Small-bowel obstruction has been the most common indication for surgical intervention in Crohn's disease. If, however, obstruction relents without surgery, new programs of management may reduce or eliminate the need for resection. Over 7 years, 25 of 26 patients were relieved of an index episode of ileal obstruction—in most cases aided by a small-bowel tube and intranveous ACTH. They were then maintained on medical therapy, sulfasalazine (SASZ) alone in seven, SASZ and intermittent prednisone in 18, and then 6-mercaptopurine with or without SASZ in 14 of those 18. Seven patients have had no recurrence of obstruction after an average follow-up of 52 months. Recurrent obstruction occurred 52 times in 18 patients over the next 16–106 months; in all the obstruction was again relieved nonoperatively. Twelve patients underwent elective surgery, for recurrent obstruction in nine.
Eight months seemed to offer a useful cutoff criterion for the likelihood of recurrence. When recurrence of obstruction took place within 8 months, surgery was ultimately required in six of seven patients. In contrast, patients who weathered the first 8 months without obstruction did well; only three of 11 ultimately required resection. Of 18 patients without recurrent obstruction for 8 months, only five were eventually operated upon, two for other indications; in 11 of the 13 patients who underwent no operation, the quality of life was excellent or good.
We conclude that if the initial episode of small-bowel obstruction can be reversed, subsequent maintenance therapy including SASZ, and/or 6-mercaptopurine with an intermittent liquid diet in some patients eliminates or postpones the need for resection without compromise of the quality of life.