased hormonal secretions during puberty stimulate the growth of the uterus and its endometrial lining. They enlarge the vagina and thicken its epithelium. They also stimulate the development of secondary sex characteristics, including the breasts and pubic hair. The parietal peritoneum extends downward behind the uterus into a cul de sac called the rectouterine pouch (pouch of Douglas). You can just reach this area on rectovaginal examination. The pelvic organs are supported by a sling of tissues composed of muscle, ligaments, and fascia, through which the urethra, vagina, and rectum all pass.

Lymphatics. Lymph from the vulva and the lower vagina drains into the inguinal nodes. Lymph from the internal genitalia, including the upper vagina, flows into the pelvic and abdominal lymph nodes, which are not palpable clinically.



During the pubertal years, the vulva and the internal genitalia grow and change to their adult proportions. Assessment of sexual maturity in girls, as classified by Tanner, depends not on internal examination, however, but on the growth of pubic hair and the development of breasts. Tanner’s stages, or sexual maturity ratings, as they relate to pubic hair and breasts are shown in Chapter 17, Assessing Children: Infancy Through Adolescence. In most women, pubic hair spreads downward in a triangular pattern, pointing toward the vagina. In 10% of women, it may form an inverted triangle, pointing toward the umbilicus. This growth is usually not completed until the middle 20s or later. Just before menarche there is a physiologic increase in vaginal secretions— a normal change that sometimes worries a girl or her mother. As menses CHAPTER 11 ■





become established, increased secretions (leukorrhea) coincide with ovulation. They also accompany sexual arousal. These normal kinds of discharges must be differentiated from those of infectious processes. Ovarian function usually starts to diminish during a woman’s 40s, and menstrual periods cease on the average between the ages of 45 and 52, sometimes earlier and sometimes later. Pubic hair becomes sparse as well as gray. As estrogen stimulation falls, the labia and the clitoris become smaller. The vagina narrows and shortens and its mucosa becomes thin, pale, and dry. The uterus and ovaries diminish in size. Once menopause has occurred, the ovaries may no longer be palpable. The suspensory ligaments of the adnexa, uterus, and bladder may also relax.

THE HEALTH HISTORY Common or Concerning Symptoms ■ ■ ■ ■

Menarche, menstruation, menopause Pregnancy Vulvovaginal symptoms Sexual activity

Questions in this section focus on menstruation, pregnancy and related topics, vulvovaginal symptoms, and sexual function.

Menarche, Menstruation, Menopause. For the menstrual history,


ask the patient how old she was when her monthly, or menstrual, periods began (age at menarche). When did her last period start, and, if possible, the one before that? How often do the periods come (as measured by the intervals between the first days of successive periods)? How regular or irregular are they? How long do they last? How heavy is the flow? What color is it? Flow can be assessed roughly by the number of pads or tampons used daily. Because women vary in their practices for sanitary measures, however, ask the patient whether she usually soaks a pad or tampon, spots it lightly, etc. Further, does she use more than one at a time? Does she have any bleeding between periods? Any bleeding after intercourse or after douching?

The dates of previous periods may alert you to possible pregnancy or menstrual irregularities.

Unlike the normal dark red menstrual discharge, excessive flow tends to be bright red and may include “clots” (not true fibrin clots).

Does the patient have any discomfort or pain before or during her periods? If so, what is it like, how long does it last, and does it interfere with her usual activities? Are there other associated symptoms? Ask a middle-aged or older woman if she has stopped menstruating. When? Did any symptoms accompany her change? Has she had any bleeding since?

Questions about menarche, menstruation, and menopause often give you an opportunity to explore the patient’s need for information and her attitude





toward her body. When talking with an adolescent girl, for example, opening questions might include: “How did you first learn about monthly periods? How did you feel when they started? Many girls worry when their periods aren’t regular or come late. Has anything like that bothered you?” You can explain that girls in the United States usually begin to menstruate between the ages of 9 and 16 years, and often take a year or more before they settle into a reasonable, regular pattern. Age at menarche is variable, depending on genetic endowment, socioeconomic status, and nutrition. The interval between periods ranges roughly from 24 to 32 days; the flow lasts from 3 to 7 days. Menopause, the absence of menses for 12 consecutive months, usually occurs between the ages of 45 and 52 years. Associated symptoms include hot flashes, flushing, sweating, and disturbances of sleep. Often you will ask, “How do (did) you feel about not having your periods anymore? Has it affected your life in any way?” Postmenopausal bleeding is defined as bleeding that occurs after 6 months without periods and warrants further investigation. Amenorrhea refers to the absence of periods. Failure to initiate periods is called primary amenorrhea, while the cessation of periods after they have been established is termed secondary amenorrhea. Pregnancy, lactation, and menopause are physiologic forms of the secondary type. Oligomenorrhea refers to infrequent periods, which may also be irregular. This pattern is common for as long as 2 years after menarche, and it also occurs before menopause.

Postmenopausal bleeding raises the question of endometrial cancer, although it also has other causes. Other causes of secondary amenorrhea include low body weight from any cause, including malnutrition and anorexia nervosa, stress, chronic illness, and hypothalamic– pituitary–ovarian dysfunction.

Dysmenorrhea is pain with menstruation, and is usually felt as a bearing down, aching, or cramping sensation in the lower abdomen and pelvis. Women may report premenstrual syndrome (PMS), a complex of symptoms occurring 4 to 10 days before a period. PMS symptoms include tension, nervousness, irritability, depression, and mood swings; weight gain, abdominal bloating, edema, and tenderness of the breasts; and headaches. Though usually mild, PMS symptoms may be severe and disabling.


Polymenorrhea means abnormally frequent periods, and menorrhagia refers to an increased amount or duration of flow. Bleeding may also occur between periods, termed metrorrhagia or intermenstrual bleeding, after intercourse (postcoital bleeding), or after other vaginal contact from practices such as douching.

Pregnancy. Questions relating to pregnancy include: “Have you ever

Increased frequency, increased flow, or bleeding between periods may have systemic causes or may be dysfunctional. Postcoital bleeding suggests cervical disease (e.g., polyps, cancer) or, in an older woman, atrophic vaginitis.

been (or how often have you been) pregnant? Have you ever had a miscarriage or an abortion? How often? How many living children do you have?” Inquire about any difficulties with the pregnancies and the timing and the circumstances of any abortion (spontaneous or induced). What kind of birth control methods, if any, have the patient and her partner used, and how satisfied is she with them?

If amenorrhea suggests a current pregnancy, inquire about the history of intercourse and common early symptoms: tenderness, tingling, or increased size of the breasts; urinary frequency; nausea and vomiting; easy fatigability; and feelings that the baby is moving (the last usually noted at about 20 weeks). CHAPTER 11 ■


Amenorrhea followed by heavy bleeding suggests a threatened abortion or dysfunctional uterine bleeding related to lack of ovulation. 385



Be alert to the patient’s feelings in discussing all these topics and explore them as seems indicated. (See also Chapter 12, The Pregnant Woman).

Vulvovaginal Symptoms. The most common vulvovaginal symptoms

See Table 11-5, Vaginitis, p. ___.

are vaginal discharge and local itching. Follow your usual approach. If the patient reports a discharge, inquire about its amount, color, consistency, and odor. Ask about any local sores or lumps in the vulvar area. Are they painful or not? Because patients vary in their understanding of anatomic terms, be prepared to try alternative phrasing such as “Any itching (or other symptoms) near your vagina? . . . between your legs? . . . where you urinate?”

See Table 11-1, Lesions of the Vulva p. ___.

Sexual Activity. Start with general questions such as “How is sex for you?” Or “Are you having any problems with sex?” You can also ask, “Are you satisfied with your sex life as it is now? Has there been any significant change in the last few years? Are you satisfied with you ability to perform sexually? How satisfied do you think your partner is? Do you feel that your partner is satisfied with the frequency of sexual activity?” Sexual dysfunctions are classified by the phase of sexual response. A woman may lack desire, she may fail to become aroused and to attain adequate vaginal lubrication, or, despite adequate arousal, she may be unable to reach orgasm much or all of the time. Causes include lack of estrogen, medical illness, and psychiatric conditions.

Ask also about dyspareunia, or discomfort or pain during intercourse. If present, try to localize the symptom. Is it near the outside, occurring at the start of intercourse, or does she feel it farther in, when her partner is pushing deeper? Vaginismus refers to an involuntary spasm of the muscles surrounding the vaginal orifice that makes penetration during intercourse painful or impossible.

Superficial pain suggests local inflammation, atrophic vaginitis, or inadequate lubrication; deeper pain may be due to pelvic disorders or pressure on a normal ovary. The cause of vaginismus may be physical or psychological.


If the patient seems to have a sexual problem, ask her to tell you about it. Direct questions help you assess each phase of the sexual response: desire, arousal, and orgasm. “Do you have an interest in (appetite for) sex?” inquires about the desire phase. For the orgasmic phase, “Are you able to reach climax (reach an orgasm or ‘come’)?” “Is it important for you to reach climax?” For arousal, “Do you get sexually aroused? Do you lubricate easily (get wet or slippery)? Do you stay too dry?”

In addition to ascertaining the nature of a sexual problem, ask about its onset, severity (persistent or sporadic), setting, and factors, if any, that make it better or worse. What does the patient think is the cause of the problem, what has she tried to do about it, and what does she hope for? The setting of sexual dysfunction is an important but complicated topic, involving the patient’s general health, medications and drugs, including use of alcohol, her partner’s and her own knowledge of sexual practices and techniques, her attitudes, values, and fears, the relationship and communication between her and her partner(s), and the setting in which sexual activity takes place.

More commonly, however, a sexual problem is related to situational or psychosocial factors.

Local symptoms or findings on physical examination may raise the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). After establishing the usual attributes of any symptoms, identify the sexual preference as to partners (male, female, 386


HEALTH PROMOTION AND COUNSELING or both). Inquire about sexual contacts and establish the number of sexual partners in the prior month. Ask if the patient has concerns about HIV infection, desires HIV testing, or has current or past partners at risk. Also ask about oral and anal sex and, if indicated, about symptoms involving the mouth, throat, anus, and rectum. Review the past history of venereal disease. “Have you ever had herpes? . . . any other problems such as gonorrhea? . . . syphilis? . . . pelvic infections?” Continue with the more general questions suggested on pp. ___.

HEALTH PROMOTION AND COUNSELING Important Topics for Health Promotion and Counseling ■ ■ ■ ■

The Pap smear Options for family planning Sexually transmitted diseases and HIV Changes in menopause


The Pap Smear. Widespread testing by Papanicolaou (Pap) smear has contributed to a significant drop in the incidence of invasive cervical cancer. Careful technique to ensure sampling of endocervical cells at the squamocolumnar junction and use of accredited laboratories to interpret smears improve accuracy of the test. Screening should begin at age 18 or with onset of sexual activity. Recommendations about frequency of testing are undergoing revision. Annual testing until age 65 has been common, but does not appear to improve detection compared to longer intervals. A number of professional organizations recommend annual Pap smears for 3 years and then, if these are normal, less frequent testing based on clinician discretion. The U.S. Preventive Health Services Task Force recommends a 3-year interval beginning with onset of sexual activity. More frequent testing is warranted for women at increased risk—those with early onset of sexual activity, multiple partners, infection with human papillomavirus or HIV, or limited access to regular medical care. The upper age limit for the Pap smear testing is not well established. For women over 65, continued testing is indicated if recent tests have been abnormal or screening over the prior 10 years has been incomplete. Women who have never had sexual intercourse or with complete hysterectomies (cervix removed) do not require screening. Options for Family Planning. It is important to counsel women, particularly adolescents, about the timing of ovulation in the menstrual cycle and how to plan or prevent pregnancy. Survey data indicate that more than half of U.S. pregnancies are unintended, affecting up to 80% of the one million teen pregnancies each year.* Clinicians should be familiar with the numerous options for family planning and their effectiveness. These include: natural methods (periodic abstinence, withdrawal, lactation); barrier methods (condom, diaphragm, cervical cap); implantable methods (intrauterine device, subdermal CHAPTER 11 ■





implant); pharmacologic interventions (spermicide, birth control pill, subdermal implant of levonorgestrel, estrogen/progesterone injectables); and surgery (tubal ligation). The clinician must take the time to understand the patient or couple’s concerns and preferences and respect these preferences whenever possible. Continued use of a preferred method is superior to a more effective method that is abandoned. For teenagers, providing a confidential setting eases discussion of topics that may seem private and difficult to explore. STDs and HIV. As with men, the clinician should assess risk factors for infection with STDs and HIV by taking a careful sexual history and counseling patients about spread of disease and ways to reduce high-risk practices (see Chap. 2, p. ___ and Chap. 12, p. ___). Women with STDs are at higher risk for asymptomatic infection and loss of fertility. Learn to assess women for genital and pelvic infections through careful examination and collection of appropriate cultures and to apply recommended guidelines for serologic testing for infection with HIV (see Chap. 12, p. ___). Changes in Menopause. For middle-aged and older women, the clinician should be familiar with the psychological and physiologic changes of menopause—mood shifts and changes in self-concept, vasomotor changes (“hot flashes”), accelerated bone loss, increases in total and LDL cholesterol, and vulvo-vaginal atrophy leading to symptoms of vaginal drying, dysuria, and sometimes dyspareunia. The clinician must be knowledgeable about estrogen and progesterone replacement therapy and help the patient to weigh the benefits and risks of treatment, taking into account the personal and family history of cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis (risk of developing these conditions decreases with hormone treatment) and breast cancer and endometrial cancer (treatment increases risk). Counseling patients about these decisions may extend over several visits. Preview: Recording the Pelvic Examination— Female Genitalia


Note that initially you may use sentences to describe your findings; later you will use phrases. The style below contains phrases appropriate for most write-ups. Unfamiliar terms are explained in the next section, “Techniques of Examination.” “No inguinal adenopathy. External genitalia without erythema or lesions; no lesions or masses. Vaginal mucosa pink. Cervix parous, pink, and without discharge. Uterus anterior, midline, smooth, and not enlarged. No adnexal tenderness. Pap smear obtained. Rectovaginal wall intact.” OR ”Bilateral spotty inguinal adenopathy. External genitalia without erythema or lesions. Vaginal mucosa and cervix coated with thin white homogeneous discharge with mild fishy odor. After swabbing cervix, no discharge visible in cervical os. Uterus midline; no adnexal masses. Rectal vault without masses. Stool brown and hemoccult negative.”

Suggests bacterial vaginosis.

*U.S. Preventive Health Services Task Force: Guide to Clinical Preventive Services, 2nd ed. Baltimore, Williams & Wilkins, ___ pp. ___–___.




TECHNIQUES OF EXAMINATION Important Areas of Examination External Examination ■ ■ ■ ■ ■

Mons pubis Labia majora and minora Urethral meatus, clitoris Vaginal introitus Perineum

Internal Examination ■ ■ ■ ■ ■

Vagina, vaginal walls Cervix Uterus, ovaries Pelvic muscles Rectovaginal wall

Many students feel anxious or uncomfortable when first examining the genitalia of another person. At the same time, patients have their own concerns. Some women have had painful, embarrassing, or even demeaning experiences during previous pelvic examinations, while others may be facing their first examination. Patients may fear what the clinician will find and how these findings may affect their lives. The woman’s reactions and behavior give important clues to her feelings and to attitudes toward sexuality. If she adducts her thighs, pulls away, or expresses negative feelings during the examination, you can gently confront her as you would during the interview. “I notice you are having some trouble relaxing. Is it just being here, or are you troubled by the examination? . . . is anything worrying you?” Behaviors that seem to present an obstacle to your examination may become the key to understanding your patient’s concerns. Adverse reactions may be a sign of prior abuse, and these issues should be explored.


A patient who has never had a pelvic examination is often unsure of what to expect. Try to shape the experience so that she learns about her body and the steps of the pelvic examination, and becomes more comfortable with them. Before she undresses, explain the relevant anatomy with the help of threedimensional models. Show her the speculum and other equipment and encourage her to handle them during the examination so that she can better understand your explanations and procedures. It is especially important to avoid hurting the patient during her first encounter. Indications for a pelvic examination during adolescence include menstrual abnormalities such as amenorrhea, excessive bleeding, or dysmenorrhea, unexplained abdominal pain, vaginal discharge, the prescription of contraceptives, bacteriologic and cytologic studies in a sexually active girl, and the patient’s own desire for assessment. Regardless of age, rape merits special evaluation, usually requiring gynecologic consultation and documentation. CHAPTER 11 ■





Avoids intercourse, douching, or use of vaginal suppositories for 24 to 48 hours before examination Empties bladder before examination Lies supine, with head and shoulders slightly elevated, arms at sides or folded across chest to reduce tightening of abdominal muscles

The Examiner ■

■ ■ ■

Explains each step of the examination in advance Drapes patient from mid-abdomen to knees; depresses drape between knees to provide eye contact with patient Avoids unexpected or sudden movements Warms speculum with tap water Monitors comfort of the examination by watching the patient’s face Uses excellent but gentle technique, especially when inserting the speculum (see p. ___ ).

Be sure always to wear gloves, both during the examination and when handling equipment and specimens. Plan ahead, so that any needed equipment or culture media are readily at hand. Helping the patient to relax is essential for an adequate examination. Be sensitive to her feelings. Adopting the tips above will help ensure the patient’s comfort.

Choosing Equipment. You should


have within reach a good light, a vaginal speculum of appropriate size, water-soluble lubricant, and equipment for taking Papanicolaou smears, bacteriologic cultures, or other diagnostic tests. Review the supplies and procedures of your own facility before taking cultures and other samples. Specula are made of metal or plastic, and come in two basic shapes, named for Pedersen and Graves. Both are available in small, medium, and large sizes. The medium Pedersen speculum is usually most comfortable for sexually active women. The narrowbladed Pedersen speculum is best for the patient with a relatively small introitus, such as a virgin or an elderly woman. The Graves specula are best suited for parous women with vaginal prolapse.


Speculae, from left to right: small metal Pedersen, medium metal Pedersen, medium metal Graves, large metal Graves, and large plastic Pedersen BATES’ GUIDE TO PHYSICAL EXAMINATION AND HISTORY TAKING



Before using a speculum, become thoroughly familiar with how to open and close its blades, lock the blades in an open position, and release them again. Although the instructions in this chapter refer to a metal speculum, you can easily adapt them to a plastic one by handling the speculum before using it. Plastic specula typically make a loud click or may pinch when locked or released. Forewarning the patient helps to avoid unnecessary surprise. Male examiners should be accompanied by female assistants. Female examiners should also be assisted if the patient is physically or emotionally disturbed.

Positioning the Patient. Drape the patient appropriately and then assist her into the lithotomy position. Help her to place first one heel and then the other into the stirrups. She may be more comfortable with shoes on than with bare feet. Then ask her to slide all the way down the examining table until her buttocks extend slightly beyond the edge. Her thighs should be flexed, abducted, and externally rotated at the hips. A pillow should support her head.

EXTERNAL EXAMINATION Assess the Sexual Maturity of an Adolescent Patient.

You can assess pubic hair during either the abdominal or the pelvic examination. Note its character and distribution, and rate it according to Tanner’s stages described on p. ___.

Delayed puberty is often familial or related to chronic illness. It may also be due to abnormalities in the hypothalamus, anterior pituitary gland, or ovaries.

Inspect the Patient’s External Genitalia.

Excoriations or itchy, small, red maculopapules suggest pediculosis pubis (lice or “crabs”). Look for nits or lice at the bases of the pubic hairs.


Seat yourself comfortably and inspect the mons pubis, labia, and perineum. Separate the labia and inspect:




The labia minora

The clitoris

Enlarged clitoris in masculinizing conditions

The urethral meatus

Urethral caruncle, prolapse of the urethral mucosa (p. ___)

The vaginal opening, or introitus

Note any inflammation, ulceration, discharge, swelling, or nodules. If there are any lesions, palpate them.

Syphilitic chancre, epidermoid cyst. See Table 11-1, Lesions of the Vulva (p. ___).

If there is a history or an appearance of labial swelling, check Bartholin’s glands. Insert your index finger into the vagina near the posterior end of the introitus. Place your thumb outside the posterior part of the labium

A Bartholin’s gland may become acutely or chronically infected and then produce a swelling. See Table 11-2, Bulges and Swelling of Vulva, Vagina, and Urethra (p. ___).




majus. On each side in turn, palpate between your finger and thumb for swelling or tenderness. Note any discharge exuding from the duct opening of the gland. If any is present, culture it.

INTERNAL EXAMINATION Assess the Support of the Vaginal Walls.

With the labia separated by your middle and index fingers, ask the patient to strain down. Note any bulging of the vaginal walls.

Bulging from a cystocele or rectocele. See Table 11-2, Bulges and Swelling of Vulva, Vagina, and Urethra (p. ___).


Insert the Speculum. Select a speculum of appropriate size and shape, and lubricate it with warm water. (Other lubricants may interfere with cytologic studies and bacterial or viral cultures.) You can enlarge the vaginal introitus by lubricating one finger with water and applying downward pressure at its lower margin. (You may also wish to check the location of the cervix to help angle the speculum more accurately.) Enlarging the introitus greatly eases insertion of the speculum and the patient’s comfort. With your other hand (usually the left), introduce the closed speculum past your fingers at a somewhat downward slope. Be careful not to pull on the pubic hair or pinch the labia with the speculum. Separating the labia majora with your other hand can help to avoid this.

THE SMALL INTROITUS Many virginal vaginal orifices admit a single examining finger. Modify your technique so as to use your index finger only. A small Pedersen speculum may make inspection possible. When the vaginal orifice is even smaller, a fairly good bimanual examination can be performed by placing one finger in the rectum rather than in the vagina. Similar techniques may be indicated in elderly women in whom the introitus has become atrophied and tight.


An imperforate hymen occasionally delays menarche. Be sure to check for this possibility when menarche seems unduly late in relation to the development of a girl’s breasts and pubic hair.




Two methods help you to avoid placing pressure on the sensitive urethra. (1) When inserting the speculum, hold it at an angle (shown below on the left), and then (2) slide the speculum inward along the posterior wall of the vagina.




After the speculum has entered the vagina, remove your fingers from the introitus. You may wish to switch the speculum to the right hand to enhance maneuverability of the speculum and subsequent collection of specimens. Rotate the speculum into a horizontal position, maintaining the pressure posteriorly, and insert it to its full length. Be careful not to open the blades of the speculum prematurely.

Inspect the Cervix.

Open the speculum carefully. Rotate and adjust the speculum until it cups the cervix and brings it into full view. Position the light until you can visualize the cervix well. When the uterus is retroverted, the cervix points more anteriorly than illustrated. If you have difficulty finding the cervix, withdraw the speculum slightly and reposition it on a different slope. If discharge obscures your view, wipe it away gently with a large cotton swab.



See retroversion of the uterus, p. ___.




Inspect the cervix and its os. Note the color of the cervix, its position, the characteristics of its surface, and any ulcerations, nodules, masses, bleeding, or discharge.

See Table 11-3, Variations in the Cervix (p. ___), and Table 11-4, Abnormalities of the Cervix (p. ___).

Maintain the open position of the speculum by tightening the thumb screw.

Obtain Specimens for Cervical Cytology (Papanicolaou Smears). Obtain one specimen from the endocervix and another from the ectocervix, or a combination specimen using the cervical brush (“broom”). For best results the patient should not be menstruating. She should avoid intercourse and use of douches or vaginal suppositories for 24 to 48 hours before the examination.

A yellowish discharge on the endocervical swab suggests a mucopurulent cervicitis, commonly caused by Chlamydia trachomatis, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, or herpes simplex (p. ___).


OBTAINING THE PAP SMEAR: OPTIONS FOR SPECIMEN COLLECTION Cervical Scrape and Endocervical Brush Cervical Scrape. Place the longer end of the scraper in the cervical os. Press, turn, and scrape in a full circle, making sure to include the transformation zone and the squamocolumnar junction. Smear the specimen on a glass slide. Set the slide in a safe spot that is easy to reach. Note that doing the cervical scrape first reduces obscuring cells with blood, which sometimes appears with use of the endocervical brush.





Endocervical Brush. Now take the endocervical brush and place it in the cervical os. Roll it between your thumb and index finger, clockwise and counterclockwise. Remove the brush and pick up the slide you have set aside. Smear the slide with the brush, using a gentle painting motion to avoid destroying any cells. Place the slide into an ether–alcohol solution at once, or spray it promptly with a special fixative. Note that for pregnant women, a cotton-tip applicator, moistened with saline, is advised in place of the endocervical brush.

Cervical Broom Many clinicians now use a plastic brush tipped with a broomlike fringe for collection of a single specimen containing both squamous and columnar epithelial cells. Rotate the tip of the brush in the cervical os, in a full clockwise direction, then stroke each side of the brush on the glass slide. Promptly place the slide in solution or spray with a fixative as described above.

Inspect the Vagina. Withdraw the speculum slowly while observing the

See Table 11-5, Vaginitis (p. ___).

vagina. As the speculum clears the cervix, release the thumb screw and maintain the open position of the speculum with your thumb. Close the speculum as it emerges from the introitus, avoiding both excessive stretching and pinching of the mucosa. During withdrawal inspect the vaginal mucosa, noting its color and any inflammation, discharge, ulcers, or masses.

Cancer of the vagina

Perform a Bimanual Examination.

Stool in the rectum may simulate a rectovaginal mass, but unlike a tumor mass can usually be dented by digital pressure. Rectovaginal examination confirms the distinction.

Palpate the cervix, noting its position, shape, consistency, regularity, mobility, and tenderness. Normally the cervix can be moved somewhat without pain. Feel the fornices around the cervix.

Pain on movement of the cervix, together with adnexal tenderness, suggests pelvic inflammatory disease.


Lubricate the index and middle fingers of one of your gloved hands, and from a standing position insert them into the vagina, again exerting pressure primarily posteriorly. Your thumb should be abducted, your ring and little fingers flexed into your palm. Pressing inward on the perineum with your flexed fingers causes little if any discomfort and allows you to position your palpating fingers correctly. Note any nodularity or tenderness in the vaginal wall, including the region of the urethra and the bladder anteriorly.

Palpate the uterus. Place your other hand on the abdomen about midway between the umbilicus and the symphysis pubis. While you elevate the cervix






and uterus with your pelvic hand, press your abdominal hand in and down, trying to grasp the uterus between your two hands. Note its size, shape, consistency, and mobility, and identify any tenderness or masses.

See Table 11-6, Abnormalities and Positions of the Uterus (pp. ___–___). Uterine enlargement suggests pregnancy or benign or malignant tumors.

Now slide the fingers of your pelvic hand into the anterior fornix and palpate the body of the uterus between your hands. In this position your pelvic fingers can feel the anterior surface of the uterus, and your abdominal hand can feel part of the posterior surface.

Nodules on the uterine surfaces suggest myomas (see p. ___). See retroversion and retroflexion of the uterus (p. ___).

Palpate each ovary. Place your abdominal hand on the right lower quadrant, your pelvic hand in the right lateral fornix. Press your abdominal hand in and down, trying to push the adnexal structures toward your pelvic hand. Try to identify the right ovary or any adjacent adnexal masses. By moving your hands slightly, slide the adnexal structures between your fingers, if possible, and note their size, shape, consistency, mobility, and tenderness. Repeat the procedure on the left side.

Three to five years after menopause, the ovaries have usually atrophied and are no longer palpable. If you can feel an ovary in a postmenopausal woman, consider an abnormality such as a cyst or a tumor.

Normal ovaries are somewhat tender. They are usually palpable in slender, relaxed women but are difficult or impossible to feel in others who are obese or poorly relaxed.

Adnexal masses include ovarian cysts, tumors, and abscesses, also the swollen fallopian tube(s) of pelvic inflammatory disease, and a tubal pregnancy. A uterine myoma may simulate an adnexal mass. See Table 11-7, Adnexal Masses (p. ___).


If you cannot feel the uterus with either of these maneuvers, it may be tipped posteriorly (retrodisplaced). Slide your pelvic fingers into the posterior fornix and feel for the uterus butting against your fingertips. An obese or poorly relaxed abdominal wall may also prevent you from feeling the uterus even when it is located anteriorly.





Assess the Strength of the Pelvic Muscles.

Impaired strength may be due to age, vaginal deliveries, or neurologic deficits. Weakness may be associated with urinary stress incontinence.

Withdraw your two fingers slightly, just clear of the cervix, and spread them to touch the sides of the vaginal walls. Ask the patient to squeeze her muscles around them as hard and long as she can. A squeeze that compresses your fingers snugly, moves them upward and inward, and lasts 3 seconds or more is full strength.

Do a Rectovaginal Examination.

Withdraw your fingers. Lubricate your gloves again if necessary. (See note on using lubricant p. ___.) Then slowly reintroduce your index finger into the vagina, your middle finger into the rectum. Ask the patient to strain down as you do this so that her anal sphincter will relax. Tell her that this examination may make her feel as if she has to move her bowels but that she will not do so. Repeat the maneuvers of the bimanual examination, giving special attention to the region behind the cervix that may be accessible only to the rectal finger.


Rectovaginal palpation is especially valuable in assessing a retrodisplaced uterus, as illustrated.


Retroverted uterus





Proceed to the rectal examination (see Chapter 13). If a hemoccult test is planned, you should change gloves to avoid contaminating fecal material with any blood provoked by the Pap smear. After the examination, wipe off the external genitalia and rectum, or offer the patient some tissue so she can do it herself.

USING LUBRICANTS If you use a large tube of lubricant during a pelvic or rectal examination, you may inadvertently contaminate it by touching the tube with your gloved fingers after touching the patient. To avoid this problem, let the lubricant drop onto your gloved fingers without allowing contact between the tube and the gloves. If you or your assistant should inadvertently contaminate the tube, discard it. Small disposable tubes for use with one patient circumvent this problem.

HERNIAS Hernias of the groin occur in women as well as in men, but they are much less common. The examination techniques (see p. ___) are basically the same as for men. A woman too should stand up to be examined. To feel an indirect inguinal hernia, however, palpate in the labia majora and upward to just lateral to the pubic tubercles.

An indirect inguinal hernia is the most common hernia that occurs in the female groin. A femoral hernia ranks next in frequency.



If you suspect urethritis or inflammation of the paraurethral glands, insert your index finger into the vagina and milk the urethra gently from inside outward. Note any discharge from or about the urethral meatus. If present, culture it.


Urethritis may arise from infection with Chlamydia trachomatis or Neisseria gonorrhoeae.





A firm, painless ulcer suggests the chancre of primary syphilis. Since most chancres in women develop internally, they often go undetected.

Syphilitic Chancre

Slightly raised, flat, round or oval papules covered by a gray exudate suggest condylomata lata. These constitute one manifestation of secondary syphilis and are contagious.

Secondary Syphilis (Condyloma Latum)

Warty lesions on the labia and within the vestibule suggest condylomata acuminata. They are due to infection with human papillomavirus.

Small, firm, round cystic nodules in the labia suggest epidermoid cysts. They are sometimes yellowish in color. Look for the dark punctum marking the blocked opening of the gland.

Flat, gray papules

Venereal Wart (Condyloma Acuminatum)


Epidermoid Cyst

Cystic nodule in skin

TABLE 11-1 ■ Lesions of the Vulva


An ulcerated or raised red vulvar lesion in an elderly woman may indicate vulvar carcinoma.

Carcinoma of the Vulva

Shallow, small, painful ulcers on red bases suggest a herpes infection. Initial infection may be extensive, as illustrated here. Recurrent infections are usually confined to a small local patch.

Genital Herpes

Shallow ulcers on red bases

TABLE 11-1 ■ Lesions of the Vulva



Urethral Caruncle A urethral caruncle is a small, red, benign tumor visible at the posterior part of the urethral meatus. It occurs chiefly in postmenopausal women, and usually causes no symptoms. Occasionally, a carcinoma of the urethra is mistaken for a caruncle. To check for this, palpate the urethra through the vagina for thickening, nodularity, or tenderness, and feel for inguinal lymphadenopathy.

Bartholin’s Gland Infection

Causes of a Bartholin’s gland infection include gonococci, Chlamydia trachomatis, and other organisms. Acutely, it appears as a tense, hot, very tender abscess. Look for pus coming out of the duct or erythema around the duct opening. Chronically, a nontender cyst is felt. It may be large or small.

Labial swelling


A rectocele is a herniation of the rectum into the posterior wall of the vagina, resulting from a weakness or defect in the endopelvic fascia.

When the entire anterior vaginal wall, together with the bladder and the urethra, is involved in the bulge, a cystourethrocele is present. A groove sometimes defines the border between urethrocele and cystocele, but is not always present.

Prolapsed urethral mucosa forms a swollen red ring around the urethral meatus. It usually occurs before menarche or after menopause. Identify the urethral meatus at the center of the swelling to make this diagnosis.

Prolapse of the Urethral Mucosa

Prolapsed urethral mucosa



A cystocele is a bulge of the anterior vaginal wall, together with the bladder above it, that results from weakened supporting tissues. The upper two thirds of the vaginal wall are involved.





TABLE 11-2 ■ Bulges and Swelling of the Vulva, Vagina, and Urethra

  TABLE 11-2 ■ Bulges and Swelling of the Vulva, Vagina, and Urethra




Squamous epithelium

Columnar epithelium

Retention cyst

*Terminology is in flux. Other terms for the columnar epithelium that is visible on the ectocervix are ectropion, ectopy, and eversion.

With increasing estrogen stimulation during adolescence, all or part of this columnar epithelium is transformed into squamous epithelium by a process termed metaplasia. This change may block the secretions of columnar epithelium and cause retention cysts (sometimes called nabothian cysts). These appear as one or more translucent nodules on the cervical surface and have no pathologic significance.

Two kinds of epithelia may cover the cervix: (1) shiny pink squamous epithelium, which resembles the vaginal epithelium, and (2) deep red, plushy columnar epithelium, which is continuous with the endocervical lining. These two meet at the squamocolumnar junction. When this junction is at or inside the cervical os, only squamous epithelium is seen. A ring of columnar epithelium is often visible to a varying extent around the os—the result of a normal process that accompanies fetal development, menarche, and the first pregnancy.*

Squamous epithelium

Variations in the Cervical Surface

The normal cervical os may be round, oval, or slitlike. The trauma of one or more vaginal deliveries may tear the cervix, producing lacerations. Illustrated here, from left to right, are an oval os, a slitlike os, and lacerations described as unilateral transverse, bilateral transverse, and stellate.

Shapes of the Cervical Os

TABLE 11-3 ■ Variations in the Cervix


TABLE 11-3 ■ Variations in the Cervix


402 Mucopurulent cervicitis produces purulent yellow drainage from the cervical os, usually due to infection from Chlamydia trachomatis, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, or herpes. These infections are sexually transmitted, and may occur without symptoms or signs.

A cervical polyp usually arises from the endocervical canal, becoming visible when it protrudes through the cervical os. It is bright red, soft, and rather fragile. When only the tip is seen, it cannot be differentiated clinically from a polyp originating in the endometrium. Polyps are benign but may bleed.

Daughters of women who took DES during pregnancy are at much higher risk for a number of abnormalities, including (1) columnar epithelium that covers most or all of the cervix, (2) vaginal adenosis, i.e., extension of this epithelium to the vaginal wall, and (3) a circular collar or ridge of tissue, of varying shapes, between cervix and vagina. Much less common is an otherwise rare carcinoma of the upper vagina.

Carcinoma of the cervix begins in an area of metaplasia. In its earliest stages, it cannot be distinguished from a normal cervix. In a late stage, an extensive, irregular, cauliflowerlike growth may develop. Early frequent intercourse, multiple partners, smoking, and infection with human papillomavirus increase the risk for cervical cancer.

*In the United States, exposure to DES diminished in the late 1960s and stopped in 1971 when the drug was banned.

Fetal Exposure to Diethylstilbestrol (DES)*

Carcinoma of the Cervix


Columnar epitheliu

Vaginal adenosis

Mucopurulent Cervicitis

Cervical Polyp

TABLE 11-4 ■ Abnormalities of the Cervix

  TABLE 11-4 ■ Abnormalities of the Cervix




Yellowish green or gray, possibly frothy; often profuse and pooled in the vaginal fornix; may be malodorous

Pruritus (though not usually as severe as with Candida infection), pain on urination (from skin inflammation or possibly urethritis), and dyspareunia

The vestibule and labia minora may be reddened.

May be diffusively reddened, with small red granular spots or petechiae in the posterior fornix. In mild cases, the mucosa looks normal.

Scan saline wet mount for trichomonads.


Other Symptoms


Vaginal Mucosa

Laboratory Evaluation

* Previously termed Gardnerella vaginitis.

Trichomonas vaginalis, a protozoa. Often but not always acquired sexually.


Trichomonas Vaginitis

Scan potassium hydroxide (KOH) preparation for branching hyphae of Candida.

Often reddened, with white, often tenacious patches of discharge. The mucosa may bleed when these patches are scraped off. In mild cases, the mucosa looks normal.

The vulva and even the surrounding skin are often inflamed and sometimes swollen to a variable extent.

Pruritus, vaginal soreness, pain on urination (from skin inflammation), and dyspareunia

Scan saline wet mount for clue cells (epithelial cells with stippled borders); sniff for fishy odor after applying KOH (“whiff test”).

Usually normal

Usually normal

Unpleasant fishy or musty genital odor

Gray or white, thin, homogeneous, malodorous; coats the vaginal walls. Usually not profuse, may be minimal

Atrophic, dry, pale; may be red, petechial, or ecchymotic; bleeds easily; may show erosions or filmy adhesions


Pruritus, vaginal soreness, or burning and dyspareunia

Variable in color, consistency, and amount; may be blood-tinged; rarely profuse

Decreased estrogen production after menopause

Unknown; probably anaerobic bacteria. May be transmitted sexually

Candida albicans, a yeast (a normal vaginal inhabitant). Many factors predispose. White and curdy; may be thin but typically thick; not as profuse as in Trichomonas infection; not malodorous

Atrophic Vaginitis

Bacterial Vaginosis*

the cervix. If no cervical discharge is present in the os, suspect a vaginal origin and consider the causes below. Remember that diagnosis of cervicitis or vaginitis hinges on careful collection and analysis of the appropriate laboratory specimens.

Candida Vaginitis

The vaginal discharge that often accompanies vaginitis must be distinguished from a physiologic discharge. The latter is clear or white and may contain white clumps of epithelial cells; it is not malodorous. It is also important to distinguish vaginal from cervical discharges. Use a large cotton swab to wipe off

TABLE 11-5 ■ Vaginitis


TABLE 11-5 ■ Vaginitis



Prolapse of the Uterus Prolapse of the uterus results from weakness of the supporting structures of the pelvic floor, and is often associated with a cystocele and rectocele. In progressive stages, the uterus becomes retroverted and descends down the vaginal canal to the outside. In first-degree prolapse, the cervix is still well within the vagina. In second-degree prolapse, it is at the introitus. In third-degree prolapse (procidentia), the cervix and vagina are outside the introitus.

Myomas are very common benign uterine tumors. They may be single or multiple and vary greatly in size, occasionally reaching massive proportions. They feel like firm, irregular nodules in continuity with the uterine surface. Occasionally, a myoma projecting laterally can be confused with an ovarian mass; a nodule projecting posteriorly can be mistaken for a retroflexed uterus. Submucous myomas project toward the endometrial cavity and are not themselves palpable, although they may be suspected because of an enlarged uterus.

Normal position

Myomas of the Uterus (Fibroids)


TABLE 11-6 ■ Abnormalities and Positions of the Uterus

  TABLE 11-6 ■ Abnormalities and Positions of the Uterus




Angled back

Both retroversion and retroflexion are usually normal variants.

Retroflexion of the uterus refers to a backward angulation of the body of the uterus in relation to the cervix. The cervix maintains its usual position. The body of the uterus is often palpable through the posterior fornix or through the rectum.

Cervix faces forward

May be palpable through rectum

Retroflexion of the Uterus

Normal angle maintained

Retroversion of the uterus refers to a tilting backward of the entire uterus, including both body and cervix. It is a common variant occurring in about 1 out of 5 women. Early clues on pelvic examination are a cervix that faces forward and a uterine body that cannot be felt by the abdominal hand. In moderate retroversion, shown on the left, the body may not be palpable with either hand. In marked retroversion, shown on the right, the body can be felt posteriorly, either through the posterior fornix or through the rectum. A retroverted uterus is usually both mobile and asymptomatic. Occasionally, such a uterus is fixed and immobile, held in place by conditions such as endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease.

Palpable through rectum

Retroversion of the Uterus

Body of the uterus may not be palpable


TABLE 11-6 ■ Abnormalities and Positions of the Uterus


406 Infection of the fallopian tubes and ovaries may also follow delivery of a baby or gynecologic surgery.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is most often a result of sexually transmitted infection of the fallopian tubes (salpingitis) or of the tubes and ovaries (salpingooophoritis). It is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae, Chlamydia trachomatis, and other organisms. Acute disease is associated with very tender, bilateral adnexal masses, although pain and muscle spasm usually make it impossible to delineate them. Movement of the cervix produces pain. If not treated, a tuboovarian abscess or infertility may ensue.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

A ruptured tubal pregnancy spills blood into the peritoneal cavity, causing severe abdominal pain and tenderness. Guarding and rebound tenderness are sometimes associated. A unilateral adnexal mass may be palpable, but tenderness often prevents its detection. Faintness, syncope, nausea, vomiting, tachycardia, and shock may be present, reflecting the hemorrhage. There may be a prior history of amenorrhea or other symptoms of a pregnancy.

Ruptured Tubal Pregnancy

Small (≤6 cm in diameter), mobile, cystic masses in a young woman are usually benign and often disappear after the next menstrual period.

Ovarian cysts and tumors may be detected as adnexal masses on one or both sides. Later, they may extend out of the pelvis. Cysts tend to be smooth and compressible, tumors more solid and often nodular. Uncomplicated cysts and tumors are not usually tender.

Ovarian Cysts and Tumors

Adnexal masses most commonly result from disorders of the fallopian tubes or ovaries. Three examples— often hard to differentiate—are described. In addition, inflammatory disease of the bowel (such as diverticulitis), carcinoma of the colon, and a pedunculated myoma of the uterus may simulate an adnexal mass.

TABLE 11-7 ■ Adnexal Masses

  TABLE 11-7 ■ Adnexal Masses



The Pregnant Woman


Joyce E. (Beebe) Thompson

This chapter focuses on the evaluation of the healthy adult woman who is pregnant. The techniques of history-taking and examination for pregnant and nonpregnant women are similar. However, it is important to recognize the changes in anatomy and physiology that are related to pregnancy rather than an abnormality. This chapter emphasizes the common changes in anatomy and physiology that evolve throughout pregnancy, special concerns for the health history, and recommendations for nutrition and exercise. There is also information on screening pregnant women for domestic violence. Next are the techniques of examination for initial and follow-up care. Ideally, the pregnant woman begins her prenatal visits 6 to 8 weeks after conception. For those women seeking initial care in the second or third trimesters, the modified Leopold’s maneuvers are reviewed to help you assess the woman presenting late in pregnancy.

ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY As you begin thinking about the pregnant woman, you may wish to review the sections on anatomy and physiology in Chapter 8, The Breasts and Axillae, and in Chapter 11, Female Genitalia. During pregnancy, there are changes in the thyroid gland, breasts, abdomen, and pelvis. You may also detect minor skin changes such as the mask of pregnancy and abdominal striae. During pregnancy, the thyroid gland and the breasts undergo moderate enlargement due to hormonal stimulation and increased vascularity and hyperplasia of glandular tissue. There may be tenderness and tingling in the breasts that makes them more sensitive during examination. By the third month of gestation, the breasts become more nodular, requiring careful palpation to avoid discomfort as you examine for any breast masses. The nipples become larger and more erectile. From mid to late pregnancy, colostrum, a thick, yellowish secretion rich in nutrients, may be expressed from the nipples. The areolae darken, and Montgomery’s glands are more prominent. The venous pattern over the breasts becomes increasingly visible as pregnancy progresses. CHAPTER 12



ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY The abdomen’s most notable change is distention, primarily from the increasing size of the growing uterus and fetus. Early distention from fluid retention and relaxation of abdominal muscles may be noted before the uterus becomes an abdominal organ (12–14 weeks of gestation). The expected growth patterns of the normal uterus and fetus are illustrated on the right, and the standing contours of the primigravid abdomen in each trimester of pregnancy are illustrated below.

36 wks 32 wks 28 wks 24 wks 20-22 wks 16 wks 12-14 wks


First Trimester

Third Trimester




ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY As the skin stretches to accommodate the growth of the fetus, purplish striae may appear. The linea nigra, a brownish black pigmented line following the midline of the abdomen, may become evident. Muscle tone is diminished as pregnancy advances, and diastasis recti, or separation of the rectus muscles at the midline of the abdomen, may be noticeable in the later trimesters of pregnancy. If diastasis is severe, as it may be in multiparous women, only a layer of skin, fascia, and peritoneum covers most of the anterior uterine wall. The fetus is felt easily through this muscular gap. Many anatomical changes take place in the pelvis through the course of pregnancy. The early diagnosis of pregnancy is based in part on changes in the vagina and the uterus. With the increased vascularity throughout the pelvic region, the vagina takes on a bluish or violet color. The vaginal walls appear thicker and deeply rugated because of increased thickness of the mucosa, loosening of the connective tissue, and hypertrophy of smooth muscle cells. Vaginal secretions are thick, white, and more profuse. Vaginal pH becomes more acidic due to the action of Lactobacillus acidophilus on the increased levels of glycogen stored in the vaginal epithelium. This change in pH helps protect the woman against some vaginal infections, but increased glycogen may contribute to higher rates of vaginal candidiasis (see p. 405).

The uterus is the organ most affected. Early in pregnancy, it loses the firmness and resistance of the nonpregnant organ. The palpable softening at the isthmus, called Hegar’s sign, is an early diagnostic sign of pregnancy, and is illustrated on the right.



Over the course of 9 months, the uterus increases in both weight and size. Its weight grows from 2 ounces to 2 pounds, chiefly due to larger muscle cells, more extensive fibrous and elastic tissue, and the considerable increase in the size and number of blood vessels and lymphatics. The size of the uterus increases 500- to 1000-fold, with a capacity of approximately 10 liters by the end of the pregnancy. As the uterus grows, it changes shape and position. The nongravid uterus may be anteverted, retroverted, or retroflexed. Up to 12 weeks of gestation, the gravid uterus is still a pelvic organ. Regardless of its initial positioning, the enlarging uterus becomes anteverted and quickly fills space usually occupied by the bladder, triggering frequent voiding. By 12 weeks’ gestation, the uterus straightens and rises out of the pelvis and can be felt when palpating the abdomen. CHAPTER 12



ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY The enlarging uterus pushes the intestinal contents laterally and superiorly and stretches its supporting ligaments, sometimes causing pain in the lower quadrants. It adapts to fetal growth and positions and tends to rotate to the right to accommodate to the rectosigmoid structures in the left side of the pelvis. The cervix also looks and feels quite different. Pronounced softening and cyanosis appear very early after conception and continue throughout pregnancy (Chadwick’s sign). The cervical canal is filled with a tenacious mucous plug that protects the developing fetus from infection. Red, velvety mucosa around the os is common on the cervix during pregnancy and is considered normal.

Common Concerns During Pregnancy and Their Explanations Common Concerns

Time in Pregnancy

Explanation and Effects on Woman’s Body

No menses (amenorrhea)


Continued high levels of estrogen, progesterone, and human chorionic gonadotropin following fertilization of the ovum build up the endometrium to support the developing pregnancy, averting menses and shedding of the endometrial lining.

Nausea with or without vomiting

1st trimester

Possible causes include hormonal changes of pregnancy leading to slowed peristalsis throughout the GI tract, changes in taste and smell, the growing uterus, or emotional factors. Women may have a modest (2–5 lb) weight loss in the first trimester.

Breast tenderness, tingling

1st trimester

The hormones of pregnancy stimulate the growth of breast tissue. As the breasts enlarge throughout pregnancy, women may experience upper backache from their increased weight. There is also increased blood flow throughout the breasts, increasing pressure on the tissue.

Weight loss

1st trimester

If a woman experiences nausea and vomiting, she may not be eating normally in early pregnancy (see nausea above).

Groin/lower abdominal pain

2nd trimester: 14–20 weeks

Rapid uterine growth early in second trimester causes tension and stretching of round ligaments, causing spasm with sudden movement or change of position.

Urinary frequency (nonpathologic)

1st/3rd trimesters

There is increased blood volume and increased filtration rate in the kidneys with increased urine production. Due to less space for the bladder from pressure from the growing uterus (first trimester) or from the descent of the fetal head (third trimester), the woman needs to empty her bladder more frequently.


1st/3rd trimesters

Rapid change in energy requirements; hormonal changes (progesterone has a sedative effect); in third trimester, weight gain, changes in mechanics of movement, and sleep disturbances contribute.


3rd trimester

There is increased venous pressure in the legs, obstruction of lymphatic flow, and reduced plasma colloid osmotic pressure.

Heartburn, constipation


Relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter allows stomach contents to back up into the lower esophagus. The decreased GI motility caused by pregnancy hormones slows peristalsis and causes constipation. Constipation may cause or aggravate existing hemorrhoids.

Backache (nonpathologic)


Hormonally induced relaxation of joints and ligaments and the minor lordosis required to balance the growing uterus sometimes result in a lower backache. Pathologic causes must be ruled out.



Increased secretions from the cervix and the vaginal epithelium, due to the hormones and vasocongestion of pregnancy, result in an asymptomatic milky white vaginal discharge.



THE HEALTH HISTORY The ovaries and fallopian tubes undergo changes as well, but few are noticeable during physical examination. Early in pregnancy, the corpus luteum, the ovarian follicle that has discharged its ovum, may be sufficiently prominent to be felt on the affected ovary as a small nodule, but it disappears by midpregnancy. It is important to examine the fallopian tubes to rule out a tubal pregnancy (see p. 408).

THE HEALTH HISTORY Common or Concerning Symptoms ■ ■ ■ ■

Symptoms of pregnancy Toxic exposures, use of illicit drugs, domestic violence Prior complications of pregnancy Chronic illnesses in patient or family members

An accurate history is essential for assessing the pregnant woman’s health. It also shapes the order and content of the physical examination, which is directed primarily to confirming the woman’s suspicion of pregnancy. The woman will usually have many questions for you about her pregnancy and seek understanding of her symptoms. During the initial visit, focus the history on the woman’s current state of health and on risk factors for any conditions that could adversely affect her or the developing fetus. Ask about symptoms of pregnancy such as breast tenderness, nausea or vomiting, urinary frequency, change in bowel habits, and fatigue (see table on p. 412). Review her attitude toward the pregnancy, and if she plans to continue to term. Look into her eating patterns and quality of nutrition. Does she smoke or drink alcohol? What about her income and her social support network? Although best identified and addressed before conception, are there any sources of high-level stress? If she works, has there been any exposure to teratogenic drugs or toxic substances? What about any use of illicit drugs? Is there any history of domestic violence that may escalate during pregnancy? What about prior pregnancies, since past obstetrical problems tend to recur? Has she had any major complications of pregnancy or problems with labor or delivery? Has she had a premature or growth-retarded infant? Ask also about her past medical history, especially any chronic diseases like hypertension, diabetes, or cardiac conditions. You should also review her family history for these conditions. In addition, the clinician should get information needed for calculating the expected weeks of gestation by dates. This is currently counted in weeks from either (1) the first day of the last menstrual period (LMP), known as menCHAPTER 12



HEALTH PROMOTION AND COUNSELING strual age, or (2) the date of conception, if this is known (conception age). Menstrual age is used most frequently to express the weeks of gestation calculated by dates. The first day of the LMP is also used to calculate the expected date of confinement (EDC) or projected time of term labor and birth for women with regular 28- to 30-day cycles. The EDC can be determined by adding 7 days to the first day of the LMP, subtracting 3 months, and adding one year (Naegele’s rule). This information is often one of the first questions the pregnant woman asks when seeking confirmation of pregnancy. The weeks of gestation at the time of examination tell you the expected size of the uterus if the LMP was normal, the dates were remembered accurately, and conception actually occurred. You should estimate this size before examining the woman. You can then compare the expected size by dates with what you actually palpate during the bimanual examination, or abdominally, if pregnancy is beyond 14 weeks of gestation. Uterine size is measured by the palpable size of the uterus if still within the pelvic cavity, or by the height of the fundus if above the symphysis pubis. If there is a discrepancy, you need to look for the causes. Accurately dating the pregnancy is best done early, and contributes to good decision-making later in pregnancy if the fetus is not growing well, if preterm labor is suspected, or if the pregnancy goes beyond 42 weeks of gestation. If the woman does not remember her LMP or has irregular menstrual cycles, dating the pregnancy is done by palpation and subsequent monitoring of the growth curve (see p. 410) along with the time of first fetal movements. In some cases, ultrasound is an appropriate adjunct for dating an early pregnancy. As you begin preparing the patient for the physical examination, ask the woman if she has ever had a complete pelvic examination. If not, take the time to explain what is involved and seek her cooperation for each of its components. Explaining what you do and what you find is important if you are to strengthen rapport and help her to understand the changes in her body and its response to pregnancy, and how she can best maintain her health. Be sure to ask in a sensitive and confidential manner if she has ever experienced a sexual assault, since this may cause her to resist any examination of the pelvis.

HEALTH PROMOTION AND COUNSELING Important Topics for Health Promotion and Counseling ■ ■ ■ ■

Nutrition Weight gain Exercise Screening for domestic violence

Counseling about nutrition and exercise is important to the health of the pregnant woman and baby. Evaluate the nutritional status of the woman at the first prenatal visit, including a diet history, measurement of height and 414


HEALTH PROMOTION AND COUNSELING weight, and screening for anemia by checking the hematocrit. Be sure to explore the woman’s habits and attitudes about eating and weight gain, as well as her use of needed vitamin and mineral supplements. Develop a nutrition plan that is appropriate to the woman’s cultural preferences. Be sure there is a balanced increase in calories and protein, since protein will be used for energy, rather than growth, unless sufficient calories are consumed. Women with low incomes should be helped to obtain additional food. At each visit, monitor weight gain and review nutritional goals for women at risk. Ideal weight gain during pregnancy follows a pattern: very little gain the first trimester, rapid increase in the second, and a mild slowing of the increase in the third trimester. Women should be weighed at each visit, with the results plotted on a graph for the woman and health care provider to review and discuss.

Recommended Total Weight Gain Ranges for Pregnant Women Prepregnancy Weight-for-Height Category

Recommended Total Gain lb


Low (BMI <19.8)



Normal (BMI 19.8 to 26.0)



High (BMI 26.0 to 29.0)



Obese (BMI >29.0)



Figures are for single pregnancies. The range for women carrying twins is 35 to 45 lb (16 to 20 kg). Young adolescents (<2 years after menarche) should strive for gains at the upper end of the range. Short women (<62 in. or <157 cm) should strive for gains at the lower end of the range. Institute of Medicine. Nutrition During Pregnancy. Part I, Weight Gain. Committee on Nutritional Status During Pregnancy and Lactation, Food and Nutrition Board, National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 1990.

Exercise is an important part of the lifestyle of many women. Guidelines are contradictory, but the recommendations of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (1994) suggest that in the absence of either obstetric or medical complications, most women can perform moderate exercise to maintain cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period. Women exercising regularly prior to pregnancy can continue mild to moderate exercise, preferably for short periods three times a week. Women initiating exercise during pregnancy should be more cautious, and consider programs developed specifically for pregnant women. After the first trimester, women should avoid exercise in the supine position, which can compress the inferior vena cava and decrease blood flow to the placenta. The pregnant woman should stop exercise when she feels fatigued or uncomfortable and avoid overheating and dehydration. Since the center of gravity shifts in the third trimester, advise her that exercises that could cause loss of balance are unwise. Pregnancy may be a time when women are more likely to be abused by an intimate partner or when patterns of abuse may intensify, increasing the risk CHAPTER 12





of miscarriage and low-birthweight babies, as well as late prenatal care. Abuse in pregnancy ranges from 8% to 22%, and may result in femicide. Because violence survivors often disclose their experiences to their health care provider before confiding in their family, clergy, or friends, many experts consider universal screening an ethical imperative. No woman deserves to be hurt. Safety and legal concerns also surround domestic violence, but the woman needs to be supported and offered multiple opportunities to talk about any form of abuse or violence in the safety and privacy of a prenatal visit. When to ask, how to bring up the subject, and how to respond when the woman reveals that she is or has been abused are important questions to consider before screening for violence and abuse. Direct questioning in a nonjudgmental manner in a private setting is recommended at each prenatal visit. Validation of positive responses and marking the area of any injury on a body map is suggested. Above all, in situations of admitted abuse, ask the woman how you might help her. Offer information on safe shelters, counseling centers, hotline telephone numbers to call*, and other sources of help when she is ready to take advantage of these. Clues to physical violence may also arise from behavior during the interview or from frequent changes in appointments at the last minute to avoid detection of bruises or other signs of injury.

Preview: Recording the Physical Examination — The Pregnant Woman Note that initially you may use sentences to describe your findings; later you will use phrases. The style below contains phrases appropriate for most write-ups. Unfamiliar terms are explained in the next section, Techniques of Examination. “Abdomen: No surgical scars. Active bowel sounds. Soft, nontender; no palpable hepatosplenomegaly or masses. Fundus palpable 2 fingerbreadths below the umbilicus; shape is ovoid and smooth. Fetal heart rate 144. No inguinal adenopathy. External genitalia: midline episiotomy scar present. No lesions, discharge, or signs of infection. Bimanual examination: cervix midline, soft; external os admits fingertip, internal os closed. No pain elicited on movement of cervix; no adnexal masses. Fundus enlarged to 20 weeks’ size, midline, smooth; vaginal tone reduced.”

Describes examination of healthy pregnant woman at 20 weeks’ gestation, third pregnancy

OR “Abdomen: Low transverse surgical scar. Active bowel sounds. Soft, nontender; no palpable hepatosplenomegaly or masses. Fundus: barely palpable above symphysis pubis. Fetal heart rate not heard. No inguinal adenopathy. Bimanual examination: cervix midline, soft, internal os closed. No pain on movement of cervix. Right ovary palpable, left nonpalpable; no other adnexal masses. Fundus anteverted, enlarged to 14–16 weeks’ size; moderate vaginal tone.”

Describes examination of healthy pregnant woman reporting dates of 20-week gestation but with examination consistent with 16-week gestation

*National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) National Domestic Violence Resource Center: 1-800-537-2238





TECHNIQUES OF EXAMINATION As with all patients, as you begin your examination of the pregnant woman show consideration for her comfort and sense of privacy, as well as for her individual needs and sensitivities. Have the needed equipment readily at hand. If you have not met the woman before, taking the history before asking her to gown shows respect for her right to be treated with dignity. Ask the woman to put on the gown with the opening in front to ease the examination of both the breasts and the pregnant abdomen. Draping for the abdominal and pelvic examinations is similar to that discussed in earlier chapters.

Positioning. Positioning is important when examining the abdomen of a pregnant woman given the added time and attention needed to palpate the uterus and listen to the fetal heart. The semi-sitting position with the knees bent, as shown below, affords the greatest comfort, as well as protection from the negative effects of the weight of the gravid uterus on abdominal organs and vessels.

This position is especially important when examining a woman with an advanced pregnancy. Prolonged periods of lying on the back should be avoided because the uterus then lies directly on the woman’s vertebral column and may compress the descending aorta and inferior vena cava, interfering with return of venous blood from the lower extremities and the pelvic vessels. Therefore, abdominal palpation should be efficient in time and results.

Supine hypotension is a severe form of this diminished circulation and may lead the woman to feel dizzy and faint, especially when lying down.

Encourage the woman to sit again briefly before proceeding to the pelvic evaluation. This pause also provides time for the woman to empty her bladder again. Make sure, however, that she is acclimated to sitting before allowing her to stand up. The pelvic examination should likewise be relatively CHAPTER 12





quick. All other examination procedures should be done in the sitting or left-side–lying position.


The examiner’s hands are the primary “equipment” for examination of the pregnant woman; they should be warm and firm yet gentle in palpation. Whenever possible the fingers should be together and flat against the abdominal or pelvic tissue to minimize discomfort. Likewise, all touching and palpation should be done with smooth continuous contact against the skin rather than kneading or abrupt motion. The more sensitive palmar surfaces of the ends of the fingers yield the greatest amount of information. Avoid tender areas on the woman’s body until the end of the examination. The gynecologic speculum is used for inspecting the cervix and the vagina and for taking specimens for cytologic or bacteriologic study. Because the vaginal walls are relaxed during pregnancy and may fall medially, obscuring your view, a speculum of larger than expected size may be needed. The relaxation of perineal and vulvar structures allows you to use it with minimal discomfort for the woman. Because of the increased vascularity of the vaginal and cervical structures, insert and open the speculum gently. You will thus avoid tissue trauma and bleeding, which interfere with the interpretation of Pap smears. The cervical brush is not recommended for Pap smears in pregnant women because it often causes bleeding. The Ayre wooden spatula and/or cottontipped applicator is appropriate.

Review Chapter 11 for instruments and techniques used to take cervical smears.

General Inspection Inspect the overall health, nutritional status, neuromuscular coordination, and emotional state as the woman walks into the exam room and climbs on the examination table. Discussion of the woman’s priorities for the examination, her responses to pregnancy, and her general health provide useful information and help to put the woman at ease.

Vital Signs and Weight Take the blood pressure. A baseline reading helps to determine the woman’s usual range. In midpregnancy, blood pressure is normally lower than in the nonpregnant state.

High blood pressure prior to 24 weeks indicates chronic hypertension. After 24 weeks, further evaluation is required to diagnose and treat pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH).

Measure the weight. First-trimester weight loss related to nausea and vomiting is common but should not exceed 5 pounds.

Weight loss of more than 5 pounds during the first trimester may be due to excessive vomiting or hyperemesis.





Head and Neck Stand facing the seated woman and observe the head and neck, including the following features: ■

Face. The mask of pregnancy, chloasma, is normal. It consists of irregular brownish patches around the eyes or across the bridge of the nose.

Facial edema after 24 weeks of gestation suggests PIH.

Hair, including texture, moisture, and distribution. Dryness, oiliness, and sometimes minor generalized hair loss may be noted.

Localized patches of hair loss should not be attributed to pregnancy.

Eyes. Note the conjunctival color.

Anemia of pregnancy may cause pallor.

Nose, including the mucous membranes and the septum. Nasal congestion is common during pregnancy.

Nosebleeds are more common during pregnancy. Signs of cocaine use may be present.

Mouth, especially the gums and teeth.

Gingival enlargement with bleeding (p. 203) is common during pregnancy.

Thyroid gland. Inspect and palpate the gland. Symmetric enlargement is expected.

Marked or asymmetric enlargement is not due to pregnancy.

Thorax and Lungs Inspect the thorax for the pattern of breathing. Although women late in pregnancy sometimes report difficulty in breathing, there are usually no abnormal physical signs.

If signs of respiratory distress are noted, examine the lungs thoroughly. Expect respiratory alkalosis in later trimesters.

Heart Palpate the apical impulse. In advanced pregnancy, it may be slightly higher than normal because of dextrorotation of the heart due to the higher diaphragm. Auscultate the heart. Soft, blowing murmurs are common during pregnancy, reflecting increased blood flow in normal vessels.

These murmurs may also accompany anemia.

Breasts Inspect the breasts and nipples for symmetry and color. The venous pattern may be marked, the nipples and areolae are dark, and Montgomery’s glands are prominent. CHAPTER 12


An inverted nipple needs attention if breast-feeding is planned.




Palpate for masses. During pregnancy, breasts are tender and nodular.

A pathologic mass may be difficult to isolate.

Compress each nipple between your index finger and thumb. This maneuver may express colostrum from the nipples.

A bloody or purulent discharge should not be attributed to pregnancy.

Abdomen Position the pregnant woman in a semi-sitting position with her knees flexed (see p. 417). Inspect any scars or striae, the shape and contour of the abdomen, and the fundal height. Purplish striae and linea nigra are normal in pregnancy. The shape and contour may indicate pregnancy size (see figures on p. 410).

Scars may confirm the type of prior surgery, especially cesarean section.

Palpate the abdomen for: ■

Organs or masses. The mass of pregnancy is expected.

Fetal movements. These can usually be felt by the examiner after 24 weeks (and by the mother at 18–20 weeks).

If movements cannot be felt after 24 weeks, consider error in calculating gestation, fetal death or morbidity, or false pregnancy.

Uterine contractility. The uterus contracts irregularly after 12 weeks and often in response to palpation during the third trimester. The abdomen then feels tense or firm to the examiner, and it is difficult to feel fetal parts. If the hand is left resting on the fundal portion of the uterus, the fingers will sense the relaxation of the uterine muscle.

Prior to 37 weeks, regular uterine contractions with or without pain or bleeding are abnormal, suggesting preterm labor.

© B. Proud





Measure the fundal height with a tape measure if the woman is more than 20 weeks’ pregnant. Holding the tape as illustrated and following the midline of the abdomen, measure from the top of the symphysis pubis to the top of the uterine fundus. After 20 weeks, measurement in centimeters should roughly equal the weeks of gestation. For estimating fetal height between 12 and 20 weeks, see p. 410.

If fundal height is more than 2 cm higher than expected, consider multiple gestation, a big baby, extra amniotic fluid, or uterine myomata. If it is lower than expected by more than 2 cm, consider missed abortion, transverse lie, growth retardation, or false pregnancy.

Auscultate the fetal heart, noting its rate (FHR), location, and rhythm. Use either: ■

A doptone, with which the FHR is audible after 12 weeks, or

A fetoscope, with which it is audible after 18 weeks.

Lack of an audible fetal heart may indicate pregnancy of fewer weeks than expected, fetal demise, or false pregnancy.


The rate is usually in the 160s during early pregnancy, and then slows to the 120s to 140s near term. After 32 to 34 weeks, the FHR should increase with fetal movement.

The location of the audible FHR is in the midline of the lower abdomen from 12 to 18 weeks of gestation. After 28 weeks, the fetal heart is heard best over the fetal back or chest. The location of the FHR then depends on how the fetus is positioned. Palpating the fetal head and back helps you identify where to listen. (See Modified Leopold’s Maneuvers, pp. 424–426.) If the fetus is head down with the back on the woman’s left side, the FHR is heard best in the lower left quadrant. If the fetal head is under the xiphoid process (breech presentation) with the back on the right, the FHR is heard in the upper right quadrant. CHAPTER 12


An FHR that drops noticeably near term with fetal movement could indicate poor placental circulation.

After 24 weeks, auscultation of more than one FHR with varying rates in different locations suggests more than one fetus. 421



Rhythm becomes important in the third trimester. Expect a variance of 10 to 15 beats per minute (BPM) over 1 to 2 minutes.

Lack of beat-to-beat variability late in pregnancy suggests fetal compromise.

Genitalia, Anus, and Rectum Inspect the external genitalia, noting the hair distribution, the color, and any scars. Parous relaxation of the introitus and noticeable enlargement of the labia and clitoris are normal. Scars from an episiotomy, a perineal incision to facilitate delivery of an infant, or from perineal lacerations may be present in multiparous women.

Some women have labial varicosities that become tortuous and painful.

Inspect the anus for hemorrhoids. If these are present, note their size and location.

Varicosities often engorge later in pregnancy. They may be painful and bleed.

Palpate Bartholin’s and Skene’s glands. No discharge or tenderness should be present. Check for a cystocele or rectocele.

May be pronounced due to the muscle relaxation of pregnancy

Speculum Examination. Inspect the cervix for color, shape, and healed

A pink cervix suggests a nonpregnant state.

lacerations. A parous cervix may look irregular because of lacerations (see p. 403). Take Pap smears and, if indicated, other vaginal or cervical specimens. The cervix may bleed more easily when touched due to the vasocongestion of pregnancy.

Vaginal infections are more common during pregnancy, and specimens may be needed for diagnosis.

Inspect the vaginal walls for color, discharge, rugae, and relaxation. A bluish or violet color, deep rugae, and an increased milky white discharge, leukorrhea, are normal.

A pink vagina suggests a nonpregnant state. Vaginal irritation and itching with discharge suggest infection.

Bimanual Examination. Insert two lubricated fingers into the introitus, palmar side down, with slight pressure downward on the perineum. Slide the fingers into the posterior vaginal vault. Maintaining downward pressure, gently turn the fingers palmar side up. Avoid the sensitive urethral structures at all times. With the relaxation of pregnancy, the bimanual examination is usually easier to accomplish. Tissues are soft and the vaginal walls usually close in on the examining fingers, giving the sensation of being immersed in a bowl of oatmeal. It may be difficult to distinguish the cervix at first because of its softer texture. Place your finger gently in the os, then sweep it around the surface of the cervix. A nulliparous cervix should be closed, while a multiparous cervix may admit a fingertip through the external os. The internal os—the narrow passage between the endocervical canal and the uterine cavity—should be 422




closed in both situations. The surface of a normal multiparous cervix may feel irregular due to the healed lacerations from a previous birth.

A shortened effaced cervix prior to 32 weeks may indicate preterm labor.

Estimate the length of the cervix by palpating the lateral surface of the cervix from the cervical tip to the lateral fornix. Prior to 34 to 36 weeks, the cervix should retain its normal length of about 1.5 to 2 cm.

Palpate the uterus for size, shape, consistency, and position. These depend on the weeks of gestation. Early softening of the isthmus, Hegar’s sign, is characteristic of pregnancy. The uterus is shaped like an inverted pear until 8 weeks, with slight enlargement in the fundal portion. The uterus becomes globular by 10 to 12 weeks. Anteflexion or retroflexion is lost by 12 weeks, with the fundal portion measuring about 8 cm in diameter. With your internal fingers placed at either side of the cervix, palmar surfaces upward, gently lift the uterus toward the abdominal hand. Capture the fundal portion of the uterus between your two hands and gently estimate uterine size.

An irregularly shaped uterus suggests uterine myomata or a bicornuate uterus, which has two distinct uterine cavities separated by a septum.

Palpate the left and right adnexa. The corpus luteum may feel like a small nodule on the affected ovary during the first few weeks after conception. Late in pregnancy, adnexal masses may be difficult to feel.

Early in pregnancy, it is important to rule out a tubal (ectopic) pregnancy. See Table 11-7 Adnexal Masses, p. 408.

Palpate for pelvic muscle strength as you withdraw your examining fingers. A rectovaginal examination may be done if you need to confirm uterine size or the integrity of the rectovaginal septum. A pregnancy of less than 10 weeks in a retroverted and retroflexed uterus lies totally in the posterior pelvis. Its size can be confirmed only by this examination.

Extremities General inspection may be done with the woman seated or lying on her left side. Inspect the legs for varicose veins.

Varicose veins may begin or worsen during pregnancy.

Inspect the hands and legs for edema. Palpate for pretibial, ankle, and pedal edema. Edema is rated on a 0 to 4+ scale. Physiologic edema is more common in advanced pregnancy, during hot weather, and in women who stand a lot.

Pathologic edema associated with PIH is often 3+ or more pretibially; it also affects the hands and face.

Obtain knee and ankle reflexes.

After 24 weeks, reflexes greater than 2+ may indicate PIH.





Special Techniques MODIFIED LEOPOLD’S MANEUVERS These maneuvers are important adjuncts to palpation of the pregnant abdomen beginning at 28 weeks of gestation. They help determine where the fetus is lying in relation to the woman’s back (longitudinal or transverse), what end of the fetus is presenting at the pelvic inlet (head or buttocks), where the fetal back is located, how far the presenting part of the fetus has descended into the maternal pelvis, and the estimated weight of the fetus. This information is necessary to assess the adequacy of fetal growth and the probability of successful vaginal birth.

Interpretation Common deviations include breech presentation (the fetal buttocks presenting at the outlet of the maternal pelvis) and absence of the presenting part well down into the maternal pelvis at term. Neither situation necessarily precludes vaginal birth. The most serious findings are a transverse lie close to term and slowed fetal growth that could represent intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR).

First Maneuver (Upper Pole). Stand at the woman’s side facing her

Most commonly, the fetal buttocks are at the upper pole. They feel firm but irregular, and less globular than the head. The fetal head feels firm, round, and smooth.

head. Keeping the fingers of both examining hands together, palpate gently with the fingertips to determine what part of the fetus is in the upper pole of the uterine fundus.

© B. Proud (photograph).



TECHNIQUES OF EXAMINATION Second Maneuver (Sides of the Maternal Abdomen). Place one hand

The hand on the fetal back feels a smooth, firm surface the length of the hand (or longer) by 32 weeks of gestation. The hand on the fetal arms and legs feels irregular bumps, and also perhaps kicking if the fetus is awake and active.

on each side of the woman’s abdomen, aiming to capture the body of the fetus between them. Use one hand to steady the uterus and the other to palpate the fetus.

© B. Proud (photograph).

Third Maneuver (Lower Pole). Turn and face the

If the fetal head is presenting, the fingers feel a smooth, firm, rounded surface on both sides.

woman’s feet. Using the flat palmar surfaces of the fingers of both hands and, at the start, touching the fingertips together, palpate the area just above the symphysis pubis. Note whether the hands diverge with downward pressure or stay together. This tells you whether or not the presenting part of the fetus, head or buttocks, is descending into the pelvic inlet.

If the hands diverge, the presenting part is descending into the pelvic inlet, as illustrated. If the hands stay together and you can gently depress the tissue over the bladder without touching the fetus, the presenting part is above your hands.

© B. Proud (photograph).




TECHNIQUES OF EXAMINATION If the presenting fetal part is descending, palpate its texture and firmness. If not, gently move your hands up the lower abdomen and capture the presenting part between your hands.

The fetal head feels smooth, firm, and rounded; the buttocks, firm but irregular.

Fourth Maneuver (Confirmation of the Presenting Part). With

Most commonly, the head is in the lower pole and the fetal buttocks are in the upper pole. If the head is above the pelvic inlet, it moves somewhat independently of the rest of the fetal body.

your dominant hand grasp the part of the fetus in the lower pole, and with your nondominant hand, the part of the fetus in the upper pole. With this maneuver, you may be able to distinguish between the head and the buttocks.

© B. Proud (photograph).

Concluding the Visit Once the examination is completed and the woman is dressed, review the findings with her. If further data are necessary to confirm pregnancy, discuss how these may be obtained. Reinforce the importance of regular prenatal care. Record all your findings on the prenatal record.




The Anus, Rectum, and Prostate


ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY The gastrointestinal tract terminates in a short segment, the anal canal. Its external margin is poorly demarcated, but the skin of the anal canal can usually be distinguished from the surrounding perianal skin by its moist, hairless appearance. The anal canal is normally held in a closed position by the muscle action of the voluntary external anal sphincter and involuntary internal anal sphincter, the latter an extension of the muscular coat of the rectal wall. The direction of the anal canal on a line roughly between anus and umbilicus should be noted carefully. Unlike the rectum above it, the canal is liberally supplied by somatic sensory nerves, and a poorly directed finger or instrument will produce pain.



Peritoneal reflection


Valve of Houston


Anorectal junction


Anorectal canal




ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY The anal canal is demarcated from the rectum superiorly by a serrated line marking the change from skin to mucous membrane. This anorectal junction, often called the pectinate or dentate line, also denotes the boundary between somatic and visceral nerve supplies. It is readily visible on proctoscopic examination, but is not palpable. Above the anorectal junction, the rectum balloons out and turns posteriorly into the hollow of the coccyx and the sacrum. In the male, the three lobes of the prostate gland surround the urethra. The two lateral lobes lie against the anterior rectal wall, where they are readily palpable as a rounded, heartshaped structure about 2.5 cm in length. They are separated by a shallow median sulcus or groove, also palpable. The third, or median, lobe is anterior to the urethra and cannot be examined. The seminal vesicles, shaped like rabbit ears above the prostate, are also not normally palpable.

Seminal vesicle Valve of Houston

Median sulcus Lateral lobe


Rectum Levater ani muscle

Anorectal junction

Internal anal sphincter

External anal sphincter Anal canal


In the female, the uterine cervix can usually be felt through the anterior wall of the rectum.


The rectal wall contains three inward foldings, called valves of Houston. The lowest of these can sometimes be felt, usually on the patient’s left. Most of the rectum that is accessible to digital examination does not have a peritoneal surface. The anterior rectum usually does, however, and you may reach it with the tip of your examining finger. You may thus be able to identify the tenderness of peritoneal inflammation or the nodularity of peritoneal metastases.

Changes With Aging

The prostate gland is small during boyhood, but between puberty and the age of about 20 years it increases roughly five-fold in size. Starting in about the 5th decade, further enlargement is increasingly common as the gland becomes hyperplastic (see p. __). 426




THE HEALTH HISTORY Common or Concerning Symptoms ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■

Change in bowel habits Blood in the stool Pain with defecation, rectal bleeding, or tenderness Anal warts or fissures Weak stream of urine Burning with urination

See Table 9-???, Black and Bloody Stools, and Table 9-???, Constipation.

Is there any pain on defecation? Any itching? Any extreme tenderness in the anus or rectum? Is there any mucopurulent discharge or bleeding? Any ulcerations? Does the patient have anal intercourse?

Proctitis with anorectal pain, pruritus, tenesmus, discharge or bleeding in anorectal infection from gonorrhea, Chlamydia, lymphogranuloma venereum; ulcerations in herpes simplex, chancre in primary syphilis. May arise from receptive anal intercourse. Itching in younger patients from pinworms.


Many questions concerning symptoms related to the anorectal area and the prostate have been addressed in other chapters. For example, you will need to ask if there has been any change in the pattern of bowel function or the size or caliber of the stools. What about diarrhea or constipation? You will need to ask about the color of the stools. Turn to pp. __–__ and review the health history regarding these symptoms, as well as queries about blood in the stool, ranging from black stools, suggesting melena, to the red blood of hematochezia to bright red blood per rectum. Has there been any mucus present in the stool?

Change in bowel pattern, especially stools of thin pencil-like caliber, may warn of cancer. Blood in the stool from polyps or cancer, also from gastrointestinal bleeding, local hemorrhoids, mucus in villous adenoma.

Is there any history of anal warts, or anal fissures?

Genital warts from human papillomavirus, condylomata lata in secondary syphilis. Anal fissures in proctitis, Crohn’s disease

In men, review the pattern of urination (see pp. __–__). Does the patient have any difficulty starting the urine stream or holding back urine? Is the flow weak? What about frequent urination, especially at night? Or pain or burning as urine is passed? Any blood in the urine or semen or pain with ejaculation? Is there frequent pain or stiffness in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs?

These symptoms suggest urethral obstruction as in benign prostatic hyperplasia or prostate cancer, especially in men older than age 70.






Also in men, is there any feeling of discomfort or heaviness in the prostate area at the base of the penis? Any associated malaise, fever, or chills?

Suggests possible prostatitis

HEALTH PROMOTION AND COUNSELING Important Topics for Health Promotion and Counseling ■ ■

Screening for prostate cancer Screening for polyps and colorectal cancer.

Clinicians should discuss screening issues related to prostate cancer to promote health for men, and pr