Purpose: Anastomotic leakage is the main cause of death after anterior resection. If it causes a single abscess, it may be successfully cured by percutaneous drainage, but in case of extensive peritoneal infection (multiple abscesses and generalized peritonitis), it is associated with a 40 to 60 percent mortality. This study aimed at evaluating aggressive, one-stage surgical management in such cases.
Methods: All patients referred to our surgical intensive care unit during the past ten years with generalized, multilocular, intra-abdominal sepsis after anterior resection were reviewed. There were 32 patients, with a mean age of 65 years, among which 15 (47 percent) were referred from other institutions. The mean Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation II score on admission was 18. All patients underwent a laparotomy with complete peritoneal exploration, intraoperative lavage, fecal diversion, capillary drainage of the pelvis excluding the rectal stump or the leaking anastomosis from the peritoneal cavity, and primary closure of the abdomen. A Hartmann's operation was done in 22 cases, and conservation of the anastomosis with proximal colostomy was done in 10 cases. The choice was based on the size of the leak, the viability of the colon, and the site of the anastomosis.
Results: Four patients died (12 percent), and five patients (16 percent) had recurrent sepsis. When the anastomosis had been conserved, restoration of continuity was achieved in all cases. After Hartmann's operation 8 patients of 19 survivors kept a permanent stoma; 7 had undergone a low anterior resection.
Conclusions: Extensive intra-abdominal infection after anterior resection may be efficiently controlled by a surgical approach combining peritoneal debridement, fecal diversion, and capillary drainage of the pelvis. Intestinal continuity may be restored after diversion stoma or Hartmann's procedure after high anterior resection. This is not the case after a Hartmann's operation after a low colorectal anastomosis, and this procedure should be avoided whenever possible.