Clinical and Subclinical Leaks After Low Colorectal Anastomosis: A Clinical and Radiologic Study

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Abstract

Purpose:

This study was designed to examine the natural history of subclinical leaks and their effect on bowel function and quality of life and to evaluate water-soluble contrast enema features that predict anastomotic healing after leaks.

Methods:

Consecutive patients who underwent low rectal anastomosis were followed up postoperatively for leaks. All leaks were confirmed radiologically with CT scanning and water-soluble contrast enema imaging. Water-soluble contrast enemas were serially repeated to identify healing. Characteristics on initial water-soluble contrast enema were correlated with observed healing. Postoperatively, patients were required to fill in a quality of life and a bowel function questionnaire.

Results:

A total of 138 patients underwent low rectal anastomosis procedures with a median follow-up period of 26 (interquartile range, 19-37) months. There were 23 documented leaks of which 13 (9 percent) presented clinically and 10 (8 percent) presented subclinically. Ileostomy closure was possible in 4 of 13 (30 percent) patients with a clinical leak and all 10 (100 percent) patients with a subclinical leak. Median quality of life scores were lower for patients with clinical leaks and no ileostomy closure (P= 0.03). Bowel function for subclinical leak patients and clinical leak patients with ileostomy closure were similarly impaired. The presence of a cavity (P= 0.01) and a stricture (P= 0.01) at the anastomotic site were unfavorable radiologic features associated with nonhealing.

Conclusions:

Subclinical leaks are more benign in their natural history compared with clinical leaks. Quality of life and bowel function is no better in patients with a subclinical leak compared with patients with a clinical leak who have ileostomy closure. Anastomotic leaks may resolve if favorable radiologic features are present.

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