Reappraisal of radiographic signs of pneumoperitoneum at emergency department

Am J Emerg Med. 2009 Mar;27(3):320-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2008.03.004.


Purpose: This study aimed to evaluate the sensitivities of the reported free air signs on supine chest and abdominal radiographs of hollow organ perforation. We also verified the value of supine radiographic images as compared with erect chest and decubitus abdominal radiographs in detection of pneumoperitoneum.

Methods: Two hundred fifty cases with surgically proven hollow organ perforation were included. Five hundred twenty-seven radiographs were retrospectively reviewed on the picture archiving and communication system. Medical charts were reviewed for operative findings of upper gastrointestinal tract, small bowel, or colon perforations. The variable free air signs on both supine abdominal radiographs (KUB) and supine chest radiographs (CXR) were evaluated and determined by consensus without knowledge of initial radiographic reports or final diagnosis. Erect CXR and left decubitus abdominal radiographs were evaluated for subphrenic free air or air over nondependent part of the right abdomen.

Result: Upper gastrointestinal tract perforation was proven in 91.2%; small bowel perforation, in 6.8%; and colon perforation, in 2.0%. The positive rate of free air was 80.4% on supine KUB, 78.7% on supine CXR, 85.1% on erect CXR, and 98.0% on left decubitus abdominal radiograph. Anterior superior oval sign was the most common radiographic sign on supine KUB (44.0%) and supine CXR (34.0%). Other free air signs ranged from 0% to 30.4%.

Conclusions: Most free air signs on supine radiographs are located over the right upper abdomen. Familiarity with free air signs on supine radiographs is very important to emergency physicians and radiologists for detection of hollow organ perforation.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pneumoperitoneum / diagnostic imaging*
  • Radiography, Abdominal*
  • Radiography, Thoracic*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Supine Position