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J Am Coll Surg. 2019 Dec;229(6):533-540.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2019.09.002. Epub 2019 Sep 25.

Randomized Trial of Perioperative Probiotics Among Patients Undergoing Major Abdominal Operation.

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Department of Surgery, Mercy Medical Center, Des Moines, IA. Electronic address:
Department of Surgery, Mercy Medical Center, Des Moines, IA.
Department of Internal Medicine, Mercy Medical Center, Des Moines, IA.
Department of Surgery, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA.



We investigated the utility and safety of short-course oral probiotics among patients undergoing major abdominal operations. Perioperative probiotics can decrease length of stay and lower rates of infectious complications. We assessed whether perioperative probiotics decrease major complications among patients undergoing high-risk gastrointestinal operations in a pragmatic randomized trial.


This double-blind trial randomized 135 patients undergoing elective major gastrointestinal operations to perioperative oral probiotic VSL#3 taken just before operation and twice daily up to 15 total doses (n = 67) or placebo (n = 68). The primary outcomes measure was 30-day composite end point of death, unplanned readmission, or any infection.


Primary end point occurred among 17 patients in the placebo group (25.0%) vs 22 patients in the probiotic group (32.8%; p = 0.315). Thirty-day mortality was 2 (2.9%) in the placebo group compared with 1 (1.5%) in the probiotic group (p = 1.000). The placebo group patients experienced lower 30-day readmission rate (3 of 68 [4.4%]) compared with the probiotic group (11 of 67 [16.4%]; p = 0.022). None of the placebo patients were readmitted for dehydration, but 5 of 11 probiotic group patients (45%; p = 0.049) were readmitted for dehydration as a consequence of diet intolerance and/or diarrhea. There was no difference in 30-day infection rate between the groups (15 or 68 [22%] in the placebo group vs 15 of 67 [22.4%] in the probiotic group; p = 0.963).


Perioperative use of VSL#3 probiotic did not affect 30-day composite end point of mortality, readmission, and infection rate. A significantly higher readmission rate was observed among those exposed to probiotics. Additional studies remain warranted.

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