Closed-loop and strangulating intestinal obstruction: CT signs

E J Balthazar, B A Birnbaum, A J Megibow, R B Gordon, C A Whelan, D H Hulnick
Radiology 1992, 185 (3): 769-75
In 19 patients with closed-loop intestinal obstruction, including 16 patients with strangulating obstruction, the findings at examination with computed tomography (CT) were retrospectively correlated with the surgical and pathologic findings and evaluated by two radiologists. Signs of closed-loop obstruction, present in 15 patients, were associated with the configuration of the incarcerated loop of small bowel, abnormalities detected at the site of obstruction, or both. These abnormalities were the following: a U-shaped, distended, fluid-filled bowel loop; the whirl sign; the beak sign; a triangular loop; two adjacent collapsed loops of bowel at the site of obstruction; or all of these. CT signs of strangulation, seen in 10 of the 16 patients with ischemic or infarcted bowel, were associated with the appearance of the bowel wall (thickening, high attenuation, and the target sign), abnormalities in the attached mesentery, or both. In mechanical obstruction of the small bowel, detection of ischemic changes in the bowel wall or mesentery with CT indicates strangulation. Absence of CT findings of ischemia or infarction does not rule out strangulation.

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