Unenhanced helical computed tomography vs intravenous urography in patients with acute flank pain: accuracy and economic impact in a randomized prospective trial


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Abstract

Abstract.Unenhanced helical computed tomography (UHCT) has evolved into a well-accepted alternative to intravenous urography (IVU) in patients with acute flank pain and suspected ureterolithiasis. The purpose of our randomized prospective study was to analyse the diagnostic accuracy of UHCT vs IVU in the normal clinical setting with special interest on economic impact, applied radiation dose and time savings in patient management. A total of 122 consecutive patients with acute flank pain suggestive of urolithiasis were randomized for UHCT (n=59) or IVU (n=63). Patient management (time, contrast media), costs and radiation dose were analysed. The films were independently interpreted by four radiologists, unaware of previous findings, clinical history and clinical outcome. Alternative diagnoses if present were assessed. Direct costs of UHCT and IVU are nearly identical (310/309 Euro). Indirect costs are much lower for UHCT because it saves examination time and when performed immediately initial abdominal plain film (KUB) and sonography are not necessary. Time delay between access to the emergency room and start of the imaging procedure was 32 h 7 min for UHCT and 36 h 55 min for IVU. The UHCT took an average in-room time of 23 min vs 1 h 21 min for IVU. Mild to moderate adverse reactions for contrast material were seen in 3 (5%) patients. The UHCT was safe, as no contrast material was needed. The mean applied radiation dose was 3.3 mSv for IVU and 6.5 mSv for UHCT. Alternative diagnoses were identified in 4 (7%) UHCT patients and 3 (5%) IVU patients. Sensitivity and specificity of UHCT and IVU was 94.1 and 94.2%, and 85.2 and 90.4%, respectively. In patients with suspected renal colic KUB and US may be the least expensive and most easily accessable modalities; however, if needed and available, UHCT can be considered a better alternative than IVU because it has a higher diagnostic accuracy and a better economic impact since it is more effective, faster, less expensive and less risky than IVU. In addition, it also has the capability of detecting various additional renal and extrarenal pathologies.

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