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Ultrasound or computed tomography in paediatric blunt abdominal trauma
  1. Ross Murphy, Senior Clinical Fellow,
  2. Angaj Ghosh, Senior Clinical Fellow,
  3. K Mackway-Jones
  1. Department of Emergency Medicine, Manchester Royal Infirmary, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9WL, UK; kevin.mackway-jones{at}


    A short cut review was carried out to establish whether computed tomography is superior to ultrasonography at identifying intra-abdominal injury in children. Altogether 123 papers were found using the reported search, of which six presented the best evidence to answer the clinical question. The author, date and country of publication, patient group studied, study type, relevant outcomes, results, and study weaknesses of these best papers are tabulated. A clinical bottom line is stated.

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    Report by Ross Murphy, Senior Clinical Fellow
 Checked by Angaj Ghosh, Senior Clinical Fellow

    Clinical scenario

    A 6 year old boy presents to the emergency department after falling out of a fast moving car. He is extremely distressed and appears to have sustained multiple injuries including a large laceration to his head, bruising and deformity to both forearms and his left lower leg. After initial assessment and stabilisation you decide to paralyse, intubate, and vetilate him before performing a head CT. However you are also concerned about the possibility of an intra-abdominal injury. You wonder whether an ultrasound or CT would be better at identifying this.

    Three part question

    In [a paediatric patient with blunt abdominal trauma] is [an ultrasound scan better at identifying intra-abdominal injury] than [a CT scan]?

    Search strategy

    Medline 1966–07/02 using the OVID interface. [exp abdominal injuries OR “abdominal injur$”.mp OR “abdominal trauma$”.mp] AND [exp tomography, x-ray computed OR “computed tomograph$”.mp OR “computerised tomograph$”.mp OR] AND [exp ultrasonography OR OR exp ultrasonics OR Or] AND [exp adolescence OR exp child OR exp child of impaired parents OR exp child, abandoned OR exp child, exceptional OR exp child, hospitalised OR exp child, institutionalised OR exp child, preschool OR exp child, unwanted OR exp disabled children OR exp homeless youth/ OR exp infant OR exp only child OR child$.mp OR exp Pediatrics OR pediatric$.mp OR paediatric$.mp] LIMIT to human AND English.

    Search outcome

    Altogether 123 papers were found, of which 117 were irrelevant or of insufficient quality. The remaining six papers are shown in table 6.

    Table 6


    The studies do seem to indicate that CT is better than ultrasound at identifying intra-abdominal injury in children. However, as it is impossible to confirm most of the injuries identified on imaging, it is also difficult to compare the two imaging techniques with a definite gold standard.

    This also needs to be considered in the light of the clinical scenarios encountered by emergency physicians. Because of the need for transport and the time it takes to perform CT, children with blunt abdominal trauma need to be stable and have no other injuries requiring urgent treatment. Most will also require sedation. Ultrasound can be performed in the resuscitation room, is much quicker, and is much less distressing to a terrified child.


    CT is better than ultrasound at identifying intra-abdominal injury in children.

    Report by Ross Murphy, Senior Clinical Fellow
 Checked by Angaj Ghosh, Senior Clinical Fellow