Digital Radiographs Beat Analog for Enterolith Detection

Digital radiography is up to 85% sensitive and 93% specific for diagnosing enterolithiasis in horses.

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Veterinarians have known for many years that analog radiography is an efficient means of diagnosing enteroliths in adult horses, but computed, or digital, radiography has since replaced many analog machines. Researchers at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) recently put the newer technology to the test and found it outperformed its predecessor in the task at hand.

Enterolith stones are made up of minerals, such as magnesium ammonium phosphate salts, that build up around an object that a horse eats but does not digest, such as a small chunk of wood, pebble, wire, twine, or other foreign object. These masses can become quite large, sometimes weighing in at 10 to 15 pounds or more.

"A 1994 study of horses evaluated at (UC Davis’) William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, analog radiography was reported to have a mean sensitivity of 76.9% and a mean specificity of 94.4% for the diagnosis of enterolithiasis," relayed Sarah le Jeune, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, study author and assistant professor of Clinical Equine Surgical Emergency and Critical Care at UC Davis.

Sensitivity is the probability that the radiograph will indicate a horse has an enterolith when in fact it does, while specificity is the probability the radiograph will indicate a horse does not have an enterolith when in fact it does not

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Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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