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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Abdominal Pain in the Elderly Patient: Point-of-care Ultrasound Diagnosis of Small Bowel Obstruction


Case Presentation: A 67-year-old female presented to the emergency department (ED) complaining of generalized abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) demonstrated dilated bowel loops measuring up to 4.1 centimeters and localized free fluid, consistent with a small bowel obstruction (SBO). A nasogastric tube was placed without complications. The patient was admitted to the hospital and conservatively managed with an uncomplicated course.

Discussion: In elderly patients with abdominal pain, POCUS is an excellent initial imaging modality to assist emergency physicians in rapid and accurate diagnosis of a variety of pathologies to expedite management. Point-of-care ultrasound can be used to rule out and evaluate for conditions encountered in emergency medicine, including acute cholecystitis, renal colic, abdominal aortic aneurysm, and intraperitoneal free fluid. As demonstrated in our case presentation, POCUS had an integral role in the early diagnosis and management of a SBO.

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