A 10-year review of 101 patients sustaining an early postoperative small bowel obstruction within 30 days of celiotomy was carried out. Signs, symptoms, lab tests, and x-rays did not indicate which patients required operation. Twenty-three patients were operated on for either failure to resolve their obstruction or because it was feared that ischemic bowel was present. In none of these patients, nor the 78 patients who resolved without reoperation, did dead bowel occur. Early postoperative small bowel obstruction was most often due to adhesions and inflammatory processes. Seven patients died (6.9%), three in the operated and four in the nonoperated group. Because ischemic bowel is very unlikely in patients with early postoperative small bowel obstruction, we advise 10 to 14 days of nasogastric suction initially; after this, improvement is unlikely without reoperation.
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