Case # 6: Not Your Average Syncope

A 25 year old female presents to the emergency department with acute abdominal pain and a syncopal episode. She notes a positive home urine pregnancy test 1 week ago. She appears mildly uncomfortable with a tender abdomen. A bedside ultrasound is performed, a clip is shown below. What are the findings of the ultrasound clip and what is your diagnosis?

Vitals: T 98.7 HR 120 BP 95/72  RR 20 O2 98% on RA

Image courtesy of Elizabeth Owen, MD

Image courtesy of Elizabeth Owen, MD

Answer and Learning Point


The ultrasound clip demonstrates a large amount of free fluid between the spleen and the diaphragm. There is also a sliver of echogenic material above the capsule of the spleen suggestive of clotted blood. Morison’s pouch (not shown) was also noted to be significantly positive for free fluid. Given the patient’s unstable vitals and the clinical history, this was concerning for a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. OB was consulted immediately and the patient was taken to the OR. The diagnosis of ruptured ectopic pregnancy was confirmed during laparotomy. The patient did well.

While the FAST exam has traditionally been used in trauma, there has been increasing use to diagnose intra-abdominal bleeding as a source of hypotension in medical patients. Specifically with regards to ectopic pregnancy, data has suggested that positive free fluid in Morison’s pouch is highly predictive of operative intervention with a positive likelihood ratio of 112 (Sens 50%, Spec 99.5) [1]. A retrospective study in 2001, looking at emergency medicine physician performed ultrasound, demonstrated that identifying patients with a suspected ectopic pregnancy and free fluid in Morison’s pouch decreased the time to diagnosis and treatment [2].

Learning Points

    • All women of childbearing age presenting with abdominal pain and syncope should be presumed to have a ruptured ectopic pregnancy until proven otherwise
    • Transabdominal ultrasound to evaluate for free fluid should be utilized by the emergency physician in cases of suspected ruptured ectopic pregnancy to assist with risk stratification and rapid diagnosis
    • As in trauma patients, evaluation for free fluid should be performed with the patient supine (or preferably Trendelenburg position as this increases the sensitivity of identifying free fluid in Morison’s pouch [3])
    • A curvilinear (preferred) or phased-array probe should be used to evaluate the abdomen for free fluid and it is critical to completely visualize the most inferior portion of Morison's Pouch, including the caudal tip of the liver & inferior renal pole, as this is where free fluid will collect first
    • A positive pregnancy test and positive free fluid in Morison’s pouch is essentially diagnostic of a ruptured ectopic pregnancy (though ruptured splenic artery aneurysm should also remain on your differential)


This post was written by Michael Macias, MD, Ultrasound Fellow at UCSD.


    1. Moore C, Todd WM, O’Brien E. Free Fluid in Morison’s Pouch on Bedside Ultrasound Predicts Need for Operative Intervention in Suspected Ectopic Pregnancy. Acad Emerg Med. 2007; 14(8):755-8.
    2. Rodgerson JD, Heegaard WG, Plummer D, Hicks J, Clinton J, Sterner S. Emergency department right upper quadrant ultrasound is associated with a reduced time to diagnosis and treatment of ruptured ectopic pregnancies. Acad Emerg Med. 2001; 8:331–6.
    3. Abrams BJ, Sukumvanich P, Seibel R, Moscati R, Jehle D. Ultrasound for the detection of intraperitoneal fluid: the role of Trendelenburg positioning. Am J Emerg Med. 1999;17:(2)117-20.
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