Portal venous gas detected by ultrasound differentiates surgical NEC from other acquired neonatal intestinal diseases

Eur J Pediatr Surg. 2011 Jan;21(1):12-7. doi: 10.1055/s-0030-1265204. Epub 2010 Oct 15.


Background: The definite clinical diagnosis of acquired neonatal intestinal diseases (ANID) is a challenge, usually met by applying Bell's or, more recently, Gordon's classification. Both classifications incorporate radiological pneumatosis intestinalis (PI) as a cornerstone of the NEC diagnosis. However, PI may be absent or difficult to identify by abdominal X-ray. Portal venous gas detected by ultrasound (PVG-US) has been proposed as another characteristic of NEC, but its incidence in other entities of ANID remains unknown.

Objective: To determine whether PVG-US and Gordon's classification can help to differentiate between NEC and other ANID, especially SIP.

Methods: Retrospective analysis of the data of 83 infants, who underwent laparotomy for a clinical diagnosis of ANID was performed. The results of PVG-US and other markers of ANID were compared with the operative result, defined as the gold standard for diagnosis.

Results: The NEC diagnosis was confirmed in 28/83 infants and PVG-US was present in 23 (82%) of those patients prior to operation. PVG-US was detected in 2 patients without NEC (one volvulus, one SIP), resulting in an 82% sensitivity and a 96% specificity. The sensitivity and specificity of radiological PI for patients with NEC was lower (75 and 91%), but the combination of PVG-US and radiological PI increased the sensitivity for NEC detection to 89%. Gordon's classification had a sensitivity of 93% and a specificity of 92% for NEC diagnosis.

Conclusion: Screening for PVG-US and Gordon's classification are valid tools to differentiate between NEC and other ANID including SIP. Although an effect of these proposed diagnostic tools on treatment regimen and operative management has yet to be verified, the improvement in diagnosing ANID is certainly valuable.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Enterocolitis, Necrotizing / diagnostic imaging*
  • Female
  • Gases*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Portal Vein / diagnostic imaging*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Ultrasonography


  • Gases