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Ann Surg. Feb 1999; 229(2): 174–180.
PMCID: PMC1191628

Colon and rectal anastomoses do not require routine drainage: a systematic review and meta-analysis.


OBJECTIVE: Many surgeons continue to place a prophylactic drain in the pelvis after completion of a colorectal anastomosis, despite considerable evidence that this practice may not be useful. The authors conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials to determine if placement of a drain after a colonic or rectal anastomosis can reduce the rate of complications. METHODS: A search of the Medline database of English-language articles published from 1987 to 1997 was conducted using the terms "colon," "rectum," "postoperative complications," "surgical anastomosis," and "drainage." A manual search was also conducted. Four randomized controlled trials, including a total of 414 patients, were identified that compared the routine use of drainage of colonic and/or rectal anastomoses to no drainage. Two reviewers assessed the trials independently. Trial quality was critically appraised using a previously published scale, and data on mortality, clinical and radiologic anastomotic leakage rate, wound infection rate, and major complication rate were extracted. RESULTS: The overall quality of the studies was poor. Use of a drain did not significantly affect the rate of any of the outcomes examined, although the power of this analysis to exclude any difference was low. Comparison of pooled results revealed an odds ratio for clinical leak of 1.5 favoring the control (no drain) group. Of the 20 observed leaks among all four studies that occurred in a patient with a drain in place, in only one case (5%) did pus or enteric content actually appear in the effluent of the existing drain. CONCLUSIONS: Any significant benefit of routine drainage of colon and rectal anastomoses in reducing the rate of anastomotic leakage or other surgical complications can be excluded with more confidence based on pooled data than by the individual trials alone. Additional well-designed randomized controlled trials would further reinforce this conclusion.

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Selected References

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