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J Clin Nurs. 2006 Jun;15(6):696-709.

Evidence for early oral feeding of patients after elective open colorectal surgery: a literature review.

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  • 1Alexandra Hospital, Singapore.



To review research on early oral feeding following elective, open colorectal surgery.


Fasting following gastrointestinal surgery is a traditional surgical practice, based on fears of causing postoperative complications if oral intake begins before bowel function returns, but fasting following elective surgery is questionable as a best practice.


Searches in Journals@Ovid CINAHL, MEDLINE, PubMed, Web of Science and The Cochrane Library for primary studies, published during 1995-2004, used the keywords: 'surgery', 'postoperative', 'elective, 'colorectal', 'bowel, 'colon', 'oral', 'enteral', 'feeding', 'early', 'traditional'. Studies of adults undergoing elective, open colorectal surgery who were allowed fluids and food before bowel function returned (early feeding) were included. Outcomes of interest were safety, tolerability, duration of gastrointestinal ileus and length of hospital stay. Critical appraisal of randomized and controlled studies was undertaken following inclusion.


Fifteen studies comprising 1352 patients were reviewed. All studies concluded early feeding was safe, based on complications rates. Total complications were 12.5% (range 0-25%) for 935 early feeding patients, with no increased risk of anastomotic leak, aspiration pneumonia, or bowel obstruction. For all studies an average of 86% patients (range 73-100%) tolerated early feeding. Studies demonstrating faster resolution of postoperative ileus or shorter hospitalization were associated with multimodal perioperative care, including early mobilization, epidural analgesia and comprehensive patient education. Appraisal of five randomized trials revealed no blinding and inadequate randomization.


This review supports early oral feeding after elective, open colorectal surgery and challenges the traditional practice of fasting patients until return of bowel function. Early feeding was safe, well-tolerated and easy to implement. Reduced length of ileus and shorter hospitalization may occur with multimodal protocols.


Nurses can highlight this new evidence for other health professionals, advocate development of clinical protocols featuring early feeding and participate in multi-disciplinary, multi-method research regarding benefits of early feeding.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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