Utility of CT in the diagnosis and management of small-bowel obstruction in children

Pediatr Radiol. 2012 Dec;42(12):1441-8. doi: 10.1007/s00247-012-2497-9. Epub 2012 Oct 3.


Background: CT is often used in the diagnosis and management of small-bowel obstruction in children.

Objective: To determine sensitivity of CT in delineating presence, site and cause of small-bowel obstruction in children.

Materials and methods: We retrospectively reviewed the CT scans of 47 children with surgically proven small-bowel obstruction. We noted any findings of obstruction and the site and cause of obstruction. Presence, absence or equivocal findings of bowel obstruction on abdominal radiographs performed prior to CT were also noted. We reviewed patient charts for clinical details and surgical findings, including bowel resection. Statistical analysis was performed using Fisher exact test to determine which CT findings might predict bowel resection.

Results: CT correctly diagnosed small-bowel obstruction in 43/47 (91.5%) cases. CT correctly indicated site of obstruction in 37/47 (78.7%) cases and cause of obstruction in 32/47 (68.1%) cases. Small-bowel feces sign was significantly associated with bowel resection at surgery (P = 0.0091). No other CT finding was predictive of bowel resection. Out of 41 children who had abdominal radiographs before CT, 29 (70.7%) showed unequivocal obstruction, six (14.6%) showed equivocal findings and six (14.6%) were unremarkable.

Conclusion: CT is highly sensitive in diagnosing small-bowel obstruction in children and is helpful in determining the presence of small-bowel obstruction in many clinically suspected cases with equivocal or normal plain radiographs. CT also helps to determine the site and cause of the obstruction with good sensitivity.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intestinal Obstruction / diagnostic imaging*
  • Intestine, Small / diagnostic imaging*
  • Male
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*