Echogenic Bowel Syndrome


Echogenic bowel syndrome is an irregularity in the appearance of a fetus's bowel that a doctor may see while performing an ultrasound. It does not occur often. When it does it can be the result of something as simple as an imperfection in the ultrasound equipment. Echogenic bowel syndrome can also be an early sign of a potentially dangerous medical problem affecting the fetus.

The Facts

First identified in 1985, echogenic bowel syndrome describes the abnormally bright appearance of a fetus's bowel during an ultrasound. Instead of the usually brightness, echogenic bowel is has the same brightness as bone. It occurs in less than two percent of ultrasounds performed and in most cases, the child develops normally and is born healthy. Echogenic bowel syndrome can be caused by chromosome abnormalities, infections and obstructions.

Chromosome Abnormalities

Echogenic bowel syndrome may be an indication that the fetus has a chromosomal abnormality. In about three percent of cases, the fetus has cystic fibrosis. Echogenic bowel in an ultrasound may also be a warning that the fetus has Down's syndrome or intra-uterine growth retardation. A doctor will order further tests, like an amniocentesis, to ultimately discover and identify specific chromosomal abnormalities.


There are some infections that can cause the fetus's bowel to become echogenic. An infection can cause reduced fluid content in the meconium in the fetus's bowel or it can restrict blood flow to the area. Both are factors that may lead to echogenic bowel syndrome. Two infections that can trigger the syndrome are toxoplasmosis and cytomegalovirus. It is not possible for a doctor to identify all infection while a child is in the uterus; some must wait until after birth to be definitely diagnosed.


Echogenic bowel syndrome may also indicate the presence of an obstruction with the fetus's bowel. An obstruction, an unusually high amount of amniotic fluid or a growth within the bowel can increase the appearance of the density of the bowel. The same is true if the bowel itself is developing abnormally. During the ultrasound, this increase results in a brighter appearance.


Other potential causes of echogenic bowel syndrome including bleeding within the uterus. When this happens, blood mixes with the amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus. When the fetus drinks the amniotic fluid, the blood is also ingested and while in the bowel can cause an echogenic response during an ultrasound. A final potential cause of echogenic bowel syndrome is the death of the fetus.

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