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Br J Surg. 2000 Nov;87(11):1480-93.

Postoperative ileus: a preventable event.

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  • 1Department of Surgical Gastroenterology, Hvidovre University Hospital, Denmark.



Postoperative ileus has traditionally been accepted as a normal response to tissue injury. No data support any beneficial effect of ileus and indeed it may contribute to delayed recovery and prolonged hospital stay. Efforts should, therefore, be made to reduce such ileus.


Material was identified from a Medline search of the literature, previous review articles and references cited in original papers. This paper updates knowledge on the pathophysiology and treatment of postoperative ileus.


Pathogenesis mainly involves inhibitory neural reflexes and inflammatory mediators released from the site of injury. The most effective method of reducing ileus is thoracic epidural blockade with local anaesthetic. Opioid-sparing analgesic techniques and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents also reduce ileus, as does laparoscopic surgery. Of the prokinetic agents only cisapride is proven beneficial; the effect of early enteral feeding remains unclear. However, postoperative ileus may be greatly reduced when all of the above are combined in a multimodal rehabilitation strategy.

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