Aim: To evaluate frequency and clinical relevance of the 'small bowel faeces' sign (SBFS) on computed tomography (CT) in patients with and without small bowel obstruction (SBO) presenting with acute abdominal or acute abdominal and flank pain. Methods: Abdominal CTs of consecutive patients presenting to the emergency department with abdominal or flank pain over a 6 month period were retrospectively reviewed by six radiologists, independently, for the presence of the SBFS. Examinations with positive SBFS were further evaluated in consensus by three radiologists, blinded to the final diagnosis. The small bowel was graded as non-dilated (<2.5 cm) and mildly (2.5-2.9 cm), moderately (3-4 cm) or severely (>4 cm) dilated. The location of SBFS and presence of distal small bowel collapse indicative of SBO was recorded. Imaging findings were subsequently correlated with the final diagnosis via chart review and compared between patients with and without SBO. Results: Of 1642 CT examinations, a positive SBFS was found in 100 (6%) studies. Of 100 patients with a positive SBFS, 32 (32%) had documented SBO. The remaining 68 patients had other non-obstructive diagnoses. SBFS was located in proximal, central, distal and multisegmental bowel loops in one (3.1%), eight (25.0%), 21 (65.6%) and two (6.3%) patients with SBO, and in zero (0%), 10 (14.7%), 53 (77.9%) and five (7.4%) of patients without SBO (p < 0.273). The small bowel was non-dilated and mildly, moderately or severely dilated in one (3%), five (16%), 20 (62%) and six (19%) patients with SBO, and in 61(90%), seven (10%), zero (0%) and zero (0%) patients without SBO. Normal or mildly dilated small bowel was seen in all (100%) patients without SBO, but only in six (19%) of 32 patients with SBO (p < 0.0001). Moderate or severe small bowel dilatation was seen in 26 (81%) patients with SBO (p < 0.0001), but it was absent in patients without SBO. Distal small bowel collapse was found in 27 (84.4%) of 32 patients with SBO, but not in patients without SBO (p < 0.0001). A combination of SBFS, moderate or severe small bowel distension and distal collapse was found in 23 (71.9%) patients with SBO (p < 0.0001), but was not found in patients without SBO. Conclusion: A SBFS is more frequent in patients presenting with acute abdominal/flank pain without bowel obstruction. When seen in association with moderate or severe small bowel dilatation, a SBFS is significantly more common in patients with SBO. When a SBFS is associated with normal or mildly dilated small bowel, the majority of patients have no bowel obstruction.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging