Prenatal detection of gastrointestinal bubbles since early pregnancy: Clues to correct diagnosis

Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2023 Jul;162(1):273-277. doi: 10.1002/ijgo.14666. Epub 2023 Jan 31.


Objective: To characterize gastrointestinal bubbles detected since early pregnancy and to describe corresponding diagnoses.

Method: A retrospective cohort review of all cases in which gastrointestinal bubbles were detected starting in early prenatal transvaginal scans at 14-17 weeks of gestation between the years 2007 and 2021. Sonographic features and data regarding associated anomalies, genetic abnormalities, and pregnancy outcome were evaluated.

Results: Bubbles were detected in 23 of 27 073 early scans and a total of 31 394 scans. Diagnosis was available in 22 cases. Transient bubbles were detected in 10 cases and represented normal peristalsis. Fixed double bubble was detected in nine cases. Double-walled double bubbles represented duodenal duplications (three cases) and esophageal duplications (two cases). Simple cysts represented duodenal atresia (three cases) and a pancreatic cyst (one case). A triple bubble represented duodenal obstruction from Ladd bands in one case. Quadribubble was detected in two cases and represented jejunal atresia.

Conclusion: Prenatal detection of gastrointestinal bubbles can accurately diagnose physiological versus pathological upper gastrointestinal conditions. Transient bubbles are physiological. Fixed double bubbles might represent either duodenal atresia or esophageal/duodenal duplications when a double wall is demonstrated. Three or four bubbles might represent more distal intrinsic or extrinsic obstruction.

Keywords: gastrointestinal bubbles; gastrointestinal duplications; intestinal atresia; neonatal bowel obstruction; prenatal ultrasound; transvaginal ultrasound.

MeSH terms

  • Duodenal Obstruction* / diagnostic imaging
  • Duodenal Obstruction* / genetics
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Outcome
  • Prenatal Diagnosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal*

Supplementary concepts

  • Familial duodenal atresia