Background: Conservative treatment of postoperative small bowel obstruction in children is widely accepted, provided that there are no clinical signs of bowel strangulation. However, the length of time surgery can be safely deferred remains unclear. Purpose: The aim of this study was to determine the time limit for observant management of postoperative small bowel obstruction. Methods: The medical records of 128 children with 174 episodes of postoperative small bowel obstruction were reviewed. Results: Spontaneous resolution occurred in 63% of cases, 85% within 48 hours of admission. Bowel compromise was noted in 31% of the operated cases, and about half of them underwent bowel resection, accounting for 6% of all admissions. None of the cases treated surgically within 16 hours of admission was associated with bowel strangulation or need for resection. Conclusions: In children presenting with postoperative small bowel obstruction, prolonging observant treatment for more than 48 hours yields only a small benefit in terms of spontaneous resolution. Bowel strangulation can occur within 16 hours of admission. On the basis of these findings, we suggest raising the index of suspicion for compromised bowel after 16 hours and making the decision for surgery at around 48 hours.
- Bowel compromise
- Postoperative small bowel obstruction
- Spontaneous resolution