Pain relief as a diagnostic tool

Survey shows that many veterinarians use pain-relieving medications to help diagnose colic.
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Survey shows that many veterinarians use pain-relieving medications to help diagnose colic.

In a recent survey of veterinarians conducted in the United Kingdom, the horse’s response to pain-relieving medications was found to be the most commonly used diagnostic tool in cases of colic.

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Researchers at the University of Nottingham sent questionnaires to 228 veterinarians asking about their first assessment of colic cases. The most frequent diagnostic test reported (87.2 percent) was “response to analgesia”—whether the horse’s condition improved after the administration of pain-relieving medication. Rectal examination was the second most cited measure (75.9 percent) and naso-gastric tubing was the third (43.8 percent).

Three other tests—abdominal paracentesis (also known as “belly taps”), bloodwork and ultrasound—rounded out the top diagnostic choices.

Despite the popularity of certain diagnostic techniques, the researchers note that there was a wide variation in individual protocols: For each diagnostic test there was at least one veterinarian who indicated they use it in 100 percent of cases and at least one who indicated they never use it.

This, the researchers say, highlights “the need for further evidence to support decision-making” when diagnosing cases of colic.

Reference: “Veterinary practitioners’ selection of diagnostic tests for the primary evaluation of colic in the horse,” Veterinary Record Open, September 2015

This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #461, February 2016.