What does calcification on X-ray mean?
Calcification is a build up of calcium in body tissues. This can cause hardening of the tissues. Calcification can be in response to injury, infection, metabolic disorder, genetic disorders, cancers and other growths. Blood vessels also calcify and harden with atherosclerosis.
What does a calcification look like on abdominal x-ray?
Calcifications appear as white areas of varying size and shape.
What causes calcification in the abdomen?
There are many causes of calcifications in the abdomen. Common causes can include stones in the kidneys and gallbladder. Blood vessels can calcify with atherosclerosis or hardening of arteries. Old infections can calcify. Some growths in the abdomen can calcify.
Can we tell from an X-ray what’s causing the calcification?
Knowing the location, appearance of the calcification, patient’s symptoms and prior history helps narrow the possibilities. Prior imaging helps us tell if the calcification is new or stable over many years.
What are examples of abdominal calcifications?
A patient with flank pain and blood in the urine will get an X-ray of the abdomen to look for stone. In these cases, any calcifications in the region of the kidneys, bladder and ureters (tubes which pass between the kidneys and bladder and allow urine to pass) will be suspicious for kidney stones or passing kidney stones. A CT scan can be ordered to confirm.
A patient who presents with pain in the right upper abdomen, may have gallstones. These are sometimes calcified and will be located in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen. An ultrasound is often ordered to take a closer look at the gallbladder.
Calcifications in the left upper quadrant may be in the spleen. These are often due to a prior infection which has healed.
Calcifications which look like vessels will be related to atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. This is common as we age and caused by build up of plaque. An aneurysm of a blood vessel can also be calcified and will have a round shape.
Sometimes the appendix will have calcifications called appendicoliths.
Lymph nodes in the abdomen can also calcify from prior infections.
What happens if we do not know what is causing the calcification in the abdomen on X-ray?
Sometimes we can not tell what the cause of a calcification is on an X-ray. Often a CT will help with the diagnosis.
A new or changing calcification is more concerning and may need CT to further evaluate.
How often are calcifications cancerous?
Calcifications in the abdomen can rarely be from a cancer. Some growths and cancers in the abdomen can calcify.
Is an abdominal calcification serious?
Most of the time calcifications are not life threatening in the abdomen. They often represent stones, vascular calcifications, or other benign calcifications. Some aneurysms and cancers can calcify so the seriousness depends on the underlying cause.
Some calcifications are entirely benign. Blood vessels calcify as we get older. We can get calcifications in organs like the liver and spleen from old healed infections. Lymph nodes can calcify from old infections.
Abdominal calcifications treatment
The treatment will depend on the underlying cause. Symptomatic stones in the gallbladder may require your gallbladder to be surgically removed. Calcifications in blood vessels or those from old infections are not treated.
Calcifications in the abdomen can have many causes, many of which are entirely benign. We can not always tell what has caused the calcification in the abdomen. Further imaging with ultrasound or CT is often helpful.