New guidelines for enhanced recovery from colon and rectal surgery highlight the small steps that can add up to big improvements in patient outcomes.

“I think one of the most surprising aspects” of the guidelines – a joint effort from the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS) and the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons (SAGES) – “is how enhanced recovery in many ways involves all the little things,” said senior author Scott Steele, MD, FACS, chairman of the department of colorectal surgery at the Cleveland Clinic (Dis Colon Rectum. 2017 Aug;60[8]:761-84. doi: 10.1097/DCR.0000000000000883 ). The guideline includes 24 literature-based recommendations covering everything from preoperative stoma counseling to postop chewing gum, all rated by quality of evidence.

“Many are easy to incorporate into day-to-day practice: getting [patients] out of bed, avoiding nasogastric tubes, not giving as much IV fluid as we used to, having patients take oral food and drink right after surgery, and having nursing/anesthesia/surgeons all on the same page and understanding that … multidisciplinary, multisetting care leads to the best outcomes,” he said.

ASCRS and SAGES joined forces after noting that previous guidelines for enhanced recovery – perhaps better known as enhanced recovery after surgery, or ERAS, protocols – are dated, including studies only up to 2012; much has been published since then.

Preop measures

Some of the new recommendations encourage closer patient involvement with care. For instance, the groups strongly recommend discussing goals and discharge criteria with patients before surgery. Recent work has found that compliance and success go up when patients understand what’s going on, and length of stay and complications go down. For similar reasons, stoma education, stoma marking, and counseling on avoiding dehydration should happen preoperatively.

Meanwhile, “although there appear to be no meaningful benefits of [mechanical bowel prep (MBP)] alone in terms of complications,” the groups made a weak recommendation for MBP plus oral antibiotics before surgery. “A meta-analysis of seven RCTs comparing MBP with [antibiotics] versus MBP alone showed a reduction in total surgical site infection and incisional site infection,” they noted.

ASCRS and SAGES strongly recommended that patients drink clear fluids in the 2 hours before surgery, and also recommended carbohydrate loading – specifically drinks high in complex carbohydrates – in nondiabetic patients to attenuate insulin resistance induced by surgery and starvation.

The groups also recommended preset orders to standardize care, and care bundles to reduce surgical site infections. Measures could include preop chlorhexidine showers, ertapenem (Invanz) within an hour of incision, gown and glove changes before fascial closure, and washing incisions with chlorhexidine during recovery.

Pain control

“A multimodal, opioid-sparing, pain management plan should be … implemented before the induction of anesthesia” for earlier return of bowel function and shorter lengths of stay, they said in a strong recommendation. “One of the simplest techniques to limit opioid intake is to schedule narcotic alternatives, such as oral acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and gabapentin, rather than giving them on an as-needed basis.” The risk of anastomotic leaks with NSAIDs appears to be most pronounced when patients are on them for more than 3 days.

Wound infiltration and abdominal trunk blocks with liposomal bupivacaine have shown promising results, as well. “Limited data demonstrate that the (TAP) block with a local anesthetic [is] associated with decreased length of stay … TAP blocks performed before surgery appear to provide better analgesia than TAP blocks performed at the end,” the groups said.

ASCRS and SAGES strongly recommended thoracic epidural analgesia for open colorectal cases, but not for routine use in laparoscopic cases. “The modest analgesic benefits provided by TEA do not support a faster recovery in laparoscopic surgery,” they said, noting that at least in open cases, infusion of a local anesthetic and a lipophilic opioid seems to work better than either option alone.

They also strongly recommended that surgery teams preempt postop nausea and vomiting. Dexamethasone at anesthesia induction and ondansetron at emergence is a common option for patients at risk. Others include total intravenous anesthesia, intravenous acetaminophen, and gabapentin.

Fluid management

Intraoperative crystalloids have to be managed to avoid volume overload and its bad effects. “A maintenance infusion of 1.5-2 mL/kg/h of balanced crystalloid solution is sufficient to cover the needs derived from salt water homeostasis during major abdominal surgery,” ASCRS and SAGES said in a strong recommendation.

“The neuroendocrine response induced by surgical trauma leads to a physiologic reduction of urine output that, in the absence of other signs of hypovolemia, should not trigger additional fluid administration.” Also, “crystalloid or colloid preloading does not prevent hypotension induced by neuraxial blockade … hypotension induced by epidural analgesia should be managed by reducing the epidural infusion rate and with small doses of vasopressors” – not IV fluids – “so long at the patient is normovolemic,” they noted.

Intravenous fluids should be stopped after recovery room discharge, and clear fluids encouraged as soon as patients can tolerate them.

Postop care

ASCRS and SAGES made strong recommendations for minimally invasive surgery when possible, and for avoiding intra-abdominal drains and nasogastric tubes, both recommendations that support current practice in many places. NG tubes can push oral intake back 2 days, and there’s no evidence that abdominal drains prevent anastomotic leaks, plus there can be complications with both.

The groups also strongly recommended early and progressive patient mobilization to shorten length of stay, and a regular diet immediately after surgery.

As for the chewing gum, “sham feeding (i.e., chewing sugar-free gum for [at least] 10 minutes 3-4 times per day) after colorectal surgery is safe, results in small improvements in GI recovery” – flatus and bowel moments happen sooner – “and may be associated with a reduction in the length of hospital stay.” The groups strongly recommended it based on high-quality evidence

Alvimopan was also a strong recommendation to reverse increased GI transit time and constipation from opioids after open cases. “Several RCTs and pooled post hoc analyses showed accelerated time to recovery of GI function with 6- and 12-mg doses compared with placebo and a significantly shorter hospital length of stay in the alvimopan 12-mg group.” It’s unclear at this point, however, if alvimopan has a role in laparoscopic cases, the groups said.

To reduce the risk of urinary tract infections, they said urinary catheters should be pulled within 24 hours of elective colonic or upper rectal resection not involving a vesicular fistula, and within 48 hours of midrectal/lower rectal resections, which carry a greater risk of urinary retention.

ASCRS and SAGES funded the work. Seven of the 10 authors, including Dr. Steele, had no financial disclosures. One author is a speaker for Pacira Pharmaceuticals, and her institution has received unrestricted educational grants from the company. Another author reported grant support from Medtronic and Merck, maker of alvimopan and ertapenem, and a third reported collaborations with Medtronic and Johnson & Johnson.


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