Can a computed tomography scoring system predict the need for surgery in small-bowel obstruction?

Am J Surg. 2007 Dec;194(6):780-3; discussion 783-4. doi: 10.1016/j.amjsurg.2007.09.020.


Background: Small-bowel obstruction (SBO) is a common dilemma faced by general surgeons. A timely and accurate diagnosis is crucial, based on history, physical examination, and radiographic studies. A computed tomography (CT) scan has become an increasingly common diagnostic modality. The aim of this study was to define a set of CT criteria that may help determine whether a patient would require operative intervention.

Methods: A retrospective chart review was performed over an 18-month period. Patients diagnosed with SBO or partial SBO (PSBO) who had a CT scan performed were included. CT scans were then reviewed independently by a staff radiologist blinded to the clinical outcome. A scoring system based on 7 radiographic criteria was then developed. Statistical analysis was performed on the data.

Results: From March 1, 2004, to August 30, 2005, 96 patients were found to have the diagnosis of SBO or PSBO and a documented CT scan. Seventy-four patients had undergone prior intra-abdominal procedures. Fifty-five percent were taken to the operating room (OR) over an average of 1.9 days (range 1-12 days). Seventy-nine percent of these patients went to the OR within the first 24 hours. Lysis of adhesions was performed in 38%, small bowel was resected in 47%, and incarcerated ventral hernias were found in 11%. Ischemic bowel was found in 11% of the cases. The CT scoring system was then correlated with the actual treatment. A score of 8 or higher predicted the need for surgery 75% of the time. When looking at the criteria individually, patients with a CT reading of complete obstruction, dilated small bowel, or free fluid were operated on 77%, 66%, and 65% of the time, respectively.

Conclusion: A CT scoring system can successfully predict the need for surgery 75% of the time. Likewise, specific criteria, when present in combination, can predict the need for operative intervention in 79% of cases with SBO.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Algorithms
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Hernia, Ventral / complications
  • Hernia, Ventral / surgery
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Obstruction / diagnostic imaging*
  • Intestinal Obstruction / etiology
  • Intestinal Obstruction / surgery
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tissue Adhesions / surgery
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*