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Dig Surg. 2009;26(4):265-75. doi: 10.1159/000227765. Epub 2009 Jul 3.

A comprehensive review of evidence-based strategies to prevent and treat postoperative ileus.

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  • 1Saint George's University School of Medicine, Grenada, West Indies.



Postoperative ileus (POI) is a common complication of abdominal and several other surgeries leading to increased hospital stay and healthcare costs. POI also contributes towards numerous postsurgical comorbidities including deep vein thrombosis and pneumonia. POI is characterized by bowel distention and lack of bowel sounds, flatus and bowel movements. The causative mechanism is not fully understood and may be multifactorial including disorganized electrical activity, activation of inflammatory mediators and the use of opioid analgesics.


A selective review of the literature pertaining to the prevention and treatment of adynamic ileus and POI was completed. More specifically we sought to evaluate RCTs, meta-analyses, consensus statements and articles providing graded evidence-based data on POI prevention and treatment.


Perioperative strategies employed to prevent or limit the duration of POI include avoidance of preoperative fasting and mechanical bowel preparation, use of epidural-local anesthetics, implementation of minimally-invasive surgical techniques, and modification of pain management strategies to limit opioid administration among others.


Though many of these strategies have proven beneficial, no single approach has demonstrated the ability to prevent or treat POI. However, when these strategies are used in combination as part of a fast-track multimodal treatment plan, there is a significant decrease in time to return of normal bowel function and a shortened hospital stay. Additional studies are needed to make specific recommendations regarding which components of fast-track protocols are most beneficial.

Copyright 2009 S. Karger AG, Basel.

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