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Crit Ultrasound J. 2013 Jul 15;5 Suppl 1:S6. doi: 10.1186/2036-7902-5-S1-S6. Epub 2013 Jul 15.

The role of US examination in the management of acute abdomen.

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Department of Medical, Surgical and Neuro Sciences, Section of Radiological Sciences, Siena, Italy.


Acute abdomen is a medical emergency, in which there is sudden and severe pain in abdomen of recent onset with accompanying signs and symptoms that focus on an abdominal involvement. It can represent a wide spectrum of conditions, ranging from a benign and self-limiting disease to a surgical emergency. Nevertheless, only one quarter of patients who have previously been classified with an acute abdomen actually receive surgical treatment, so the clinical dilemma is if the patients need surgical treatment or not and, furthermore, in which cases the surgical option needs to be urgently adopted. Due to this reason a thorough and logical approach to the diagnosis of abdominal pain is necessary. Some Authors assert that the location of pain is a useful starting point and will guide a further evaluation. However some causes are more frequent in the paediatric population (like appendicitis or adenomesenteritis) or are strictly related to the gender (i.e. gynaechologic causes). It is also important to consider special populations such as the elderly or oncologic patients, who may present with atypical symptoms of a disease. These considerations also reflect a different diagnostic approach. Today, surely the integrated imaging, and in particular the use of multidetector Computed Tomography (MDCT) has revolutionised the clinical approach to this condition, simplyfing the diagnosis but burdening the radiologists with the problems related to the clinical management. However although CT emerging as a modality of choice for evaluation of the acute abdomen, ultrasonography (US) remains the primary imaging technique in the majority of cases, especially in young and female patients, when the limitation of the radiation exposure should be mandatory, limiting the use of CT in cases of nondiagnostic US and in all cases where there is a discrepancy between the clinical symptoms and negative imaging at US.

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