Acute nontraumatic abdominal pain in adult patients: abdominal radiography compared with CT evaluation

Radiology. 2002 Oct;225(1):159-64. doi: 10.1148/radiol.2251011282.


Purpose: To compare the diagnostic yield of abdominal radiography with that of computed tomography (CT) in adult patients presenting to the emergency department with nontraumatic abdominal pain.

Materials and methods: Records of 1,000 consecutive patients presenting to the emergency department with acute abdominal pain from April to June 1998 were retrospectively reviewed. A total of 871 patients underwent abdominal radiography, and 188 underwent abdominal CT. The report interpretations of the abdominal radiographs and CT scans were divided into normal, nonspecific, and abnormal categories. Final discharge diagnoses were compared with the interpretations of the imaging examination results, and sensitivities and specificities of each modality were calculated and compared.

Results: Interpretation of abdominal radiographs was nonspecific in 588 (68%) of 871 patients, normal in 200 (23%), and abnormal in 83 (10%). The highest sensitivity of abdominal radiography was 90% for intraabdominal foreign body and 49% for bowel obstruction. Abdominal radiography had 0% sensitivity for appendicitis, pyelonephritis, pancreatitis, and diverticulitis. Sensitivities of abdominal CT were highest for bowel obstruction and urolithiasis at 75% and 68%, respectively.

Conclusion: Abdominal radiographs are not sensitive in the evaluation of adult patients presenting to the emergency department with nontraumatic abdominal pain.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen, Acute / diagnostic imaging*
  • Abdomen, Acute / etiology*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cohort Studies
  • Contrast Media
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Diseases / complications
  • Intestinal Diseases / diagnostic imaging
  • Kidney Diseases / complications
  • Kidney Diseases / diagnostic imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pancreatitis / complications
  • Pancreatitis / diagnostic imaging
  • Radiography, Abdominal*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*


  • Contrast Media