How Predictive are the Signs and Symptoms of Small Bowel Obstruction

Oman Med J. 2012 Jul;27(4):281-4. doi: 10.5001/omj.2012.70.


Objective: The present study aims to determine the diagnostic significance of signs and symptoms of Small Bowel Obstruction (SBO) and to ascertain if there was any delay in presentation of the patients to the hospital.

Methods: This retrospective case study spanning 3 years was conducted at Riyadh Medical Complex, Saudi Arabia. All adult patients admitted from the ER with a diagnosis of SBO were included in the study. The medical records of the patients with International Classification of Diseases (ICD) 9 codes 552.8, 560, 560.8, 560.81 and 560.9 were searched and retrieved.

Results: A total of 195 patients were included in the study out of which 174 patients had a definitive diagnosis of SBO. The study group was composed of 76.4% males and 71.8% were aged between 20 years to 60 years. The mean duration of symptoms was 4.8 days, ranging from 6 hours to 17 days. The cardinal signs and symptoms of obstruction had low sensitivity (Range: 56-75), and specificity (Range: 28-61), but relatively high positive predictive value (PPV) (Range: 86-93). The morbidity was 13.8% while mortality was 3.4%.

Conclusion: The cardinal features of SBO are neither specific nor sensitive, and though they may have an acceptable PPV, the predicted rate of false positive diagnosis is unacceptable. Therefore, the clinician may not rely on the clinical picture alone for the diagnosis of SBO. The presentation of the studied patients was delayed compared to the literature and it may be an important factor in increasing morbidity and mortality, but this aspect needs to be studied further.

Keywords: Clinical Diagnosis; Signs and Symptoms; Small Bowel Obstruction.