Repeat computed tomography in recurrent abdominal pain: An evidence synthesis for guidelines for reasonable and appropriate care in the emergency department

Christopher R. Carpenter, Richard T. Griffey, Angela Mills, Michelle Doering, Lucas Oliveira J. e Silva, Fernanda Bellolio, Suneel Upadhye, Joshua S. Broder

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Objective: Computed tomography (CT) imaging is frequently obtained for recurrent abdominal pain after a prior emergency department (ED) evaluation. We evaluate the utility of repeat CT imaging following an indeterminate index CT in low-risk abdominal pain adult ED patients. Methods: An electronic search was designed for the patient-intervention-control-outcome-timing (PICOT) question: (P) adult patients with low-risk, recurrent, and previously undifferentiated atraumatic abdominal pain presenting to the ED after an index-negative CT within 12 months; (I) repeat CT versus (C) no repeat CT; for (O) abdominal surgery or other invasive procedure, mortality, identification of potentially life-threatening diagnosis, and hospital and intensive care unit admission rates; and return ED visit (T), all within 30 days. Four reviewers independently selected evidence for inclusion and then synthesized the results around the most prevalent themes of repeat CT timing, diagnostic yield, ionizing radiation exposure, and predictors of repetitive imaging. Results: Although 637 articles and abstracts were identified, no direct evidence was found. Thirteen documents were synthesized as indirect evidence. None of the indirect evidence defined a low-risk subset of abdominal pain nor did investigators describe whether reimaging occurred for complaints similar to the initial ED evaluation. Included studies did not describe the index CT findings and some reported explanatory findings noted on the original CT for which repeat CTs might have been indicated. The time frame for a repeat CT ranged from hours to 1 year. The frequency of repeat CTs (2%–47%) varied across studies as did the yield of imaging to alter downstream clinical decision making (range = 5%–67%). Conclusion: Due to the absence of direct evidence our scoping review is unable to provide high-quality evidence-based recommendations upon which to confidently base an imaging practice guideline. There is no evidence to support or refute performing a CT for low-risk recurrent abdominal pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)630-648
Number of pages19
JournalAcademic Emergency Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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