Is early oral feeding safe after elective colorectal surgery? A prospective randomized trial

Ann Surg. 1995 Jul;222(1):73-7. doi: 10.1097/00000658-199507000-00012.


Introduction: The routine use of a nasogastric tube after elective colorectal surgery is no longer mandatory. More recently, early feeding after laparoscopic colectomy has been shown to be safe and well tolerated. Therefore, the aim of our study was to prospectively assess the safety and tolerability of early oral feeding after elective "open" abdominal colorectal operations.

Materials and methods: All patients who underwent elective laparotomy with either colon or small bowel resection between November 1992 and April 1994 were prospectively randomized to one of the following two groups: group 1: early oral feeding--all patients received a clear liquid diet on the first postoperative day followed by a regular diet as tolerated; group 2: regular feeding--all patients were treated in the "traditional" way, with feeding only after the resolution of their postoperative ileus. The nasogastric tube was removed from all patients in both groups immediately after surgery. The patients were monitored for vomiting, bowel movements, nasogastric tube reinsertion, time of regular diet consumption, complications, and length of hospitalization. The nasogastric tube was reinserted if two or more episodes of vomiting of more than 100 mL occurred in the absence of bowel movement. Ileus was considered resolved after a bowel movement in the absence of abdominal distention or vomiting.

Results: One hundred sixty-one consecutive patients were studied, 80 patients in group 1 (34 males and 46 females, mean age 51 years [range 16-82 years]), and 81 patients in group 2 (43 males and 38 females, mean age 56 years [range 20-90 years]). Sixty-three patients (79%) in the early feeding group tolerated the early feeding schedule and were advanced to regular diet within the next 24 to 48 hours. There were no significant differences between the early and regular feeding groups in the rate of vomiting (21% vs. 14%), nasogastric tube reinsertion (11% vs. 10%), length of ileus (3.8 +/- 0.1 days vs. 4.1 +/- 0.1 days), length of hospitalization (6.2 +/- 0.2 days vs. 6.8 +/- 0.2 days), or overall complications (7.5% vs. 6.1%), respectively, (p = NS for all). However, the patients in the early feeding group tolerated a regular diet significantly earlier than did the patients in the regular feeding group (2.6 +/- 0.1 days vs. 5 +/- 0.1 days; p < 0.001).

Conclusion: Early oral feeding after elective colorectal surgery is safe and can be tolerated by the majority of patients. Thus, it may become a routine feature of postoperative management in these patients.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Colon / surgery*
  • Elective Surgical Procedures
  • Enteral Nutrition*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Postoperative Care*
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Rectum / surgery*
  • Time Factors