The Accuracy and Prognostic Value of Point-of-care Ultrasound for Nephrolithiasis in the Emergency Department: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

Acad Emerg Med. 2018 Jun;25(6):684-698. doi: 10.1111/acem.13388. Epub 2018 Mar 25.


Introduction: Point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) has been suggested as an initial investigation in the management of renal colic. Our objectives were: 1) to determine the accuracy of POCUS for the diagnosis of nephrolithiasis and 2) to assess its prognostic value in the management of renal colic.

Methods: The review protocol was registered to the PROSPERO database (CRD42016035331). An electronic database search of MEDLINE, Embase, and PubMed was conducted utilizing subject headings, keywords, and synonyms that address our research question. Bibliographies of included studies and narrative reviews were manually examined. Studies of adult emergency department patients with renal colic symptoms were included. Any degree of hydronephrosis was considered a positive POCUS finding. Accepted criterion standards were computed tomography evidence of renal stone or hydronephrosis, direct stone visualization, or surgical findings. Screening of abstracts, quality assessment with the QUADAS-2 instrument, and data extraction were performed by two reviewers, with discrepancies resolved by consensus with a third reviewer. Test performance was assessed by pooled sensitivity and specificity, calculated likelihood ratios, and a summary receiver operator curve (SROC). The secondary objective of prognostic value was reported as a narrative summary.

Results: The electronic search yielded 627 unique titles. After relevance screening, 26 papers underwent full-text review, and nine articles met all inclusion criteria. Of these, five high-quality studies (N = 1,773) were included in the meta-analysis for diagnostic accuracy and the remaining yielded data on prognostic value. The pooled results for sensitivity and specificity were 70.2% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 67.1%-73.2%) and 75.4% (95% CI = 72.5%-78.2%), respectively. The calculated positive and negative likelihood ratios were 2.85 and 0.39. The SROC generated did not show evidence of a threshold effect. Two of the studies in the meta-analysis found that the finding of moderate or greater hydronephrosis yielded a specificity of 94.4% (95% CI = 92.7%-95.8%). Four studies examining prognostic value noted a higher likelihood of a large stone when positive POCUS findings were present. The largest randomized trial showed lower cumulative radiation exposure and no increase in adverse events in those who received POCUS investigation as the initial renal colic investigation.

Conclusion: Point-of-care ultrasound has modest diagnostic accuracy for diagnosing nephrolithiasis. The finding of moderate or severe hydronephrosis is highly specific for the presence of any stone, and the presence of any hydronephrosis is suggestive of a larger (>5 mm) stone in those presenting with renal colic.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Hydronephrosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Hydronephrosis / etiology
  • Kidney Calculi / diagnostic imaging*
  • Point-of-Care Systems / standards*
  • Renal Colic / diagnostic imaging*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Ultrasonography / methods*