Diagnosing Colic in a ‘FLASH’

Learn how vets use a technique called FLASH, a targeted abdominal ultrasound examination, to diagnose colic.
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Every minute that a horse is colicking feels like hours. It doesn’t matter if it is the second or 52nd time you’ve been through it, the ordeal never gets easier. One way veterinarians are attempting to facilitate and expedite the “diagnostic process” is via FLASH—a streamlined, targeted abdominal ultrasound examination of “high-yield” areas of the abdomen.

Initially developed by Valeria Busoni, PhD, Dipl. ECVDI, and colleagues for abdominal examination of horses with colic, FLASH involves an abbreviated examination of the abdomen focusing on key locations to potentially identify the location of the problem and, most importantly, to try to determine whether or not emergency colic surgery is necessary,” said Louise Southwood, BVSc, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, ACVECC, associate professor in the Department of Clinical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s New Bolton Center in Kennett Square.

Short for “fast localized abdominal sonography of horses,” veterinarians can use FLASH to examine seven key locations of the abdomen to potentially diagnose a variety of colics:

  • The underside of the abdomen along the midline (“ventral abdominal window”);
  • The left side of the abdomen in the stomach region (“gastric window”);
  • The left side of the abdomen to visualize the spleen and kidney (“nephrosplenic window”);
  • Both the left and right middle-thirds of the abdomen;
  • The right side of the abdomen to visualize the duodenum (“duodenal window”)—the first section of the small intestine; and
  • The cranioventral thorax (to check for a diaphragmatic hernia, an uncommon condition).

“The FLASH procedure, as originally reported, focuses on those seven areas because they are mostly likely to lead to the identification of an abnormality and provide information regarding the need for emergency colic surgery,” said Southwood

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Written by:

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she’s worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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