Nonoperative management of esophageal perforations. Is it justified?

Ann Surg. 1997 Apr;225(4):415-21. doi: 10.1097/00000658-199704000-00011.


Objective: Experiences obtained with nonoperative treatment (NOT), i.e. total prohibition of per oral food intake for a minimum of 7 days, administration of combinations of broad-spectrum antibiotics, and parenteral hyperalimentation, are described in the management of esophageal perforations.

Summary background data: The place, value, and indication of NOT in the management of esophageal perforation has not yet been unequivocally defined. As a result, contradictory data have been published regarding the outcome of NOT.

Methods: During the past 15 years (1979 to 1994), 20 of 86 patients (23.3%) with esophageal perforation have been treated nonoperatively from the outset. In this group, perforations were located to the upper, middle, and lower third of the esophagus in 50%, 30%, and 20%, respectively. In the operative management group (OT)--in which conservative (drainage, endeprothesis), reconstructive (suture, reinforced suture), and radical (resection) surgical methods were applied--lesions were preponderantly located in the lower one third of the esophagus (56.1%--37/66). As to the interval between the perforation and the onset of treatment, 14 patients had been diagnosed within 24 hours, whereas in 6 cases treatment had been begun beyond 24 hours.

Results: NOT could be successfully carried out in 16 patients; the decision to use NOT had to be revised in 4 other cases (Table 1). Two patients were lost; the mortality rate was 10% (2 of 20). The rate of complications was lower in the NOT group (20%, or 4 of 20) than in the OT group (50%, or 33 of 66).

Conclusions: NOT can be suggested for the treatment of intramural perforations. In the case of transmural perforation, this approach should be taken into consideration if the esophageal lesion is circumscribed, is not in neoplastic tissue, is not in the abdominal cavity, and is not accompanied by simultaneous obstructive esophageal disease; in addition, symptoms and signs of septicemia should be absent.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Esophageal Perforation / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology