Small bowel perforation: Is urgent surgery necessary?

Jen Feng Fang, Ray Jade Chen, Being Chuan Lin, Yu Bau Hsu, Jung Liang Kao, Yi Chin Kao, Miin Fu Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Controversies regarding how urgent bowel perforation should be diagnosed and treated exist in recent reports. The approach for early diagnosis is also debatable. The purposes of this study were to evaluate the relationship between treatment delay and outcome of small bowel perforation after blunt abdominal trauma and to determine the best assessment plan for the diagnosis of this injury. Methods: One hundred eleven consecutive patients with small bowel perforations caused by blunt abdominal trauma were retrospectively reviewed. The patients were divided into four groups according to the time interval between injury and surgery. Hospital stay, time to resume oral intake, and mortality and morbidity rates were compared between groups. Physical signs, laboratory and computed tomographic findings, and the results of diagnostic peritoneal lavage were analyzed to find the most sensitive and specific test for early diagnosis of small bowel perforation. Results: Delay in surgery for more than 24 hours did not significantly increase the mortality with modern method of treatment; however, complications increased dramatically. Hospital stay and time to resume oral intake increased significantly when surgery was delayed for more than 24 hours. Abdominal tenderness was a common finding, but it was not specific for bowel perforation. Only 40% of the computed tomographic scans were diagnostic for bowel perforations: 50% of them showed suggestive signs, and 10% were considered as negative. Persistence of abdominal signs indicated peritoneal lavage. By using cell count ratio in diagnostic peritoneal lavage and/or increased lavage amylase activity, presence of particulate matter and/or bacteria in the lavage fluid, all patients with intraperitoneal bowel perforation were diagnosed accurately before operation. Conclusion: Small bowel perforation has low mortality and complication rates if it is treated earlier than 24 hours after injury. The principle of 'rushing to the operation suite' for a stable blunt abdominal trauma patients without detailed systemic examination is not justified. The priority of treatment for the small bowel perforation should be lower than the limb-threatening injuries. Diagnostic peritoneal lavage provides high sensitivity and specificity rates for the diagnosis of small bowel perforation if a specially designed positive criterion is applied.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)515-520
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Trauma - Injury, Infection and Critical Care
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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