Role of conventional radiology and MRi defecography of pelvic floor hernias
© Reginelli et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2013
Published: 8 October 2013
Purpose of the study is to define the role of conventional radiology and MRI in the evaluation of pelvic floor hernias in female pelvic floor disorders.
A MEDLINE and PubMed search was performed for journals before March 2013 with MeSH major terms 'MR Defecography' and 'pelvic floor hernias'.
The prevalence of pelvic floor hernias at conventional radiology was higher if compared with that at MRI. Concerning the hernia content, there were significantly more enteroceles and sigmoidoceles on conventional radiology than on MRI, whereas, in relation to the hernia development modalities, the prevalence of elytroceles, edroceles, and Douglas' hernias at conventional radiology was significantly higher than that at MRI.
MRI shows lower sensitivity than conventional radiology in the detection of pelvic floor hernias development. The less-invasive MRI may have a role in a better evaluation of the entire pelvic anatomy and pelvic organ interaction especially in patients with multicompartmental defects, planned for surgery.
Pelvic floor disorders represent a significant cause of morbidity and reduction in quality of life that appear to be increasing in frequency during the last few years . Pregnancy, multiparity, advanced age, menopause, obesity, connective tissue disorders, smoking, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, are only some of the risk factors that can rise intra abdominal pressure and cause these disorders .
Pelvic floor disorders may be associated, with an incidence ranging from 18% to 45%, to the so-called midline pelvic floor sagittal hernias (MPH) that represent the herniation of the peritoneum and/or peritoneal viscera in the Douglas', Retzius', and retrorectal spaces.
Although anamnestic and physical examination represents the first approach in the evaluation of the patients with pelvic floor dysfunction, the diagnostic limitation of the pelvic examination alone has led to the need to use more direct and comprehensive diagnostic methods [3–6].
Purpose of the study is to define the role of conventional radiology and MRI in the evaluation of pelvic floor hernias.
Materials and methods
A MEDLINE and PubMed search was performed for journals before March 2013 with MeSH major terms 'MR Defecography' and 'pelvic floor hernias'. Non-English speaking literature was excluded.
Conventional Radiology and MRI Defecography technique
400 cc of iodine contrast medium
500-700 mL of water per os 10-15 min before
25 ml of barium paste
25-30 mL of
gadolinium-diethylenetriamine pentaacetic acid
200 cc of barium paste
200 mL of a mixture of ultrasonographic gel
AP at rest, during squeezing, pushing, evacuation and after evacuation
TSE T2 ax, TSE T1 sag, TRUEFISP T2 sag during squeezing,
Dynamic MR defecography
MRI defecography protocol
The reference line used for conventional radiology and MRI is the Pubococcygeal line (PCL), extending from the most inferior portion of the symphysis pubis to the tangent of the sacrococcygeal joint.
The diagnosis of descent of the bladder, vagina, and rectum is based on measurement of the vertical
distance between the PCL and the bladder base, the vaginal vault, and the anorectal junction, respectively.
According to Yang's classification , the limits of normal descent with maximal strain are 1.0 cm below the PCL for the bladder base, 1.0 cm above for the vaginal cuff or lower end of the cervix, and 2.5 cm below for the rectal area.
Pelvic floor hernia classification
Classification of pelvic floor hernias
Elytrocele (posterior vaginal hernia)
Edrocele (anterior rectal hernia)
Conventional radiology diagnosis
This expansion should extend below the PCL reference line and shows a sagittal diameter of more than 2 cm.
Anyway, the distinction between sigmoidocele, enterocele, and omentocele is made basing on the presence of contrasted small bowel in the expanded recto-vaginal space for the enterocele, on the presence of distinguishable bowel gas bubbles without contrast for the sigmoidocele alone, and on the absence of contrasted small bowel and bowel gas bubbles in the expanded recto-vaginal space, for the omentocele.[26–28]
Mri defecography diagnosis
On MRI-defecography, the relationship between the lowest point of the peritoneal border line and the PCL should be assessed. A descent of parts of the peritoneal content below this line and the identification of herniated contents allowed the distinction in enterocele, sigmoidocele, and omentocele . The hernias detectable only during pushing and evacuation are considered as "functional hernias."
Results and discussion
In our experience, the specificity of MRI versus conventional radiology is of a 100%; the sensibility of MR-D in the detection of an omentocele, sigmoidocele, and enterocele is, respectively, 95%, 82%, and 65%, showing an inferior diagnostic capacity if compared with conventional radiology [29, 30]. The prevalence of MPH ranged from 38% among all the enrolled patients to 51% in the patients reporting previous hysterectomy. These data are in agreement with the available literature and emphasize the role of previous pelvic surgery in the genesis of MPH . The most frequent hernia is enterocele (70%), followed by sigmoidocele (21%), and omentocele (9%). On the other hand, the most frequent hernia development modality is in Douglas' space (78.9%), whereas the Retzius' and retrorectal hernias represent only occasional findings. The development of the hernias in the posterior vaginal wall or in the anterior rectal wall is observed in 9% and 12% of cases, respectively. Despite their low prevalence, their detection is important in the planning of the correct therapeutic approach. Conventional radiology is currently considered as the gold standard [5, 7, 8], because is a cost-effective procedure, simple to perform, and widely available ; however, it is an invasive procedure, especially if it is performed with four contrast that uses ionizing radiation and visualizes only the lumen of the opacified organs. MRI Defecography was first described by Yang et al. in 1991 [7, 31], is a less-invasive imaging modality that allows a multiplanar and multiparametric evaluation of the three pelvic compartments, also visualizing soft tissue, in a single procedure without exposure to ionizing radiation. After this, several studies were performed to compare the diagnostic efficacy of dynamic MRI defecography versus that of conventional radiology in a patient with pelvic floor disorders, with variable results [ 5, 8, 18, 20, 32-34]. In our experience, conventional radiology has higher sensitivity in detecting both the content and the developmnet of pelvic floor hernias if compared with dynamic MRI Defecography. However, the prevalence of enterocele, sigmoidocele, edrocele, elytrocele, and Douglas' hernias at conventional radiology is significantly higher than at MRI Defecography. These findings, in accordance with other authors [5, 20], emphasize the role of conventional radiology in the diagnosis of pelvic floor hernias in female pelvic floor disorders, whereas MRI defecography could be more useful to clarify the intra-pelvic interaction of multiple organ prolapse  and to better define the pelvic anatomy and functioning in patients planned for surgery [34, 35]. Moreover, MRI defecography is a safe, noninvasive exam and free from ionizing radiation[32, 36] that is able to correctly define the large bowel loop content of a retrorectal hernia, previously misdiagnosed as an enterocele at coventional radiology [37–40]. The lower sensitivity of MRI Defecography in the detection of pelvic floor hernias may be related to the supine position of the patients  and defecation also plays a role by ensuring that intra-abdominal pressure is adequately elevated. A solution on MRI defecography is to repeatedly encourage patients to strain maximally or to monitor intra-abdominal pressure .
In conclusion, MRI defecography shows lower sensitivity than coventional radiology in the detection of pelvic floor hernias. The diagnostic efficacy of conventional radiology is significantly higher than that of MRI Defecography in the detection of both hernia content (enteroceles and sigmoidoceles) and hernia development (Douglas' hernia, elytroceles, and edroceles).
However, the less-invasive MRi defecpgraphy may have a role in a better evaluation of the entire pelvic anatomy and pelvic organ interaction especially in patients with multicompartmental defects, planned for surgery .
AR: Post-Doctoral Fellow in Radiology at Second University of Naples
GDG: Resident in Radiology Training Program at Second University of Naples
GG: Assistant Professor of Radiology at Second University of Naples
FI: Resident in Radiology Training Program at Second University of Naples
CR: Resident in Radiology Training Program at Second University of Naples
MG: Associate Professor of Radiology, University of Ferrara
FC: PhD Student at University of Palermo
LB: Full Professor of Radiology, University of Molise
This article has been published as part of BMC Surgery Volume 13 Supplement 2, 2013: Proceedings from the 26th National Congress of the Italian Society of Geriatric Surgery. The full contents of the supplement are available online at http://www.biomedcentral.com/bmcsurg/supplements/13/S2
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