Surgery for acute abdominal conditions in intellectually-disabled adults

ANZ J Surg. 2006 Mar;76(3):145-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1445-2197.2006.03621.x.


Background: Intellectually-disabled patients with acute abdominal conditions are susceptible to late diagnosis and adverse outcome due to impaired communication, altered behaviour, neurological impairment, associated congenital anomalies, variable reaction to pain and drugs and various difficulties in perioperative management. The present study aims to present the experience of surgery for acute abdominal conditions in intellectually-disabled patients. Various difficulties encountered during the management are highlighted and measures to overcome these problems are discussed.

Methods: A prospective descriptive population study was performed through the prospective collection of data on consecutive intellectually-disabled adults operated for acute abdominal conditions over a 5-year period. Study parameters included demographic details, clinical presentation, diagnostic modalities, operative findings and outcome in terms of morbidity and mortality.

Results: Of 19 men and three women with a mean age of 28.3 years, anorexia, vomiting, and increasing abdominal distension were the most common presenting features. History of pica was available in 36.4% of patients. Intestinal obstruction, acute appendicitis, volvulus and pseudo-obstruction of the colon were the most frequently encountered conditions. Postoperative morbidity and mortality were 33 and 23%, respectively.

Conclusion: Intellectually-disabled patients demand particular clinical expertise owing to various difficulties inherent to their mental and physical disabilities. Short history, anorexia, vomiting and abdominal distension should make the clinician aware of the possibility of an acute abdominal condition. History of pica should be considered a serious clinical correlate. A high index of clinical suspicion, intensive perioperative care and low threshold for an early operation are recommended to reduce the higher morbidity and mortality figures.

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen, Acute / epidemiology*
  • Abdomen, Acute / surgery*
  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Appendicitis / epidemiology
  • Appendicitis / surgery
  • Colonic Pseudo-Obstruction / epidemiology
  • Colonic Pseudo-Obstruction / surgery
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intellectual Disability / epidemiology*
  • Intestinal Obstruction / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Pica / epidemiology
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Prospective Studies