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Br J Surg. 1990 May;77(5):487-92.

Gut barrier function and the surgeon.

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Trauma Unit, Johannesburg Hospital, South Africa.


There is accumulating evidence that multiple organ failure is not always the result of an established septic focus. Increasing attention has centred on the gut as a reservoir of bacteria (and bacterial endotoxins) that can traverse the intestinal mucosal barrier (a process called 'bacterial translocation') and initiate the septic state. Although the link between haemorrhagic shock and sepsis was recognized decades ago, the full experimental demonstration of this phenomenon is more recent. It was shown to occur in three main settings: physical disruption of the gut mucosa, impaired defence mechanisms and altered gut microbial ecology. Conditions such as haemorrhagic shock, burns, protein malnutrition and sepsis are seen in the severely ill surgical patient or the multiply injured, and are known to cause various combinations of circumstances favourable to bacterial translocation and endotoxin absorption. These may play an important role in the mortality of the critically ill.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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