Only 4 controlled trials have investigated whether prophylactic abdominal drainage was of value after colonic resection. None have been able to find any statistically significant difference, but the number of patients was small and the β error risk was high.
To compare patients who underwent abdominal drainage with those who did not for the rate and severity of complications after elective colonic resection followed immediately by anastomosis of the suprapromontory colon and to compare suction drains with nonsuction drains.
Between September 1990 and June 1995, 319 patients (135 men and 184 women), whose mean age was 67 years (range, 22-95 years), with carcinoma, benign tumors, or colitis, located anywhere between the ascending and sigmoid colons, were included in the study. Patients were comparable for demographic characteristics, except that there were more patients with ascites in the group that did not undergo abdominal drainage (P<.02).
After 2 protocol violations, 156 patients were randomized to the abdominal drainage group and 161 to the no abdominal drainage group. All 317 anastomoses were tested for airtightness intraoperatively and repaired if leakage was found (n=71), and all patients with anastomoses received a routine diatrizoate sodium enema to detect infraclinical leakage.
Main Outcome Measures
The postoperative complications possibly influenced by drainage included (1) deep complications for which drainage can lead to early diagnosis, such as generalized or localized peritonitis, intra-abdominal hemorrhage, or hematoma; (2) complications believed to be enhanced by drainage, such as an operative wound (an abscess, disruption, or incisional hernia) or pulmonary (microatelectasis) and intestinal obstructions; and (3) complications directly due to the drains, such as ulcerations leading to fistulae, hemorrhages, drainage tract infections, difficulty in removal, intra-abdominal retention, and incisional disruptions. Subsidiary end points were the severity of these complications as assessed by the number of related subsequent operations and deaths.
Twenty-six patients overall (8%) had postoperative complications possibly influenced by drainage (9% in the group that underwent abdominal drainage and 8% in the group that did not). This difference was not statistically significant (P<.90). One patient had a fistula directly imputable to drainage. There was no difference between suction and nonsuction drainage (P<.90).
Routine abdominal drainage after colonic resection and immediate anastomosis decreases neither the rate nor the severity of anastomotic leakage. It can, occasionally, be detrimental.