Emphysematous (gas-forming) infections of the abdomen and pelvis represent potentially life-threatening conditions that require aggressive medical and often surgical management. The initial clinical manifestation of these entities may be insidious, but rapid progression to sepsis will occur in the absence of early therapeutic intervention. Conventional radiography and ultrasonography are often the initial imaging modalities used to evaluate patients with abdominopelvic complaints. However, when a differential diagnosis remains, or if further localization or confirmation of tentative findings is needed, computed tomography (CT) should be considered the imaging modality of choice. CT is both highly sensitive and specific in the detection of abnormal gas and well suited to reliable depiction of the anatomic location and extent of the gas. Of equal importance may be the capability of CT to help reliably identify benign sources of gas, because treatment (if any) varies dramatically depending on the source. Knowledge of the pathophysiologic characteristics, common predisposing conditions, and typical imaging features associated with gas-forming infections of the gallbladder, stomach, pancreas, and genitourinary system will help make early diagnosis and successful treatment possible. In addition, such knowledge will aid in further diagnostic work-up, surveillance of potential complications, and evaluation of therapeutic response.
Copyright RSNA, 2002