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Am Surg. 2013 Apr;79(4):422-8.

Routine nasogastric decompression in small bowel obstruction: is it really necessary?

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Department of Surgery, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8062, USA.


Bowel rest, nasogastric (NG) decompression, and intravenous hydration are used to treat small bowel obstruction (SBO) conservatively; however, there are no data to support nasogastric tube (NGT) use in patients without active emesis. We aim to evaluate the use of nasogastric decompression in SBO and the safety of managing patients with SBO without the use of a NGT. A retrospective chart review was conducted of adult patients admitted to Yale New Haven Hospital over five years with the diagnosis of SBO. We compared patients who received NG decompression with those who did not. Outcome variables assessed were days to resolution, associated complications, hospital length of stay, and disposition. Of 290 patients who fit the criteria, 190 patients (65.52%) were managed conservatively. Fifty-five patients (18.97%) did not receive NGTs. Sixty-eight patients (23.45%) did not present with emesis; however, nearly 75 per cent of these patients received NGTs. Development of pneumonia and respiratory failure was significantly associated with NGT placement. Time to resolution and hospital length of stay were significantly higher in patients with NGTs. Patients with NG decompression had a significantly increased risk of pneumonia and respiratory failure as well as increased time to resolution and hospital length of stay.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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