South African Journal of Surgery

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The absolute number of repeat operations for complex intra-abdominal sepsis is not a useful predictor of non-survival

M.F. Scriba, G.L. Laing, J.L. Bruce, D.L. Clarke


Introduction: When multiple repeat laparotomies are required to manage intra-abdominal sepsis, questions about futility of treatment frequently arise. This study focuses specifically on patients who required two or more repeat laparotomies and describes the spectrum of disease necessitating multiple repeat laparotomies and the associated outcomes in the hope of clarifying the issue.

Methods: This study was conducted over a 20-month period (December 2012 – July 2014) at Greys Hospital in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. All surgical patients at Greys Hospital have admission, discharge and operative data prospectively entered into a computerised electronic registry, the Hybrid Medical Electronic Registry (HEMR). The ethics approval required to maintain this registry has been obtained from the Biomedical Research Ethics Committee (BCA221/13 BREC) of the University of KwaZulu-Natal and from the Research Unit of the Department of Health. Full ethical approval for this study was granted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Biomedical Research Ethics Committee (BE047/14). All patients aged 13 years and older who needed at least two repeat laparotomies were included in the study. This included general surgical and trauma patients.

Results: During the study period, 72 patients required more than one repeat laparotomy and a total of 182 repeat laparotomy operations were performed on this patient cohort. Demographics showed a male predominance, with 54 (75%) being male and 18 (25%) being female patients. The average age was 39 years. General surgical patients accounted for 60% and trauma patients for 40% of the total. The majority of patients required only two repeat laparotomy (65 %), while two patients required a total of 6 repeat laparotomy each, both with an initial diagnosis of appendicitis and both these patients survived. Temporary abdominal closure (TAC) was performed in 26 (36%) of initial laparotomies, while 33 (46%) of patients had an open abdomen at the time of discharge or death. Sixty percent required intensive care or high care unit (ICU/HCU) admission and 53 patients (74%) had a total of 71 documented morbidities. Total mortality for this study was 21%, however there was no correlation between number of procedures and mortality.

Conclusion: The total number of procedures is associated with increased morbidity rates but not necessarily with increased mortality rates. This is important to consider when the issue of futility of treatment arises, as the absolute number of repeat laparotomies is a poor marker of futility and other factors must be considered.

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