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Chapter 39: Nursing Assessment: Gastrointestinal System


• The main function of the gastrointestinal (GI) system is to supply nutrients to body cells.

• The GI tract is innervated by the autonomic nervous system. The parasympathetic system is
mainly excitatory, and the sympathetic system is mainly inhibitory.

• The two types of movement of the GI tract are mixing (segmentation) and propulsion

• The secretions of the GI system consist of enzymes and hormones for digestion, mucus to
provide protection and lubrication, water, and electrolytes.

• Mouth:
o The mouth consists of the lips and oral (buccal) cavity.
o The main function of saliva is to lubricate and soften the food mass, thus facilitating

• Pharynx: a musculomembranous tube that is divided into the nasopharynx, oropharynx, and
laryngeal pharynx.

• Esophagus:
o A hollow, muscular tube that receives food from the pharynx and moves it to the
stomach by peristaltic contractions.
o Lower esophageal sphincter (LES) at the distal end remains contracted except during
swallowing, belching, or vomiting.

• Stomach:
o The functions are to store food, mix the food with gastric secretions, and empty
contents into the small intestine at a rate at which digestion can occur.
o The secretion of HCl acid makes gastric juice acidic.
o Intrinsic factor promotes cobalamin absorption in the small intestine.

• Small intestine: two primary functions are digestion and absorption.

• Large intestine:
o The four parts are (1) the cecum and appendix; (2) the colon (ascending, transverse,
descending, sigmoid colon); (3) the rectum; and (4) the anus.
o The most important function of the large intestine is the absorption of water and

• Liver:
o Hepatocytes are the functional unit of the liver.
o Is essential for life. It functions in the manufacture, storage, transformation, and
excretion of a number of substances involved in metabolism.

• Biliary tract:
o Consists of the gallbladder and the duct system.
o Bile is produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Bile consists of bilirubin,
water, cholesterol, bile salts, electrolytes, and phospholipids.

• Pancreas:
o The exocrine function of the pancreas contributes to digestion.
o The endocrine function occurs in the islets of Langerhans, whose beta cells secrete
insulin; alpha cells secrete glucagon; and delta cells secrete somatostatin.

• Aging causes changes in the functional ability of the GI system.

• Xerostomia (decreased saliva production) or dry mouth is common.

• Taste buds decrease, the sense of smell diminishes, and salivary secretions diminish, which
can lead to a decrease in appetite.

• Although constipation is a common complaint of elderly patients, age-related changes in

colonic secretion or motility have not been consistently shown.

• The liver size decreases after 50 years of age, but liver function tests remain within normal
ranges. There is decreased ability to metabolize drugs and hormones.

• Subjective data:
o Important health information: the patient is asked about abdominal pain, nausea and
vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal distention, jaundice, anemia, heartburn,
dyspepsia, changes in appetite, hematemesis, food intolerance or allergies, excessive
gas, bloating, melena, hemorrhoids, or rectal bleeding.
o The patient is asked about (1) history or existence of diseases such as gastritis,
hepatitis, colitis, gallbladder disease, peptic ulcer, cancer, or hernias; (2) weight
history; (3) past and current use of medications and prior hospitalizations for GI
o Many chemicals and drugs are potentially hepatotoxic and result in significant
patient harm unless monitored closely.

• Objective data:
o Anthropometric measurements (height, weight, skinfold thickness) and blood studies
(e.g., serum protein, albumin, hemoglobin) may be performed.
o Physical examination
 Mouth. The lips are inspected for symmetry, color, and size. The lips, tongue,
and buccal mucosa are observed for lesions, ulcers, fissures, and
 Abdomen. The skin is assessed for changes (color, texture, scars, striae,
dilated veins, rashes, lesions), symmetry, contour, observable masses, and
 Auscultation of the four quadrants of the abdomen includes listening for
increased or decreased bowel sounds and vascular sounds.
 Percussion of the abdomen is done to determine the presence of distention,
fluid, and masses. The nurse lightly percusses all four quadrants of the
 Light palpation is used to detect tenderness or cutaneous hypersensitivity,
muscular resistance, masses, and swelling.
 Deep palpation is used to delineate abdominal organs and masses. Rebound
tenderness indicates peritoneal inflammation.
 During inspiration the liver edge should feel firm, sharp, and smooth. The
surface and contour and any tenderness are described.
 The spleen is normally not palpable. If palpable, manual compression of an
enlarged spleen may cause it to rupture.
 The perianal and anal areas should be inspected for color, texture, lumps,
rashes, scars, erythema, fissures, and external hemorrhoids.

• Many of the diagnostic procedures of the GI system require measures to cleanse the GI tract,
as well as the use of a contrast medium or a radiopaque tracer.

• An upper GI series with small bowel follow-through provides visualization of the

esophagus, stomach, and small intestine.

• A lower GI series (barium enema) x-ray examination is done to detect abnormalities in the

• Ultrasonography is used to show the size and configuration of organs.

• Virtual colonoscopy combines computed tomography (CT) scanning or magnetic resonance

imaging (MRI).

• Endoscopy refers to the direct visualization of a body structure through a lighted fiberoptic

• Retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is an endoscopic procedure that visualizes

the pancreatic, hepatic, and common bile ducts.

• Endoscopy of the GI tract is often done with biopsy and cytologic studies. A complication of
GI endoscopy is perforation.

• Capsule endoscopy is a noninvasive approach to visualize the GI tract.

• Liver biopsy is performed to obtain tissue for diagnosis of fibrosis, cirrhosis, and neoplasms.

• Liver function tests reflect hepatic disease and function.

****Chapter 40: Nursing Management: Nutritional Problems

• Good nutrition in the absence of any underlying disease process results from the ingestion
of a balanced diet.

• The MyPyramid (formerly the Food Guide Pyramid) consists of food groups that are
presented in proportions appropriate for a healthy diet, including grains, vegetables, fruits,
oils, milk, and meat and beans.
• The National Research Council recommends that at least half of the body’s energy needs
should come from carbohydrates, especially complex carbohydrates.

• The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 from Healthy People 2010 recommends that
people reduce their fat intake to 20% to 35% of their total daily caloric intake.

• An average adult requires an estimated 20 to 35 calories per kilogram of body weight per
day, leaning toward the higher end if the person is critically ill or very active and the lower
end if the person is sedentary.

• The recommended daily protein intake is 0.8 to 1 g/kg of body weight.

• Vegetarians can have vitamin or protein deficiencies unless their diets are well planned.

• Culture, personal preferences, socioeconomic status, and religious preferences can influence
food choices.

• The nurse should include cultural and ethnic considerations when assessing the patient’s diet
history and implementing interventions that require dietary changes.

• Malnutrition is common in hospitalized patients.

• With starvation, the body initially uses carbohydrates (glycogen) rather than fat and protein
to meet metabolic needs. Once carbohydrate stores are depleted, protein begins to be
converted to glucose for energy.

• Factors that contribute to malnutrition include socioeconomic status, cultural influences,

psychologic disorders, medical conditions, and medical treatments.

• Regardless of the cause of the illness, most sick persons have increased nutritional needs.

• Each degree of temperature increase on the Fahrenheit scale raises the basal metabolic rate
(BMR) by about 7%.

• Prolonged illness, major surgery, sepsis, draining wounds, burns, hemorrhage, fractures, and
immobilization can all contribute to malnutrition.

• On physical examination, the most obvious clinical signs of inadequate protein and calorie
intake are apparent in the skin, eyes, mouth, muscles, and the central nervous system.

• The malnourished person is more susceptible to all types of infection.

• Across all settings of care delivery, the nurse must be aware of the nutritional status of the

• The protein and calorie intake required in the malnourished patient depends on the cause of
the malnutrition, the treatment being employed, and other stressors affecting the patient.

•The older patient is at risk for nutritional problems due to the following factors:
o Changes in the oral cavity
o Changes in digestion and motility
o Changes in the endocrine system
o Changes in the musculoskeletal system
o Decreases in vision and hearing

•High-calorie oral supplements may be used in the patient whose nutritional intake is

• Tube feeding (also known as enteral nutrition) may be ordered for the patient who has a
functioning GI tract but is unable to take any or enough oral nourishment.

• A gastrostomy tube may be used for a patient who requires tube feedings over an extended

•The most accurate assessment for correct tube placement is by x-ray visualization.

• Parenteral nutrition (PN) is used to meet the patient’s nutritional needs and to allow
growth of new body tissue.

• All parenteral nutrition solutions should be prepared by a pharmacist or a trained technician

using strict aseptic techniques under a laminar flow hood.

• Complications of parenteral nutrition include infectious, metabolic, and mechanical


Lewis et al: Medical-Surgical Nursing: Assessment and Management of Clinical

Problems, 7th edition

Key Points


• Obesity is the most common nutritional problem, affecting almost one third of the

• Approximately 13% of Americans have a body mass index (BMI) greater than 35 kg/m2.

• Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable disease in the United States, after

• The cause of obesity involves significant genetic/biologic susceptibility factors that are
highly influenced by environmental and psychosocial factors.

• The degree to which a patient is classified as underweight, healthy (normal) weight,

overweight, or obese is assessed by using a BMI chart.
• Individuals with fat located primarily in the abdominal area (apple-shaped body) are at a
greater risk for obesity-related complications than those whose fat is primarily located in the
upper legs (pear-shaped body).

• Complications or risk factors related to obesity include the following:

o Cardiovascular disease in both men and women
o Severe obesity may be associated with sleep apnea and obesity/hypoventilation
o Type 2 diabetes mellitus; as many as 80% of patients with type 2 diabetes are obese
o Osteoarthritis, probably because of the trauma to the weight-bearing joints and gout
o Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), gallstones, and nonalcoholic
steatohepatitis (NASH)
o Breast, endometrial, ovarian, and cervical cancer is increased in obese women

• When patients who are obese have surgery, they are likely to suffer from other
comorbidities, including diabetes, altered cardiorespiratory function, abnormal metabolic
function, hemostasis, and atherosclerosis that place them at risk for complications related to

• Measurements used with the obese person may include skinfold thickness, height, weight,
and BMI.

• The overall goals for the obese patient include the following:
o Modifying eating patterns
o Participating in a regular physical activity program
o Achieving weight loss to a specified level
o Maintaining weight loss at a specified level
o Minimizing or preventing health problems related to obesity

• Obesity is considered a chronic condition that necessitates day-to-day attention to lose

weight and maintain weight loss.

• Persons on low-calorie and very-low-calorie diets need frequent professional monitoring

because the severe energy restriction places them at risk for multiple nutrient deficiencies.

• Restricted food intake is a cornerstone for any weight loss or maintenance program.

• Motivation is an essential ingredient for successful achievement of weight loss.

• Exercise is an important part of a weight control program. Exercise should be done daily,
preferably 30 minutes to an hour a day.

• Useful basic techniques for behavioral modification include self-monitoring, stimulus

control, and rewards.

• Drugs approved for weight loss can be classified into two categories, including those that
decrease the following:
o Food intake by reducing appetite or increasing satiety (sense of feeling full after
o Nutrient absorption

• Bariatric surgery is currently the only treatment that has been found to have a successful
and lasting impact for sustained weight loss for severely obese individuals.
o Wound infection is one of the most common complications after surgery.
o Early ambulation following surgery is important for the obese patient.
o Late complications following bariatric surgery include anemia, vitamin deficiencies,
diarrhea, and psychiatric problems.

• Obesity in older adults can exacerbate age-related declines in physical function and lead to
frailty and disability.

• Metabolic syndrome is a collection of risk factors that increase an individual’s chance of
developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes mellitus.

• Lifestyle therapies are the first-line interventions to reduce the risk factors for metabolic