RAPID and accurate diagnosis will significantly improve the outcome in horses with acute abdominal pain. This is particularly true of surgical lesions, where swift intervention offers the best chance of survival. However, abdominal surgery is a major procedure in the horse, with a number of potentially severe complications. Therefore, an accurate prediction of the type of lesion and need for surgery is vital to reduce morbidity and mortality. Ultrasonography improves the accuracy of diagnosis in colic patients. In a large study of horses with acute abdominal pain, ultrasonography was more sensitive than rectal palpation in detecting lesions (Klohnen and others 1996); in animals with small intestinal lesions, abnormalities were identified in only 50 per cent of cases by rectal palpation, compared with 100 per cent of cases by ultrasonography. An article in the last issue discussed abdominal ultrasonographic techniques and normal findings in the horse (April 2002, pp 204-211). This article describes the findings in horses with acute gastrointestinal disease, and discusses the differentiation between surgical and non-surgical lesions.
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