From the medical community’s point of view, an early detection of Crohn’s disease has been extremely difficult given that examining the small intestine with traditional diagnostic methods is no simple task. However, the good news is that recent studies have showed that the inflammatory bowel disorder, dubbed as Crohn’s disease, can be accurately diagnosed with the aid of ultrasound technology. In fact, most ultrasound technician programs that focus on abdominal sonography have deemed this approach not only more precise in determining the location, complication and reoccurrence, but also safer than other imaging methods, such as x-rays that expose the body to ionized radiations.
Why ultrasonography is the better alternative
In general, patients that are diagnosed with Crohn’s disease present a wall thickness of the small intestine ranging from 2cm to 5cm with a total or partial loss of the layering. As the disorder is an inflammation of the bowel, very often the lesions associated with Crohn’s disease can be covered by fat tissues and can be hard to see even with imaging techniques such as computer tomography, MRI or nuclear imaging. On the other hand, with Doppler imaging sonography, the damaged bowel wall can be easily detected, regardless of whether it is covered or not, as it appears as a uniform hyperechoic mass.
In addition to discovering the disorder in its early stages, the ultrasound technician programs that focus on abdominal sonography can also detect complications. For instance, abscesses show up as fluid accumulation; perforations appear as bright with shadows outside the limits of the bowel loops and phlegmons look like hypoechoic masses with irregular shapes and no walls.
However, even though it is more competent at discovering the disorder, it is important to note that the detection rate currently varies quite a lot, between 22% and 89%. The high variation is generally based on the type of ultrasound equipment used, techniques and the experience of the operator. Therefore, the specialized program students choose has an impact on the success of detecting Crohn’s disease early.
Ultrasound helps distinguish inflammation from fibrosis
By employing the use of ultrasound elasticity imaging, technicians and doctors can assess whether the patient presents inflammation, and prescribe the appropriate medication, or they present intestinal fibrosis and therefore, require surgery. This is quite a development considering that neither MRI nor CT can detect a clear difference between the conditions. The use of elastrography also comes to the aid of the patients, as more often than not Crohn’s disease patients with fibroses are required to take immune system suppressant drugs that are very expensive and inefficient. Now, thanks to the UEI approach, doctors can act appropriately and in a timely manner.
According to a pilot study performed at the beginning of 2011, the ultrasound elasticity imaging might be able to detect the differences between unaffected intestine and fibrotic tissue. Since that was the only study with such important results, the team lead by Dr. Stidham intends to replicate the study in the next years and come to the help of clinicians by providing clear measurements to help them decide on the best course of action for their patients.