Clinical Scenario:

A 2-year-old female with no significant past medical history presents with vomiting and abdominal pain for 1 day. Among other entities in your differential diagnosis you are considering intussusception, however it is lower on your differential. How would you work-up this child?


Presenting Symptoms for Intussusception1

  • Sudden onset of intermittent, severe, crampy, progressive abdominal pain
    • Inconsolable crying and drawing up legs toward abdomen
  • Vomiting, may become bilious
  • Irritability
  • Increasing lethargy
  • Guaiac positive or grossly bloody stools, currant jelly stools
Ref 1: Mandeville et al. Intussusception: clinical presentations and imaging characteristics.
Ref 1: Mandeville et al. Intussusception: clinical presentations and imaging characteristics.


Plain Radiographs

Roskind et al studied 198 children 3 months to 36 months who underwent 3-view abdominal radiography for intussusception. The x-ray was compared with ultrasound, air enema, operative procedure, or improved clinical course. The study found 3-view abdominal x-ray was sensitive for ruling out intussusception.2 Limitations not withstanding, in patients with low clinical suspicion for intussusception plain radiographs may be considered.

  • 3-view abdominal x-ray2
    • Views: Supine, prone, left lateral decubitus
    • Criteria to rule out intussusception:
      • Air visualized in ascending colon in each view and transverse colon on supine
    • Sensitivity 100% (95% CI, 79.1-100)
    • Specificity 17.4%
    • Negative predictive value 100% (95% CI, 79.1-100)
  • 2-view abdominal x-ray with air in the ascending colon
    • Sensitivity 89.5% (95% CI, 75.7-100%)
    • Specificity
Gas-less right side of abdomen Case courtesy of Dr Angela Byrne,, rID: 8113
Gas-less right side of abdomen
Case courtesy of Dr Angela Byrne,, rID: 8113



Ultrasound is often a definitive study for intussusception given it has a high sensitivity/specificity, is non-invasive, and does utilize ionizing radiation. Although classically performed by radiology, the use by emergency physicians is increasing.3-7

  • Linear, high-frequency (5-10 MHz) transducer
  • Child is placed supine in a position of comfort
  • Technique 1
    • Follow the ascending to transverse colon
    • Transducer placed in the right lower quadrant with indicator oriented toward the patient’s right side
    • Sweep the probe superiorly along the right side of the abdomen
    • Upon reaching the right upper quadrant the indicator should be oriented toward the patient’s head.
    • *Make sure to search carefully in the RUQ since this is where the majority of intussusceptions may be found (80%)
    • Sweep the probe laterally toward the epigastrium
  • Technique 2 – “Lawnmower”
    • Scan the entire abdomen in a systemic manner, up and down like a lawnmower
  • Once the intussusception is found it should be imaged in the transverse and longitudinal views
  • Findings
    • Soft tissue mass in right mid abdomen
    • Transverse cut: “target” or “donut” sign
    • Longitudinal cut: “cresecent”sign or “pseudokidney” sign

  • Radiology8
    • Sensitivity: 98-100%
    • Specificity: 88-100%
  • POCUS7
    • Sensitivity: 85 % (95 % CI 54, 97 %)
    • Specificity: 97 % (95% CI 89, 99 %)


Take Away Points:

  • In children with a low suspicion for intussusception 3-view abdominal x-rays may help rule out the diagnosis
  • Ultrasound for intussusception is sensitive and specific



  1. Mandeville K, Chien M, Willyerd FA, Mandell G, Hostetler MA, Bulloch B. Intussusception: clinical presentations and imaging characteristics. Pediatr Emerg Care. 2012;28(9):842-844.
  2. Roskind CG, Kamdar G, Ruzal-Shapiro CB, Bennett JE, Dayan PS. Accuracy of plain radiographs to exclude the diagnosis of intussusception. Pediatr Emerg Care. 2012;28(9):855-858.
  4. Doniger SJ, Salmon M, Lewiss RE. Point-of-Care Ultrasonography for the Rapid Diagnosis of Intussusception: A Case Series. Pediatr Emerg Care. 2016;32(5):340-342.
  5. Halm BM, Boychuk RB, Franke AA. Diagnosis of intussusception using point-of-care ultrasound in the pediatric ED: a case report. Am J Emerg Med. 2011;29(3):354 e351-353.
  6. Marin JR, Abo AM, Arroyo AC, et al. Pediatric emergency medicine point-of-care ultrasound: summary of the evidence. Crit Ultrasound J. 2016;8(1):16.
  7. Riera A, Hsiao AL, Langhan ML, Goodman TR, Chen L. Diagnosis of intussusception by physician novice sonographers in the emergency department. Ann Emerg Med. 2012;60(3):264-268.
  8. Applegate KE. Intussusception in children: evidence-based diagnosis and treatment. Pediatr Radiol. 2009;39 Suppl 2:S140-143.


May 2024