Detecting Foal Rib Fractures With Ultrasonography

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Montreal has revealed that ultrasonography is more effective than radiography for detecting rib fractures in foals, and that the fracture rate is higher than previously reported.

Researchers performed physical, radiographic, and ultrasonographic examinations on 29 Thoroughbred foals admitted to an emergency unit for reasons other than thoracic trauma, and they found that 19 (69%) had at least one rib fracture. As well as finding fractures in 82% of the foals that looked normal on X rays, ultrasonography enabled the researchers to identify additional rib abnormalities not visible on radiographs.

"Ultrasonography is more sensitive than radiography in the detection of rib trauma, justifying its routine use, and it should be considered as the gold standard technique in diagnosing rib fractures in neonatal foals," the researchers noted.

The researchers stated that ultrasonography's increased sensitivity allows better visualization of nondisplaced fractures, as well as fractures occurring in the costochondral junction (the junction between the bony and cartilaginous portions of the rib). Also, they noted the presence of overlying lung changes on radiographs might hamper the detection of rib fractures.

Physical examination was the least sensitive, as 75% of the foals with normal thoracic symmetry had fractured ribs revealed via other diagnostic modalities.

Fillies had significantly more fractures than colts (65% of fractures), and fractures occurred more often on the left side. The researchers postulated these variances could be due to the difference in thoracic cage flexibility between genders and positioning during parturition.

None of the fractures found were associated with complications. The researchers noted while rib fractures are generally well-tolerated, the possibility for displacement of these fractures puts affected foals at risk of sustaining secondary thoracic trauma. They recommended that all sick newborn foals should be handled with care to avoid complications.

Researchers on this study included D. Jean, DMV, MSc, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM; V. Picandet, DMV, MSc, Dipl. ACVIM; S. Macieira, DMV, Dipl. ACVIM; G. Beauregard, DMV; M.A. D'Anjou, DMV, Dipl. ACVR; and G. Beauchamp, PhD. It was published in the March 2007 issue of the Equine Veterinary Journal.

About the Author

Erin Ryder

Erin Ryder is a former news editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care.

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