Clinical question: Are there clinical or computerized tomography (CT) findings that identify which patients will need early surgical management in adhesive small bowel obstruction (ASBO)?
Background: Previous studies determined adverse outcomes resulting from delayed surgery in patients with ASBO: increased length of stay (LOS), complications, and mortality. Most patients respond to nonoperative management, however.
Study design: Prospective observational study.
Setting: Three academic and tertiary referral medical centers.
Synopsis: Using multivariate analysis of 202 patients admitted with presumed adhesive ASBO without immediate surgical need, of whom 52 required eventual surgical intervention, this study found three predictors for needing operative care: no flatus (odds ratio [OR], 3.28; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.51-7.12; P=0.003), as well as the CT findings of a high-grade obstruction, defined as only minimal passage of air and fluid into the distal small bowel or colon (OR, 2.44; 95% CI, 1.10-5.43; P=0.028) or the presence of free fluid (OR, 2.59; 95% CI, 1.13-5.90; P=0.023).
Despite these associations, clinicians should not view these findings as indications for surgery. Of the patients who responded to nonoperative management, one-third had no flatus, and on CT one-third had high-grade obstruction and half had free fluid. Instead, because patients with these findings are at an increased risk of failing nonoperative management, they should be observed more closely and reassessed more frequently.
Bottom line: Patients without flatus or with the presence of free fluid or high-grade obstruction on CT are at an increased risk of requiring surgical management for ASBO.
Citation: Kulvatunyou N, Pandit V, Moutamn S, et al. A multi-institution prospective observational study of small bowel obstruction: clinical and computerized tomography predictors of which patients may require early surgery. J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2015;79(3):393-398.