Enterotomy can be a serious complication in abdominopelvic surgery, particularly if it is not immediately recognized and treated. Risk of visceral injury increases when complex dissection is required for treatment of cancer, resection of endometriosis, and extensive lysis of adhesions.
In a retrospective review from 1984 to 2003, investigators assessed intestinal injuries at the time of gynecologic operations. Of the 110 cases reported, about 37% occurred during the opening of the peritoneal cavity, 38% during adhesiolysis and pelvic dissection, 9% during laparoscopy, 9% during vaginal surgery, and 8% during dilation and curettage. Of the bowel injuries, more than 75% were minor.1 Mortality from unrecognized bowel injury is significant, and as such, appropriate recognition and management of these injuries is critical.2
Some basic principles are critical when surgeons face a bowel injury:
1. Recognize the extent of the injury, including the size of the breach, the depth (full or partial thickness), and the nature of the injury (thermal or cold).
2. Assess the integrity of the bowel, including adequacy of blood supply, prior bowel damage from radiation, and absence of downstream obstruction.
3. Ensure no other occult injuries exist in other segments.
4. Obtain adequate exposure and mobilization of the bowel beyond the site of injury, including the adjacent bowel. This involves releasing other adhesions so that adequate bowel length is available for a tension-free repair.
Methods of repair
The decision to employ each is influenced by multiple factors. Primary closure is best suited to small lesions (1 cm or less) that are a result of cold or sharp injury. However, thermal injury sustained via electrosurgical devices induces delayed tissue damage beyond the visible edges of the immediate defect, and surgeons should consider a resection of bowel to at least 1 cm beyond the immediately apparent injury site. Additionally, resection and re-anastamosis should also be considered if the damaged segment of bowel has poor blood supply, integrity, or the repair would result in tension along the suture/staple line or luminal narrowing.
Simple small bowel closures
Serosal abrasions need not be repaired; however, small tears of the serosa and muscularis can be managed with a single layer of interrupted 3-0 absorbable or permanent silk suture on a tapered needle. The suture line should be perpendicular to the longitudinal axis of the bowel at 2-mm to 3-mm intervals in order to prevent narrowing of the lumen. The suture should pass through serosal and muscular layers in an imbricating (Lembert) stitch. For smaller defects of less than 6 mm, a single layer closure is typically adequate.
Small bowel resection
Some larger defects, thermal injuries, and segments with multiple enterotomies may be best repaired with resection and re-anastamosis technique. A segment of resectable bowel is chosen such that the afferent and efferent limbs to be re-anastamosed can be reapproximated in a tension-free fashion. A mesenterotomy is made at the proximal and distal portions of the involved bowel. A gastrointestinal anastomotic stapler is then inserted perpendicularly across the bowel. The remaining wedge of connected mesentery can then be efficiently excised with an electrothermal bipolar coagulator device ensuring that maximal mesentery and blood supply are preserved to the remaining limbs of intestine. The proximal and distal segments are then aligned at the antimesenteric sides.