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Pneumatosis cystoides intestinalis in a trauma patient presenting with pneumoperitoneum: a case report.



Pneumatosis cystoides intestinalis is a rare and usually benign condition in which multiple thin-walled cysts develop in the submucosa or subserosa of the gastrointestinal tract. While usually asymptomatic, severe cases can result in pneumoperitoneum, which can be managed surgically or medically depending on circumstances. We present a case of a patient with pneumatosis cystoides intestinalis, which presented as pneumoperitoneum following trauma. To our knowledge, there are no other published cases in which a trauma patient with pneumoperitoneum was found to have radiologic evidence of pneumatosis cystoides intestinalis.

Case presentation

We present the case of a 37-year-old Hispanic male admitted to the hospital after being involved in a motorcycle accident. Computed tomography imaging of the abdomen and pelvis with oral and intravenous contrast demonstrated trace pneumoperitoneum, possibly originating from the splenic flexure of the colon without evidence of extravasation of oral contrast. Laparoscopy with conversion to exploratory laparotomy revealed bowel abnormalities at the distal transverse colon and splenic flexure, which were identified as pneumatosis cystoides intestinalis by pathology. There was no evidence of bowel perforation. A panel of abdominal radiologists attended the computed tomography interpretation to note that incidental atraumatic or traumatic rupture of the cysts could have caused the pneumoperitoneum. The patient had an uncomplicated postoperative course and was transferred to another facility per insurance request.


When presenting in the context of trauma, pneumatosis cystoides intestinalis can lead to difficult management decisions. To our knowledge, there are no existing evidence-based guidelines for the scenario of concurrent pneumatosis cystoides intestinalis, blunt abdominal trauma, and pneumoperitoneum in a patient with a benign abdominal exam. This patient's pneumoperitoneum was likely caused by rupture of preexisting cysts rather than frank bowel perforation. Patients who are asymptomatic, lack signs of clinically worrisome disease, and have a low pretest probability will likely not benefit from surgery and can be medically managed. Thorough discussion between surgeons and radiologists can be helpful when evaluating the clinical significance of a patient's pneumatosis cystoides intestinalis and aid in the decision to perform surgery.

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