Successful use of water-soluble contrast in patients with small bowel obstruction and virgin abdomen: A case report

Sergio Mazzola Poli de Figueiredo, Sara Demola

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction and importance: Nonoperative management of adhesive SBO is well established but remains a challenge in patients without prior abdominal surgery. We aim to report a case of successful nonoperative management with the use of enteral hypertonic water-soluble contrast administration in a patient with virgin abdomen. Case presentation: A healthy 24-year old man with no previous surgery presented to the emergency room with one day of abdominal pain. A CT abdomen and pelvis was consistent with SBO without clear anatomic etiology. The patient refused surgical intervention, so we performed a trial of nonoperative management. On hospital day 2, a repeat CT A/P with enterally administered water-soluble contrast showed resolution of SBO. The patient has had no symptoms since hospital discharge on 6 months follow up. Clinical discussion: Small bowel obstruction is most commonly secondary to adhesions from prior surgeries. Even in patients with virgin abdomen, adhesions are the cause of SBO in 53%–73%. Recent studies in patients with virgin abdomen showed that 92.1% that underwent nonoperative management did not have a recurrence of SBO with mean follow up of 4.5 years. The use of water-soluble contrast in patients with virgin abdomen was reported to have 92–97% success rate. A meta-analysis showed a pooled prevalence of 7.7% of malignant etiology of SBO in these patients, more common with previous SBO admission or history of malignancy. Conclusion: Nonoperative management with the therapeutic use of hypertonic water-soluble contrast is a viable treatment option in select cases and avoids the morbidity of surgical exploration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)94-96
Number of pages3
JournalInternational Journal of Surgery Case Reports
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Adhesions
  • Case report
  • Nonoperative management
  • Small bowel obstruction
  • Virgin abdomen
  • Water soluble contrast

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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