A meta-analysis of selective versus routine nasogastric decompression after elective laparotomy

Ann Surg. 1995 May;221(5):469-76; discussion 476-8. doi: 10.1097/00000658-199505000-00004.


Objective: A meta-analysis of all published clinical trials comparing selective versus routine nasogastric decompression was performed in an attempt to evaluate the need for nasogastric decompression after elective laparotomy.

Background: Many studies have suggested that routine nasogastric decompression is unnecessary after elective laparotomy and may be associated with an increased incidence of complications. Despite these reports, many surgeons continue to practice routine nasogastric decompression, believing that its use significantly decreases the risk of postoperative nausea, vomiting, aspiration, wound dehiscence, and anastomotic leak.

Methods: A comprehensive search of the English language medical literature was performed to identify all published clinical trials evaluating nasogastric decompression. Twenty-six trials (3964 patients) met inclusion criteria. The outcome data extracted from each trial were subsequently "pooled" and analyzed for significant differences using the Mantel-Haenszel estimation of combined relative risk.

Results: Fever, atelectasis, and pneumonia were significantly less common and days to first oral intake were significantly fewer in patients managed without nasogastric tubes. Meta-analysis based on study quality revealed significantly fewer pulmonary complications, but significantly greater abdominal distension and vomiting in patients managed without nasogastric tubes. Routine nasogastric decompression did not decrease the incidence of any other complication.

Conclusions: Although patients may develop abdominal distension or vomiting without a nasogastric tube, this is not associated with an increase in complications or length of stay. For every patient requiring insertion of a nasogastric tube in the postoperative period, at least 20 patients will not require nasogastric decompression. Routine nasogastric decompression is not supported by meta-analysis of the literature.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Elective Surgical Procedures
  • Humans
  • Intubation, Gastrointestinal*
  • Laparotomy*
  • Postoperative Care*
  • Postoperative Complications*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity