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Ultrasound Spots Bowel Complication in Newborns

Better than X-rays at catching life-threatening intestinal disease

TUESDAY, April 26, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Using a form of ultrasound called color Doppler sonography to measure blood flow to the intestines of newborns can help radiologists spot a serious complication of a bowel disease called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).

The finding is reported in the May issue of Radiology.

NEC, an inflammatory disease, is the most common and serious gastrointestinal disorder among hospitalized premature babies. The cause of the disease is unknown.

Inability to feed, abdominal bloating, and difficulty emptying the stomach are among the symptoms of NEC. The small and large intestine may stop functioning properly and sections of the intestine can die, which may result in bowel perforation and the infant's death.

"The prognosis for NEC worsens once bowel perforation occurs. Earlier detection of necrotic or dead bowel in NEC will improve an infant's chance for survival," study author Dr. Ricardo Faingold, an assistant professor of radiology at McGill University in Montreal, said in a prepared statement.

In research conducted while he was at the University of Toronto, Faingold and his colleagues used color Doppler sonography (CDS) to examine 30 premature and full-term infants with confirmed or suspected NEC. They then compared the CDS findings with those from abdominal X-rays. CDS uses high-frequency sound waves to detect and quantify blood flow in the intestine, whereas X-rays reveal perforations in the intestine or gas in the abdomen that escapes from those perforations.

CDS was more sensitive and specific than X-rays for detecting NEC in newborns, the investigators concluded.

"It's a very simple idea. If there is blood flow to the wall of the intestine, that's a good sign. If there is no blood flow, that's bad. It means that particular area of the intestine is dying or is dead. When you see free gas in the X-ray, it may be too late. The babies are very sick by then," Faingold explained.

"This procedure is not intended as a substitute for the X-ray. But in the near future, color Doppler sonography will become part of the overall assessment of premature babies," Faingold said.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about necrotizing enterocolitis.

SOURCE: Radiological Society of North America, news release, April 26, 2005
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