Acute abdominal pain: is there a potential role for MRI in the setting of the emergency department in a patient with renal calculi?
ABSTRACT Acute flank pain is a frequent clinical presentation encountered in emergency departments, and a work-up for obstructive urolithiasis in this setting is a common indication for computed tomography (CT). However, imaging alternatives to CT for the evaluation of renal colic are warranted in some clinical situations, such as younger patients, pregnancy, patients that have undergone multiple prior CT exams and also patients with vague clinical presentations. MRI, although relatively insensitive for the direct detection of urinary calculi, has the ability to detect the secondary effects of obstructive urolithiasis. Using rapid, single shot T2-weighted sequences without and with fat saturation provides an abdominopelvic MR examination that can detect the sequelae of clinically active stone disease, in addition to alternate inflammatory processes that may mimic the symptoms of renal colic. In addition, MR nephro-urography (MRNU) has the ability to provide quantitative analysis of renal function that has the potential to direct clinical management in the setting of obstructing calculi. This review describes the potential utility and limitations of MRI in the emergency setting for diagnosing causes of flank pain and renal colic, particularly in patients with unusual presentations or when an alternative to CT may be warranted.