Point-of-Care Ultrasound to Diagnose Colitis in the Emergency Department: A Case Series and Review of the Literature

J Emerg Med. 2019 Oct 28;S0736-4679(19)30741-3. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2019.08.035. Online ahead of print.


Background: Colitis refers to an inflammatory process of the colon, composed of a variety of different etiologies including inflammatory bowel disease, infectious colitis, ischemic colitis, and allergic colitis. Usually, abdominal computed tomography (CT) is the gold standard in diagnosing the various forms of colitis. However, by the use of point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS), one may occasionally be able to discern wall thickening, pericolic fluid, and adjacent hyperechoic mesenteric fat. One may also see abscesses, fistulae, or ascites.

Case series: This is a series of 6 patients who had findings consistent with colitis seen on POCUS performed by an emergency physician. These were confirmed by abdominal CT with contrast. Early detection by POCUS was able to lead to a rapid diagnosis and to expedite treatment. WHY SHOULD AN EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN BE AWARE OF THIS?: The ability to detect findings of colitis by POCUS can be quickly learned by the emergency physician with a strong background in basic ultrasound. For many of the different subtypes of colitis, the initial treatment in the emergency department is the same: i.v. antibiotics, i.v. fluids, and "bowel rest" by maintaining the patient in nothing-by-mouth status. For the stable patient with high clinical suspicion of an infectious etiology of colitis, ultrasound can help confirm the diagnosis and rule out other etiologies. This may be especially important in certain populations such as children and young women, where one can avoid a significant amount of radiation being directed toward the pelvic area.

Keywords: colitis; emergency department; point-of-care ultrasound; ultrasonography.