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Predicting Strangulated Small Bowel Obstruction: An Old Problem Revisited

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Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery



Diagnosing intestinal strangulation complicating a small bowel obstruction (SBO) remains a considerable challenge. Despite decades of experience and numerous studies, no clinical indicators have been identified that reliably predict this life-threatening condition. Our goal was to determine which clinical indicators in patients with SBO can be used to independently predict the presence of strangulated intestine.


Medical records were reviewed for 192 adult patients operated on for acute SBO over an 11-year period (1996–2006). Seventy-two preoperative clinical, laboratory, and radiologic findings at admission were examined. Data from patients with strangulated intestine were compared to data from patients without bowel compromise. Likelihood ratios were generated for each significant parameter in a multivariate logistic regression analysis.


Forty-four patients had bowel strangulation requiring bowel resection, and 148 had no strangulation. The most significant independent predictor of bowel strangulation was the computed tomography (CT) finding of reduced wall enhancement, with a sensitivity and specificity of 56% and 94% [likelihood ratio (LR) 9.3]. Elevated white blood cell (WBC) count and guarding were moderately predictive (LR 1.7 and 2.8).


Regression analysis of multiple preoperative criteria demonstrates that reduced wall enhancement on CT, peritoneal signs, and elevated WBC are the only variables independently predictive of bowel strangulation in patients with SBO.

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Correspondence to Hobart W. Harris.

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Jancelewicz, T., Vu, L.T., Shawo, A.E. et al. Predicting Strangulated Small Bowel Obstruction: An Old Problem Revisited. J Gastrointest Surg 13, 93–99 (2009).

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