Using ultrasound to monitor inflammatory bowel disease

You might associate ultrasound being used for seeing babies during pregnancy, but it’s now also being used to monitor inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). 

Intestinal ultrasound (IUS) is a growing alternative to colonoscopy. It’s non-invasive, inexpensive, and a more accessible way to monitor how the disease has progressed, and how patients are responding to treatment. 

The IBD service at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital (TQEH) is the only site in South Australia that provides IUS. 

A rising problem

IBD is a group of conditions with the common factor being inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract, and symptoms can severely disrupt patient quality of life. It’s a growing disease world-wide and new treatments are needed. 

While some inflammation is a good thing in the body’s response to trauma or microbial invasion, chronic inflammation can be a sign of immune system malfunction. 

Closely monitoring inflammation is how clinicians can track whether IBD is worsening or improving in response to treatment. 

But the usual method, endoscopy, is invasive, expensive and has some small risk to the patient, according to Associate Professor Rob Bryant, Head of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease service at TQEH. 

“Patients with IBD are subject to multiple invasive, uncomfortable and expensive procedures through the course of their illness. Many of these tests can be avoided through IUS, which can be performed at the bedside, enabling real-time monitoring of IBD activity and clinical decision-making” he said. 

A novel solution with existing tech

Clinicians can now use IUS to closely monitor inflammation to improve outcomes of therapy in a non-invasive manner, which is greatly preferred by patients.  

IUS has proven to be a useful tool to check IBD disease activity, extent of disease, bowel damage, complications, and the response to treatment.  

It is also equipment that is standard and readily available in most hospitals. Unlike CT imaging, or endoscopy, which require specialist equipment or advanced preparation by the patient, IUS can be performed at short notice during a clinical encounter.  

It can also be performed by a member of the treating team, meaning results can be used to guide care right away. 

A/Prof Bryant has helped to expand the role of IUS in Australia since introducing it to South Australia in 2017 and establishing a world-leading service at TQEH. 

TQEH now operates as a national training site, helping to spread clinical know-how throughout Australia.  

“Training in IUS in Australia has ramped up over recent years with a growing number of IBD services incorporating IUS into their clinics. Application of IUS in IBD clinics representsa paradigm shift for IBD care, aiding in close monitoring of disease, better treatment decisions, and ultimately better patient outcomes,” said A/Prof Bryant.

Read the research