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Risk factors for acute abdominal pain (colic) in the adult horse: A scoping review of risk factors, and a systematic review of the effect of management-related changes

Curtis, Laila; Burford, John H.; England, Gary C. W.; Freeman, Sarah L.


Laila Curtis

Foundation Dean & Prof Comparative Veterinary Reproduction

Professor of Veterinary Surgery


Acute abdominal pain (colic) is the most common reason for emergency veterinary treatment in the horse. Consolidation of data through a systematic review is important to inform evidence-based medicine and clinical guidelines, but there are currently no published systematic reviews on colic in the horse. The aim of this study was to identify, categorize and appraise the evidence on factors associated with increased risk of developing abdominal pain (colic) due to gastrointestinal disease in the adult horse. A scoping review was performed to identify and categorize evidence on all risk factors for colic. A systematic review of management-related risk factors was then performed following PRISMA guidelines. Both searches were conducted in Medline, CAB Abstracts and Web of Science databases, and publications were assessed against inclusion and exclusion criteria. For the scoping review, study and participant characteristics of included publications and key results were extracted and tabulated. For the systematic review, cohort, case-control or cross-sectional studies investigating acute abdominal pain in horses within two weeks of management changes were assessed. Study characteristics, participant characteristics and study results of included publications for the systematic review were extracted and tabulated. Included publications were appraised using the Joanna Briggs Institute Critical Appraisal Tools for cohort, case-control and cross-sectional studies. The scoping review search identified 3,756 publications. Fifty eight studies met final inclusion criteria, and 22 categories of risk factors were identified. These were grouped into three broad areas: horse-related factors, management-related factors and environment-related factors. The largest body of evidence related to management change. The systematic review of management change identified 410 publications: 14 met inclusion criteria for analysis. These consisted of one cohort, eight case-control and five cross-sectional studies. The studies were conducted between 1990–2008, and the majority of studies were located in the USA (8/14) or UK (3/14). The risk factors related to management change that were assessed were feed, carer, exercise, pasture, water and housing. The largest bodies of evidence for increased risk of colic associated with management change were changes in feed (5/14 publications) and recent change in housing (3/14). Most studies (8/14) did not meet the JBI criterion on confounding factors. There was marked heterogeneity of study methodologies and measures. This is the first study to use a combined scoping and systematic review to analyse evidence for modifiable risk factors for a common condition in the horse. It provides a comprehensive review that will be a key resource for researchers, veterinary practitioners and horse owners. It identified modifiable risk factors associated with an increased risk of colic which should be a key target for preventative health programmes. The findings from the critical appraisal were used to develop recommendations for future research to improve the quality of evidence-based veterinary medicine.


Curtis, L., Burford, J. H., England, G. C. W., & Freeman, S. L. (2019). Risk factors for acute abdominal pain (colic) in the adult horse: A scoping review of risk factors, and a systematic review of the effect of management-related changes. PLoS ONE, 14(7), 1-32.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 20, 2019
Online Publication Date Jul 11, 2019
Publication Date Jul 11, 2019
Deposit Date Jul 16, 2019
Publicly Available Date Jul 16, 2019
Journal PLoS ONE
Electronic ISSN 1932-6203
Publisher Public Library of Science
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 14
Issue 7
Article Number e0219307
Pages 1-32
Keywords General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology; General Agricultural and Biological Sciences; General Medicine
Public URL
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