The eyes see what the mind seeks: a systematic review of abdominal imaging findings in patients with COVID-19

Br J Radiol. 2021 Aug 1;94(1124):20201220. doi: 10.1259/bjr.20201220. Epub 2021 Jul 14.


Objectives: With the increasing recognition of gastrointestinal (GI) manifestation of coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19), various abdominal imaging findings are increasingly being noted. We scoped the existing literature on the abdominal imaging findings in COVID-19.

Methods: A systematic literature search was performed on PubMed, Embase, Google scholar and World Health Organization COVID-19 database.

Results: 35 studies were included in the final descriptive synthesis. Among the studies reporting positive abdominal imaging findings in patients with COVID-19, majority described imaging abnormalities of the GI tract (16 studies), of which bowel wall thickening was most frequently reported. Other findings noted were abdominal imaging manifestations of bowel ischemia with thrombosis of the splanchnic vasculature, and imaging features suggestive of pancreatitis. Imaging findings suggestive of solid organ infarction were reported in nine studies. An association between imaging evidence of hepatic steatosis and COVID-19 was noted in three studies. Incidental lung base findings on abdominal imaging were noted in 18 studies, where patients presented with predominant GI symptoms. The most common finding was bilateral ground glass opacities (90.7%) with predominant multilobar (91.1%) and peripheral (64.4%) distribution.

Conclusion: This systematic review provides insight into the abdominal imaging findings in patients with COVID-19. Knowledge of these imaging manifestations will not only help in further research but also will aid in curtailing transmission of the SARS-CoV-2. Further prospective studies are needed to gain better insight into the pathophysiology of these imaging manifestations.

Advances in knowledge: This review highlights the abdominal imaging findings in patients with COVID-19, to gain insight into the disease pathophysiology and gear the abdominal radiologist through the pandemic.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen / diagnostic imaging*
  • COVID-19 / complications*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / etiology*
  • Humans