The potential of computerised analysis of bowel sounds for diagnosis of gastrointestinal conditions: A systematic review

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Background: Gastrointestinal (GI) conditions are highly prevalent, and their standard diagnostic tests are costly and carry risks. There is a need for new, cost-effective, non-invasive tests. Our main objective was to assess the potential for use of bowel sounds computerised analysis in the diagnosis of GI conditions. Methods: The systematic review followed the PRISMA requirements. Searches were made of four databases (PubMed, MEDLINE, Embase, and IEEE Xplore) and the references of included papers. Studies of all types were included. The titles and abstracts were screened by one author. Full articles were reviewed and data collected by two authors independently. A third reviewer decided on inclusion in the event of disagreement. Bias and applicability were assessed via a QUADAS tool adapted to accommodate studies of multiple types. Results: Two thousand eight hundred eighty-four studies were retrieved; however, only 14 studies were included. Most of these simply assessed associations between a bowel sound feature and a condition. Four studies also included assessments of diagnostic accuracy. We found many significant associations between a bowel sound feature and a GI condition. Receiver operating characteristic curve analyses revealed high sensitivity and specificity for an irritable bowel syndrome test, and a high negative predictive value for a test for post-operative ileus. Assessment of methodological quality identified weaknesses in all studies. We particularly noted a high risk of bias in patient selection. Because of the limited number of trials included and the variety in conditions, technology, and statistics, we were unable to conduct pooled analyses. Conclusions: Due to concerns over quality and small sample sizes, we cannot yet recommend an existing BSCA diagnostic test without additional studies. However, the preliminary results found in the included studies and the technological advances described in excluded studies indicate excellent future potential. Research combining sophistical clinical and engineering skills is likely to be fruitful. Systematic review registration: The review protocol (review ID number 42016054028) was developed by three authors (AI, KMW, and JM) and was published in the PROSPERO International prospective register of systematic reviews. It can be accessed from

Original languageEnglish
Article number124
JournalSystematic Reviews
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 Aug 2018


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