Objective: To determine the natural history and treatment of high-grade small bowel obstruction (HGSBO). Small bowel obstruction is a frequent complication of abdominal surgery. Complete and strangulating obstructions are managed operatively while partial obstructions receive a trial of nonoperative therapy. The management and outcome of patients with HGSBO diagnosed by computed tomography (CT) has not been examined. Design: Retrospective medical record review. Outcomes for nonoperative vs operative management were analyzed using Fisher exact and log-rank tests. Setting: Tertiary care referral center. Patients: One thousand five hundred sixty-eight consecutive patients admitted from the emergency department with a diagnosis of small bowel obstruction between 2000 and 2005 by CT criteria. Main Outcome Measures: Recurrence of symptoms and complications. Results: One hundred forty-five patients (9%) with HGSBO were identified, with 88% follow-up (median, 332 days; range, 4-2067 days). Sixty-six (46%) were successfully managed nonoperatively while 79 (54%) required an operation. Length of stay and complications were significantly increased in the operative group (4.7 days vs 10.8 days and 3% vs 23%; P<.001). Nonoperative management was associated with a higher recurrence rate (24% vs 9%; P<.005) and shorter time to recurrence (39 days vs 105 days; P<.005) compared with operative intervention. Computed tomography signs of ischemia, admission laboratory results, and presence of cancer or inflammatory bowel disease were not predictive of an operation. Conclusions: Patients with HGSBO by CT can be managed safely with nonoperative therapy; however, they have a significantly higher rate of recurrence requiring readmission or operation within 5 years.
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