Health Questions and Answers

Question: Are air-fluid levels within the intestine always abnormal?

Answer: It is commonly taught that air-fluid levels when seen on an upright abdominal film are pathognomonic for small bowel obstruction. A study of 300 normal patients by Gammill and Nice showed, however, that the average number of air-fiuid levels was 4 per patient, with some films showing 20. Although typically less than 2.5 cm in length, some were 10 cm. Most of the air-fluid levels were found in the large bowel; only 14 of 300 normal patients studied showed air- fluid levels in the small bowel. The authors suggested that before air-fluid levels are used as the sole criterion for the diagnosis of paralytic ileus or mechanical obstruction, one should see more than two air-fluid levels within the dilated loops of the small bowel.

2 Responses to “Question: Are air-fluid levels within the intestine always abnormal?”

  1. Emele Says:

    You write very well.

  2. rtrafaelmd Says:

    Thanks Emele. Doc

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