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Mechanical bowel preparation for elective colorectal surgery may not improve outcome for patients

Güenaga KF, Matos D, Wille-Jørgensen P
Published Online: 
7 September 2011

Until recently it was thought that vigorous preoperative mechanical cleansing of the bowel (mechanical bowel preparation), together with the use of oral antibiotics, reduced the risk of septic complications after non-emergency (elective) colorectal operations. Mechanical bowel preparation was performed routinely prior to colorectal surgery until 1972, when this procedure started to be questioned. Well designed clinical trials were published, and their results caused some colorectal surgeons to doubt this traditional belief.

This review has identified all known trials that compared any kind of mechanical bowel preparation with no preparation (Comparison 1) and mechanical bowel preparation with rectal enema (Comparison 2) in patients submitted to elective colorectal surgery.  Five new trials have been included in this third update of the review, bringing the total number of included trials to 18 (5805 participants). Analysis of these 18 trials showed no statistically significant differences in how well the three groups of patients (mechanical bowel preparation group, no preparation group and rectal enemas) did after surgery in terms of leakage at the surgical seam of the bowel ends, mortality rates, peritonitis, need for reoperation, wound infection, and other non-abdominal complications.  Consequently, there is no evidence that mechanical bowel preparation improves the outcome for patients. Further research on mechanical bowel preparation or enemas versus no preparation in patients submitted for elective rectal surgery and laparoscopic colorectal surgery is warranted.