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Br J Surg. 1998 Dec;85(12):1692-4.

Water-soluble contrast study predicts the need for early surgery in adhesive small bowel obstruction.

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Department of Emergency Medicine, National Taiwan University Hospital, Taipei.



The optimal period of conservative treatment for adhesive small bowel obstruction remains controversial. This study sought to determine whether a 24-h abdominal radiograph after oral Urografin is a reliable indicator for operation in patients with adhesive small bowel obstruction.


One hundred and sixty-one patients who suffered from adhesive intestinal obstruction without clinical evidence of strangulation or gangrene underwent a Urografin study. Some 40 ml Urografin mixed with 40 ml distilled water was administered either orally or via a nasogastric tube to each patient. Serial plain abdominal radiographs were taken 4, 8, 16 and 24 h later. If an earlier plain radiograph showed that contrast medium had reached the ascending colon, subsequent radiographs were not taken.


Contrast medium reached the colon within 24 h in 112 patients (70 per cent). These patients were all treated successfully with non-operative methods. Contrast medium was not observed in the colon within the first 24 h in 49 patients (30 per cent). Operation was performed in 47 of these patients and non-operative treatment was given in two. The sensitivity, specificity, accuracy, positive predictive value and negative predictive value of Urografin reaching the colon within 24 h as an indicator for non-operative treatment were 98, 100, 99, 100 and 96 per cent respectively.


All patients with evidence of Urografin reaching the colon within 24 h were treated successfully with non-operative methods. The results of this prospective study suggest that patients with adhesive intestinal obstruction in whom contrast medium fails to reach the colon within 24 h should receive prompt surgical intervention.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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