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J Med Case Rep. 2008 Oct 28;2:335. doi: 10.1186/1752-1947-2-335.

A pitfall in the interpretation of plain abdnominal radiographs in neonatal intestinal perforation: a case report.

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Children's Hospital Oxford, John Radcliffe Hospital, Headley Way, Oxford, UK.



The recognition of neonatal intestinal perforation relies on identification of free gas in the peritoneum on plain abdominal radiographs and the associated clinical signs. The neonatal bowel takes several hours to fill with gas, potentially obscuring one of the radiological signs of bowel perforation in the neonate.


We describe the case of a male, Caucasian neonate, born prematurely at 35+2 weeks of gestation, who was suspected before birth to be at risk of intestinal perforation, based on antenatal ultrasound signs of bowel obstruction. However, the diagnosis of intestinal perforation after birth was initially delayed because the first abdominal radiograph, requested by the neonatal team, was taken too early in the clinical progression of the neonate's condition. As a consequence, this delayed referral to the paediatric surgical team and definitive management.


This case illustrates how consideration of the timing of abdominal radiographs in suspected intestinal perforation in the neonate may avoid misinterpretation of radiographic signs, thereby avoiding delays in referral and treatment in the crucial first few hours of life.

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