Clinical Communications: Adults| Volume 44, ISSUE 2, e145-e147, February 2013

An Incidental Finding? Pneumatosis Intestinalis after Minor Trauma



      Pneumatosis intestinalis (PI) refers to the identification of air within the wall of the gastrointestinal tract. This finding often marks serious underlying pathology, which can be potentially surgical in nature. However, this process may also occur within a benign context, for example, in patients who are chronically immunosuppressed. The prevalence of benign PI may be greater than previously anticipated, because its discovery is facilitated by the increasingly widespread use of computed tomography (CT) scanning.


      We will illustrate how widespread use of CT scanning after trauma leads to incidental findings, some of which are difficult to distinguish from acute pathologic findings. We will also discuss the differential diagnosis for PI and the associated clinical significance.

      Case Report

      A female patient with two autoimmune disorders requiring immunosuppression presented after minor trauma. Her clinical stability and benign examination led us to refrain from ordering a full radiographic evaluation, including an abdominal CT scan. She was safely discharged; however, per CT several days later, the incidental finding was made of PI with free intraperitoneal air. These findings after trauma commonly prompt an exploratory laparotomy. However, given her persistent stability, we attributed this to immunosuppression rather than to recent trauma.


      The indications for ordering CT scans after minor trauma must be carefully considered, and incidental findings must be interpreted in the context of the overall clinical scenario.


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