Conference Coverage

Can adhesive small bowel obstructions be addressed laparoscopically?



Adhesions occur after just about every abdominal operation, hernia repair in particular, whether they are open or laparoscopic. Small bowel obstructions can result, and management decisions can be complex. What if the patient resolves? Should you offer elective adhesiolysis? If it doesn’t resolve, can the surgery be done laparoscopically or should the procedure be open?

Bradley R. Davis, MD, FACS, discussed some of these options, and the case circumstances that inform the surgeon’s choices at the Annual Minimally Invasive Surgery Symposium by -Global Academy for Medical Education. Dr. Davis is chief of general surgery and of rectal surgery at Carolinas Medical Center, Charlotte, N.C.

Dr. Bradley R. Davis

Laparoscopic surgeries are associated with significantly lower rates of small bowel obstruction, but it can still happen. More often, patients will have had a previous open surgery, and this should be a selling point for doing first-time surgeries using minimally invasive techniques. “That’s one thing I tell my patients when I see them in the office. There’s a real reduction in adhesive small bowel obstruction and certainly in hernia formation, so there are long-term benefits that I don’t think we talk enough about,” said Dr. Davis.

Although the majority of obstructions are caused by adhesions, some are the result of malignancies or hernias, and Dr. Davis encourages his residents to do exams to determine if a hernia is to blame. “That’s harder and harder to do now that everyone does a CT scan, but that’s always an interesting question to ask a resident,” he said. Inflammatory bowel disease is sometimes also a cause, but that’s rare.

CT scans are the diagnostic mode of choice for small bowel obstructions. Some believe that oral contrast agents may help resolve obstructions, but Dr. Davis mentioned evidence from a study showing that contrast agents don’t change the course of obstructions or reduce laparotomy rates. However, contrast agents can help predict the clinical course of an obstruction. If the contrast agent is present in the colon at 24 hours, then that predicts that the patient will resolve with conservative treatment. “You have a pretty good idea that the patient is going to get better,” said Dr. Davis.

The American Association for the Surgery of Trauma severity grade is helpful for adhesive small bowel obstructions. Grade 2 cases involve intestinal distension and possibly a transition zone, some passage of contrast on follow-up films, and no evidence of intestinal compromise. Grade 3 cases have no distal contrast flow and evidence of complete obstruction or impending bowel compromise. In the latter cases, “we’re scratching our heads wondering whether to take the patient to the operating room. Certainly most of these cases we’ll manage initially nonoperatively, but those patients will end up getting an earlier operation,” said Dr. Davis.

The majority of surgeries are adhesiolysis, sometimes with a bowel resection. Whether or not the surgery can be performed laparoscopically or as an open surgery depends on several factors. If the index operation was done laparoscopically, chances are good that the adhesiolysis can be performed the same way. On the other hand, “if a patient has a known hostile abdomen, I wouldn’t even try. I would basically go straight to an open procedure,” said Dr. Davis.

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