Many kinds of accidents can cause blows to the abdomen. Common causes are automobile and bicycle accidents, skiing or tobogganing accidents, and other sports-related injuries. Most blows to the abdomen aren't serious. But a severe blow can cause internal bleeding and shock, which can be life-threatening.
When the injury is serious
What to look out for
Danger signs after someone has received a severe blow to the abdomen include the following:
- The abdomen is hard or tender, which can be a sign of internal bleeding.
- Extensive bruising, a possible sign that something is going on underneath the skin.
- Tenderness in the chest area. This may indicate that there are rib fractures, which can cause damage to internal organs such as the spleen or a lung. Tenderness over one or more ribs is a good reason to see a doctor.
- Pressing on the abdomen causes severe pain.
- There's bleeding from the rectum, vagina, or urethra (i.e., there's blood in the urine).
- The victim feels nauseated or vomits.
Also be alert to the symptoms of shock, another sign that the blow may have caused internal bleeding. Call 911 or get the victim to an emergency medical facility immediately if the following symptoms are present or develop after the injury:
- Rapid pulse (over 100 beats per minute)
- Lightheadedness or a drop in blood pressure
- Cold, clammy skin
- Confusion or memory loss
- Restlessness or fearfulness
While waiting for emergency help to arrive, take these steps:
- Check the victim's airway to make sure it is clear. Check his or her breathing and pulse. If the person isn't breathing or you do not detect a pulse, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation immediately.
- If the person shows signs of shock, begin first aid for shock immediately.
- Don't give the person anything to eat or drink for several hours after the injury, even if he or she asks for it.
For minor injuries
If you do not observe any of the serious signs listed above, the most important thing to do is make the person comfortable and keep an eye out for changes in his or her condition.
Have the injured person lie down and elevate the feet above the level of the heart. Loosen any tight clothing. Use a blanket to keep the person warm.
In most cases, if the injury is minor, eating or drinking should not be a problem. In fact, if the person has diabetes or is dehydrated, food and liquids are necessary, and withholding them can be harmful. If you're worried about the safety of eating and drinking, it's probably best to seek medical attention.
While the person is resting, monitor pulse and breathing. A rapid pulse or very rapid or slow breathing may indicate internal bleeding or shock. If you observe any signs of trouble, call 911 or get the victim to an emergency medical facility immediately.
Handbook of First Aid and Emergency Care, American Medical Association.
American College of Emergency Physicians, First Aid Manual.
The American Red Cross First Aid & Safety Handbook.