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Br J Surg. 2000 Sep;87(9):1240-7.

Natural history of patients with adhesive small bowel obstruction.

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Division of Colorectal Surgery, Sir Mortimer B. Davis - Jewish General Hospital and McGill University, Montreal, Canada.



Small bowel obstruction (SBO) is a major cause of morbidity and financial expenditure. The goals of this study were to determine factors predisposing to adhesive SBO, to note the long-term prognosis and recurrence rates for operative and non-operative treatment, to elicit the complication rate of operations and to highlight factors predictive of recurrence.


The medical records of all patients admitted to one hospital between 1986 and 1996 with the diagnosis of SBO were reviewed retrospectively. This included 410 patients accounting for 675 admissions.


The frequency of previous operation by procedure type was colorectal surgery (24 per cent), followed by gynaecological surgery (22 per cent), herniorrhaphy (15 per cent) and appendicectomy (14 per cent). A history of colorectal surgery (odds 2.7) and vertical incisions (odds 2.5) tended to predispose to multiple matted adhesions rather than an obstructive band. At initial admission 36 per cent of patients were treated by means of operation. As the number of admissions increased, the recurrence rate increased while the time interval between admissions decreased. Patients with an adhesive band had a 25 per cent readmission rate, compared with a 49 per cent rate for patients with matted adhesions (P<0.004). At the initial admission 36 per cent of patients were treated surgically. Patients treated without operation had a 34 per cent readmission rate, compared with 32 per cent for those treated surgically (P not significant), a shorter time to readmission (median 0.7 versus 2.0 years; P<0.05), no difference in reoperation rate (14 versus 11 per cent; P not significant) and fewer inpatient days over all admissions (4 versus 12 days; P<0.0001).


The likelihood of reobstruction increases and the time to reobstruction decreases with increasing number of previous episodes of obstruction. Patients with matted adhesions have a greater recurrence rate than those with band adhesions. Non-operative treatment for adhesions in stable patients results in a shorter hospital stay and similar recurrence and reoperation rates, but a reduced interval to reobstruction when compared with operative treatment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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