Monthly Archives: September 2012

Gallbladder wall thickening

Gallbladderwall 500x381 Gallbladder wall thickening

The normal gallbladder wall should measure less than 3-4mm. It is recommended that this measurement be taken through the anterior wall of the gallbladder, since posterior acoustic enhancement will often make posterior measurements inaccurate. The image above was taken in a patient with cirrhosis, chronic ascites, and no acute complaints of upper abdominal pain. While a thickened gallbladder wall is one sign of cholecystitis, there are a number of normal and pathologic states which can lead to this finding as well.

  1. Normal contracted gallbladder
  2. Hypoalbuminemia
  3. Alcoholic liver disease
  4. Increased portal venous pressure
  5. Acute viral hepatitis
  6. Heart failure
  7. Renal disease
  8. Ascites

Why does this occur? A normal gallbladder can exhibit a thickened wall of 4-5mm due to contraction alone. Typically this will occur in the setting of a lower-than-normal gallbladder volume.

For the rest, hypoalbuminemia is a major culprit in gallbladder wall thickening; alone or as a secondary mechanism in patients with cirrhosis, heart failure or renal disease. Other speculated mechanisms of gallbladder wall thickening in the disease states above are increased portal venous pressure and generalized edema. Going back through radiology journal articles older than the ones below (1970s-80s), the same mechanisms are invoked repeatedly, and other older articles are referenced. There seems to be no definitive mechanism proven to cause the gallbladder wall thickening, though many articles demonstrate that it does in fact occur, and distinct from incomplete contraction of the gallbladder itself.

Gallbladder wall thickening is often evident in adenomyomatosis and gallbladder cancer as well. In these settings the gallbladder wall diameter is directly a part of the pathology, and not a side effect of some other process as in the cases above.

Thus, this finding is not specific to acute cholecystitis. It is present in many other disease states and may even signal the clinician that there is some other pathology at play.

References:

  • Wegener M, Borsch G, Schneider J et al. Gallbladder wall thickening: a frequent finding in various nonbiliary disorders–a prospective ultrasonographic study. J Clin Ultrasound 1987 Jun;15(5):307-12. (PMID: 3149957)
  • van Breda Vriesman AC, Engelbrecht MR, Smithuis RH et al. Diffuse gallbladder wall thickening: differential diagnosis. Am J Roentgenol 2007 Feb;188(2):495-501. (PMID: 17242260)

 

Effusion

RUQ fluid 500x363 EffusionUltrasound is quite sensitive in detecting even very small pleural effusions; it has been demonstrated to perform better than chest x-ray and nearly as well as CT scan. In order to assess for pleural fluid, the transducer should be directed through the liver (Right side) or spleen (Left side) and diaphragm. In a normal thorax, a mirror image artifact will generally be seen above the diaphragm. When effusion is present, fluid eradicates this artifact, creating an anechoic appearance in the costophrenic angle.

The image above demonstrates a common pitfall in abdominal and thoracic ultrasound. The liver is visible in the near field, and a dark anechoic structure is evident just deep to the liver. Some see this fluid and may note a positive FAST examination or free intraperitoneal fluid. Others may see this appearance and diagnose pleural effusion or hemothorax. While it is true the anechoic area represents fluid, there is a more correct response.

The inferior vena cava can generally be seen posterior to the liver, towards the patient midline. As it is filled with blood it will appear anechoic. below the diaphragm it will course parallel and to the [patient's] right of the Aorta. Just above the diaphragm it will quickly merge into the Right Atrium.

As with most scanning, fanning through multiple planes will generally sort out the true anatomy. In the clip below we see the IVC as the operator sweeps medially, and the the pleural effusion is more evident in the lateral portions of the sweep. One (of many) giveaways is that the hepatic veins drain into the IVC, and even in this brief sweep through the IVC a hepatic vein is visible anteriorly, draining into the IVC.

Pleural effusion and mimic from Sinai EM Ultrasound on Vimeo.