Helical CT of urinary calculi: effect of stone composition, stone size, and scan collimation

AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2000 Aug;175(2):329-32. doi: 10.2214/ajr.175.2.1750329.


Objective: Helical CT has become the preferred methodology for identifying urinary calculi. However, the ability to predict stone composition, which influences patient treatment, depends on the accurate measurement of the radiographic attenuation of stones. We studied the effects of stone composition, stone size, and scan collimation width on the measurement of attenuation in vitro.

Materials and methods: One hundred twenty-seven human urinary calculi of known composition and size were scanned at 120 kVp, 240 mA, and a 1:1 pitch at different collimations. A model, based on the physics of helical CT, was used to predict the effect of scan collimation width and stone size on measured attenuation.

Results: At a 1-mm collimation, stone groups could be differentiated by attenuation: the attenuation of uric acid was less than that of cystine or struvite, which overlapped; these were less than the attenuation of calcium oxalate monohydrate, which was in turn lower than that of brushite and hydroxyapatite, which overlapped and showed the highest values. At a wider collimation, attenuation was lower and the ability to differentiate stone composition was lost. Attenuation also decreased with smaller stones. At a 10-mm collimation, some uric acid stones (<approximately 6 mm) and other stones (< approximately 4 mm) had very low attenuation, so low that they could remain undetected on helical CT. The model predicted well the degree that attenuation was affected by stone size and collimation width.

Conclusion: Stone composition and stone size, relative to CT collimation, independently influenced CT attenuation. The effect of stone size and collimation generally conformed to the model's predictions. We determined that small stones with low attenuation can be overlooked on helical CT.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed* / methods
  • Urinary Calculi / chemistry*
  • Urinary Calculi / diagnostic imaging*
  • Urinary Calculi / pathology