Assessing Bowel Activity

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This is my first class of Nursing School, we have not actually had our first meeting yet, but we have plenty to complete before we start.

I have two questions that I have been unable to find anywhere in my book...

How is bowel activity assessed? How long should the nurse listen in each quadrant? I can find the techniques used, but not how long each quadrant should be assessed for.

Anyone that can help?

I was taught for our exam that you do 30 sec at each site (3 sites in each quadrant) for a total of 5 min. Then our lab instructor told us that you listen that amount if you don't hear anything, but if you do hear something in your first 5 seconds at your first site you can move on, and you don't have to loiter at each site if they are clearly active (but still listen to at least 1 site in each quadrant).


250 Posts

When auscultating a pt's abdomen, the RUQ is auscultated first. Then a clockwise direction is followed to listen to the other quadrants. The stehescope is pressed lightly on the abdomen to listen for bowel sounds, which are soft clicks and gurgles that may be heard every 5 to 15 seconds, occurring irregularly 5 to 30 times per minute. Bowel sounds at this rate are considered normal. Bowel sounds are produced when peristalsis moves air and fluid through the GI tract and are categorized as normal, hyperactive, hypoactive, or absent. Hyperactive bowel sounds are usually rapid, high pitched, and loud and may occur with hunger or gastroenteritis. Hypoactive bowel sounds are bowel sounds that are infrequent and can occur in pts with a paralytic ileus or following abdominal surgery. Bowel sounds are considered absent if no sounds are auscultated after listening to all four quadrants for 2-5 minutes in each quadrant.

Specializes in Licensed Practical Nurse.

I just finished learning this and according to my assessment text book, you can assess bowel activity by listening for bowel sounds in all four abdominal quadrants RLQ, RUQ, LLQ, LUQ. Listen for bowel sounds for at least 1 min in each quadrant and you should hear anywhere from 5-30 bowel sounds in each quadrant. If you don't hear anything or (0-4 bowel sounds) in a quadrant after 1 minute listen for a full 5 min. 0 to 4 bowel sounds heard in 5 min are called hypoactive Bowel sounds, more than 30 bowel sounds in a minute are called hyperactive... Hope this helps you ;--)

Do-over, ASN, RN

1,085 Posts

Specializes in CICU.

Don't forget to ask when his or her's last bowel movement was and what it was like...

Also sometimes it is tough to tell very hypoactive vs absent bowel sounds, but it is rather important to do so.

Specializes in HH, Med/surg- liver & kidney transplant, ortho, ++.

We have an assessment class that we take each term for the first year. It is focused just on assessments. First term it was practicing the mini assessment and the different pieces. Second term it was a focused assessment on each body system. This term it is a complete admission assessment we must complete. The book our instructor wanted us to get was Nursing Assessment Made Incredibly Easy, or maybe it is just Assessment Made Incredibly Easy. I got it from an online bookstore.

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