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Impact of CT in elderly patients presenting to the emergency department with acute abdominal pain



The purpose of the study was to document the clinical impact of CT in elderly patients presenting to the emergency department (ED) with abdominal pain.


This retrospective IRB-approved study from 2006 to 2013 evaluated 464 patients ≥80 years (mean 89 years, range 80–100: M150, W314), who presented to the ED with acute abdominal symptoms and underwent CT. CTs were divided into those negative and positive for actionable findings, defined as potentially requiring a change in surgical or medical management. Physician diagnosis, treatment plan, and disposition before and after CT were reviewed in the electronic medical record to assess CT influence on management and disposition. CT diagnosis was confirmed with final clinical diagnosis, surgical intervention, pathology, and follow-up. Descriptive statistics were used.


CTs were positive in 55%. The most common diagnoses were SBO (18%), diverticulitis (9%), non-ischemic vascular-related emergency (6%), bowel ischemia (4%), appendicitis (3%), and colonic obstruction (2%). These diagnoses were clinically unsuspected prior to CT in 43% (p < 0.05), with significant difficultly in diagnosing SBO (p < 0.05), diverticulitis (p < 0.01), and colonic obstruction (p < 0.01). Positive CT results influenced treatment plans in 65%, surgical in 48%, and medical in 52%. Disposition from the ED was significantly affected by CT (p < 0.001), 65% of admissions with positive CT (p < 0.001) and 63% of discharges with negative CT (p < 0.001).


Utilization of abdominopelvic CT in geriatric patients presenting to the ED with acute abdominal symptoms strongly influences clinical management and significantly affects disposition. As the US population ages, the clinical impact of emergent CT in the elderly will intensify.

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Conflict of interest

Rendon C. Nelson: Consultant—GE Healthcare, Inc., Consultant—Nemoto Kyorino, Ltd., and Research support—Bracco Diagnostics, Inc. Carly S. Gardner and Tracy A. Jaffe declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Carly S. Gardner.

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Gardner, C.S., Jaffe, T.A. & Nelson, R.C. Impact of CT in elderly patients presenting to the emergency department with acute abdominal pain. Abdom Imaging 40, 2877–2882 (2015).

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