Case 29: Perforated Diverticulitis

A 37-year-old female presented to the emergency room with severe, radiating bilateral flank pain lasting one week. Pain was constant and pressure-like. Patient had a past medical history significant for constipation, ovarian cysts, diverticulitis, and a colonic polypectomy. She denied fever, vomiting, and denied melena and hematochezia. Patient had no dysuria, frequency or hematuria. She denied vaginal discharge or odor. Patient was seen and treated by her primary care provider with ciprofloxacin and metronidazole for presumed diverticulitis. When pain failed to improve two days later, patient presented to the Emergency Department.

Upon arrival, her vital signs were as follows:

T 98.2 | BP 109/73 | HR 71 | RR 16 | SPO2 99% on RA |

Her physical exam revealed left paraumbilical and left lower-quadrant tenderness. No masses were palpated. A bedside ultrasound of the abdomen is performed, and the following images were obtained. In examining these images, what do you notice and how would this change your patient management?

Diverticulitis itop GIF
Diverticulitis cropped view itop GIF

Answer and Learning Points


In these images/videos, a thickened bowel wall is observed in the distal descending colon and proximal sigmoid. Extensive pericolonic fat stranding is represented by the hyperechoic fat deep to the bowel, with no drainable abscess found.

In the emergency setting, computed tomography (CT) scans are highly accurate and remain the most widely used modality to diagnose diverticulitis, with an overall accuracy of 99% [1]. CT can assist in planning if surgical intervention is needed. An estimated 15-20% of all patients admitted with either complicated or uncomplicated diverticulitis will require surgical intervention during their initial admission, yet that likelihood increases to upwards of 50% for those with complicated diverticulitis [2]. However, concerns of radiation exposure and extended length of stays have led to increased use of point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) [3].

Cohen et al found that POCUS performed by ultrasonographic-trained emergency physicians, physician assistants, and ultrasonographic fellows had both high sensitivity (92%) and specificity (97%) for diagnosing acute diverticulitis [3]. However, the usage of POCUS for diverticulitis by EM physicians is a new application and not a current widespread practice.


There are 3 POCUS indicators of acute diverticulitis, namely:

1) Thickened bowel wall greater than 5mm surrounding an adjacent diverticulum

2) enhancement of surrounding pericolonic fat

3) sonographic tenderness to palpation [3]


To perform this technique, place the curvilinear probe on the patient in the areas of tenderness and compress the bowel wall. The bowel will be found just deep to the peritoneal line. In diverticulitis, the bowel will appear with a thickened wall >4 mm with a visible diverticulum.

Surrounding hypoechoic edema is often visible. Perforation may appear contiguously to the diverticulitis. Normal bowel will compress fully with the ultrasound probe.


CT Image


This patient received a CT that confirmed acute flare of diverticulitis with contained perforation involving a short segment in the distal descending colon and proximal sigmoid, with no drainable abscess at this time. She was admitted to medicine with GI and surgery consults following.


1) Sai, V. F., Velayos, F., Neuhaus, J., & Westphalen, A. C. (2012). Colonoscopy after CT diagnosis of diverticulitis to exclude colon cancer: a systematic literature review. Radiology, 263(2), 383–390.

2) Wieghard N, Geltzeiler CB, Tsikitis VL. Trends in the surgical management of diverticulitis. Ann Gastroenterol. 2015;28(1):25-30.

3) Cohen, A., Li, T., Stankard, B., & Nelson, M. (2020). A Prospective Evaluation of Point-of-Care Ultrasonographic Diagnosis of Diverticulitis in the Emergency Department. Annals of emergency medicine, 76(6), 757–766.

This post was written by Cameron Olandt and Colleen Campbell MD RDMS.

Case # 20: Right Lower Quadrant Pain

A 40 year old male presented with a 4 day history of right lower quadrant pain. He reported that the pain was at its worse when it started but gradually improved. When in the ED he noted only minimal discomfort without the help of analgesics.  He denied ever having anorexia, fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, GU complaints. During examination, he had moderate tenderness to palpation in the right lower quadrant without rebound or guarding. 

Vitals:  T 97.7F    BP 130/77    HR 66    RR 16   SP02 100%

An abdominal ultrasound of the RLQ was performed and the following images were seen. What do you see and what is your most likely diagnosis? (4) (2)

Answer and Learning Points


In both the longitudinal and transverse views, you see a tubular structure in the right lower quadrant that is non- compressible, greater than 6mm (measures 15.6 mm), and lacks peristalsis. You can also appreciate some dependent free fluid around the appendix. These findings are consistent with the diagnosis of acute appendicitis.

CT abdomen/pelvis showed a retrocecal appendix with finding of acute uncomplicated appendicitis. No bowel obstruction or intra-abdominal/pelvic abscesses. Labs showed a slight leukocytosis to 14, otherwise were reassuring. Patient was given a dose of Zosyn in the emergency department and take to the OR for appendectomy by general surgery.

Learning Points

    • Appendicitis is the most common abdominal surgical emergency that presents to the ED in western countries [1]. 
    • The sensitivity and specificity of ultrasound for the diagnosis of appendicitis appears to be around 86% and 81%, respectively, based on results from older studies [2]. 
    • Ultrasound can be used to diagnosis acute appendicitis and may be the imaging modality of choice in certain patient populations such as pregnant women and children [3]. 
    • To obtain images you can use either the linear or curvilinear probe. Ask the patient to point where exactly they hurt and place the probe there. If you don’t see it you can use the landmark of the iliac crest (most lateral), psoas muscle (posterior), and iliac artery (most medial). Move superior and inferior along the iliac artery and the appendix should be just anterior to iliac artery. If you still haven’t found it, “lawnmower” along the right lower quadrant. Look for a tubular, blind ended pouch that has no peristalsis. It should be compressible and measure <6mm in AP diameter [4]. 


    1. Caterino, S., et al. Acute abdominal pain in emergency surgery. Clinical epidemiologic study study of 450 patients. Ann Ital Chir. 1997; 68: 807-817.
    2. Lim H, Bae S, Seo G: Diagnosis of acute appendicitis in pregnant women: value of sonography. AJR Am J Roentgenol 1992;159(3): 539–542.
    3. Excerpt From: Mike Mallin & Matthew Dawson. “Introduction to Bedside Ultrasound: Volume 2.” Emergency Ultrasound Solutions, 2013. Apple Books., M, Dawson, M. Introduction to Bedside Ultrasound: Volume 2. Emergency Ultrasound Solutions, 2013. Apple Books. Accessed April 18th, 2020.


The following authors contributed to this post:

Amir Aminlari, MD; Danika Brodak, MD; Michael Macias, MD

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