The "dependent viscera" sign in CT diagnosis of blunt traumatic diaphragmatic rupture

AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2001 Nov;177(5):1137-40. doi: 10.2214/ajr.177.5.1771137.


Objective: The objective of our study was to describe the "dependent viscera" sign and determine its usefulness at CT in the diagnosis of diaphragmatic rupture after blunt abdominal trauma.

Materials and methods: The study sample consisted of 28 consecutive patients (19 men, nine women) between 17 and 74 years old (mean age, 31 years) who had undergone abdominal CT and subsequent emergency laparotomy after a blunt trauma. Ten patients had a diaphragmatic rupture (six, right-sided; four, left-sided) at laparotomy. An experienced radiologist unaware of the surgical findings retrospectively reviewed the CT scans, and then a second radiologist reviewed the scans to provide interobserver agreement. Note was made of discontinuity of the diaphragm, intrathoracic herniation of abdominal contents, and waistlike constriction of bowel (the collar sign). Also noted was whether the upper one third of the liver abutted the posterior right ribs or whether the bowel or stomach lay in contact with the posterior left ribs. Either of these findings was termed the "dependent viscera" sign. The radiologists' detection rate of diaphragmatic rupture on the CT scans via observance of the dependent viscera sign was determined. Interobserver agreement was assessed using Cohen's kappa statistic.

Results: The dependent viscera sign was observed on the CT scans of 100% of the patients with a left-sided diaphragmatic rupture and of 83% of the patients with right-sided diaphragmatic rupture. Both observers missed one case of right-sided diaphragmatic rupture. The radiologists' overall rate of detecting diaphragmatic rupture was 90% using the dependent viscera sign. We found excellent interobserver agreement (kappa = 1) for detection of the dependent viscera sign and for the diagnosis of diaphragmatic tear on CT scans.

Conclusion: The dependent viscera sign increases the detection at CT of acute diaphragmatic rupture after blunt trauma.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Hernia, Diaphragmatic, Traumatic / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Observer Variation
  • Ribs / diagnostic imaging
  • Supine Position / physiology
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*
  • Visceral Prolapse / diagnostic imaging*
  • Wounds, Nonpenetrating / diagnostic imaging*