Background: An anastomotic leak after colorectal surgery is associated with significant morbidity and decreased survival. Our aim was to identify the early predictors of anastomotic leaks.
Methods: The records of patients undergoing restorative resection for colorectal disease from January 2000 to November 2005 were reviewed. Demographics, clinical events, and laboratory parameters were recorded.
Results: A total of 311 patients were included. An anastomotic leak was identified in 25 patients (8%). A leak was suspected and diagnosis confirmed at a mean of 10+/-1 days postoperatively. More respiratory and neurological events occurred in patients with an anastomotic leak (p<0.001). These events occurred early in the postoperative course and were usually the first signs and symptoms of a leak. More patients with a leak had absence of bowel activity by postoperative day 6 compared to patients without a leak (p<0.0001). Elevations of the white blood cell count or temperature were a late finding.
Conclusion: The earliest clinical predictors of an anastomotic leak are pulmonary and/or neurological. Awareness of these findings might help in early diagnosis and treatment of an anastomotic leak.