Case report of gastric distension due to superior mesenteric artery syndrome mimicking hollow viscus perforation: Considerations in critical care ultrasound

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Critical care ultrasound identifies the signs of free intraperitoneal air and echogenic free fluid always indicates hollow viscus perforation (HVP) and needs immediate surgical interventions. However, in rare cases, these classic signs may also mislead proper clinical decisions. We report perforated viscus associated large peritoneal effusion with initial critical care ultrasound findings, whereas computed tomography (CT) examination confirmed a giant stomach due to superior mesenteric artery syndrome (SMAS).

Patient concerns:

A 70-year-old man was admitted to our emergency department with a complaint of recurrent vomiting with coffee ground emesis for 15 hours and worsen with hypotension for 6 hours. During gastric tube placement, the sudden cardiac arrest occurred. With 22 minutes resuscitation, sinus rhythm was restored.


Quick ultrasound screen showed large echogenic fluid distributed in the whole abdomen. Diagnostic paracentesis collected “unclotted blood” and combined with a past history of duodenal ulcer, HVP was highly suspected. However, surgical intervention was not performed immediately as unstable vital signs and unfavorable coma states. After adequate resuscitation in intensive care unit, the patient was transferred to perform enhanced CT. Surprisingly, there was no evidence of HVP. Instead, CT showed a giant stomach possibly explained by SMAS.


Continuous gastric decompression was performed and 3100 mL coffee ground content was drainage within 24 hours of admission.


Abdominal distension was significantly relieved with improved vital signs. However, as the poor neurological outcome, family members abandon further treatment, and the patient died.


SMAS is a rare disorder, characterized by small bowel obstruction and severe gastric distension. Nasogastric tube insertion should be aware to protect airway against aspiration. Caution should be utilized to avoid over interpretation of ultrasonography findings on this condition.

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