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Plain abdominal radiography in acute abdominal pain; past, present, and future

Authors Gans SL, Stoker J, Boermeester MA

Received 2 January 2012

Accepted for publication 15 May 2012

Published 13 June 2012 Volume 2012:5 Pages 525—533


Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 3

Sarah L Gans,1 Jaap Stoker,2 Marja A Boermeester1

1Department of Surgery, 2Department of Radiology, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Abstract: Several studies have demonstrated that a diagnosis based solely on a patient’s medical history, physical examination, and laboratory tests is not reliable enough, despite the fact that these aspects are essential parts of the workup of a patient presenting with acute abdominal pain. Traditionally, imaging workup starts with abdominal radiography. However, numerous studies have demonstrated low sensitivity and accuracy for plain abdominal radiography in the evaluation of acute abdominal pain as well as various specific diseases such as perforated viscus, bowel obstruction, ingested foreign body, and ureteral stones. Computed tomography, and in particular computed tomography after negative ultrasonography, provides a better workup than plain abdominal radiography alone. The benefits of computed tomography lie in decision-making for management, planning of a surgical strategy, and possibly even avoidance of negative laparotomies. Based on abundant available evidence, major advances in diagnostic imaging, and changes in the management of certain diseases, we can conclude that there is no place for plain abdominal radiography in the workup of adult patients with acute abdominal pain presenting in the emergency department in current practice.

Keywords: abdominal x-ray, acute abdomen, acute abdominal pain, emergency department, diagnostic imaging, abdominal radiography

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