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.