Calcification is a build up of calcium in body tissues which can cause hardening. This can be in response to injury, infection, metabolic disorder that causes too much calcium, genetic disorders, cancers and other growths, and blood vessels with atherosclerosis.
On X-ray, they show up as white areas of varying sizes and shapes. In the abdomen, the location and shape helps the radiologist with the diagnosis. Often times, the abdomen is divided into right upper, right lower, left upper, and left lower quadrants. Based on the location, the most common cause can be narrowed down.
Also, knowing the patient’s symptoms and prior history helps narrow the possibilities. If the patient has any prior imaging, then this also helps to tell if it’s something which is not changing or new and possibly related to the symptoms.
For example, 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 course 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 comes in with pain in the right upper abdomen, may have gallstones. These are sometimes calcified and will show up 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 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 in the right lower quadrant will get calcifications called appendicoliths. Lymph nodes in the abdomen can also calcify from prior infections.
In some cases, a calcification will be present which is of uncertain cause. If a calcification is changing in any way or is new, then it may be more important or responsible for the symptoms. Sometimes tumors can show calcifications I’m the abdomen. Again, in these cases, a ct scan will be most helpful and identify the cause of the abdominal calcification.
In many cases, calcifications in the abdomen will not be related to your symptoms, called incidental findings. In these cases, your doctor may choose to not order additional testing. In other cases, your doctor will decide on additional testing based on your history and physical exam.