Traumatic small bowel perforation


Small bowel perforation is a type of hollow viscus injury, which is an uncommon finding in blunt trauma 1. The incidence of small bowel perforation was 0.3% in one study performed by Watts et al 2. Despite recent advances in CT, the false negative rate during CT pan scan is still relatively high. Hence, it is not uncommon for patients with traumatic small bowel perforation to present at a later stage, and hence have a higher morbidity and mortality.

Upon perforation, the accumulation of fluid and air in the peritoneum leads to a gradual onset of symptoms - abdominal pain and tenderness culminating in peritonitis.

CT is the investigation of choice for suspected small bowel perforation. Radiological signs which are seen include free peritoneal fluid, pneumoperitoneum, bowel wall thickening and/or dilatation. Other modalities including plain X-ray (looking for subphrenic air) and Focused Assessment with Sonography in Trauma (FAST) scans have a poor early detection rate of small bowel perforation 1.

Once diagnosed, surgical repair remains the mainstay of small bowel perforation management. 

Complications of small bowel perforation repair include wound infection and dehiscence, abscess formation and other systemic complications such as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and sepsis.

Case contributed by A/Prof. Pramit Phal.