A surgical procedure called a colonectomy removes part or all of the large intestine. A common side effect of this surgery is known as postoperative ileus (POI) in which bowel movement is impaired following surgery and can take 48 to 72 hours to recover.
Common symptoms experienced by patients with POI include bloating, pain, nausea and vomiting, an inability to pass stools, and an inability to eat solid food. There is also a greater risk for other complications that can prolong the time they must stay in the hospital. This, of course, results in higher health care costs.
A recently published study of 66 patients was designed to determine the usefulness of gum chewing to shortening the time to recovery from POI.
The patients were divided into 3 groups: no treatment, acupressure wrist bracelet (which was considered a placebo), and gum chewing.
There was no difference among the groups of patients in the time to the first bowel movement following surgery or in the duration of hospitalization.
These results differ from another study of 34 patients published just three months earlier which showed a statistically significant difference in the time to first bowel movement with gum chewers vs placebo. Ultimately, there was no difference in the length of hosptal stay, however.
Shortening the time needed to get patients well enough to leave the hospital following surgery is one way to control healthcare costs. It’s not surprising that studies of such small populations show discrepant results. However, at this time it does not appear that simple procedures such as using an acupressure wrist bracelet or gum chewing is helpful in achieving an earlier hospital discharge.
John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at www.Vicus.com, a complementary and alternative medicine website.