A frequently found phrase in radiology reports is “non specific bowel gas pattern”. You will see this in the conclusion or the impression of the report of an abdominal X-ray. Your doctor may order this to see what the cause of your abdominal pain or symptoms is.
Bowel or your intestines are what help you digest food and eventually remove waste when it gets to your colon and rectum. On x rays, bowel often contains gas. It also contains fluid but that part of the bowel is often not seen because it blends in with the fat of the abdomen.
The radiologist can often make an assessment of your bowel based on how it looks. Whether you may have a bowel blockage or obstruction, constipation, or other abnormality. Sometimes the x ray of the abdomen is clear cut and you have a bowel obstruction. The bowel is dilated or widened throughout. There are fluid levels within. Plus your clinical symptoms are that of an obstruction- nausea, vomiting, pain, lack of bowel movement.
Other times, the x ray may show that you have constipation or a lot of stool throughout your colon. This will correlate with your history of not having a bowel movement for days. Not all belly pain is due to your bowel, and at times the x ray will show a normal bowel gas pattern as the radiologist sometimes uses.
Now, getting to the non specific bowel gas pattern. This will fall in between the normal bowel and grossly abnormal blocked bowel. There may be a few loops of bowel which are abnormal but not conclusive for a bowel blockage. Perhaps there may be a dilated look or air fluid levels but the radiologist is not sure. It could be an obstruction or simply the way your normal bowel looks that day.
While it’s frustrating to not get a definitive answer when you have a medical test, this will actually tell your doctor that not everything is completely normal and additional tests may be needed such as a cat scan. Your doctor will determine if this is needed based on how you feel and what your presenting symptoms were.
The abdominal x ray will not identify all problems, even blockages. Therefore it is very important to pursue further testing if your symptoms indicate. There are cases of normal looking x rays of the bowel that I have seen, that turn out to have significant abnormalities. Therefore, a non-specific bowel gas pattern can mean you have an important condition that needs further testing or treatment.