Colonoscopy performed within 24 hours of lower gastrointestinal bleeding appears safe and well tolerated but does not appear to improve a number of important clinical outcomes when compared with elective colonoscopy, according to the findings of a systematic review and meta-analysis.

Such “urgent colonoscopy” may, however, reduce hospital length of stay and cost, Abdul M. Kouanda, MD , of the University of California, San Francisco, and his colleagues reported online in Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.

In a pooled analysis of data from 12 studies with a total of 10,172 patients who underwent urgent colonoscopy, and 14,224 patients who underwent elective colonoscopy, the former was associated with increased use of endoscopic therapeutic interventions, compared with elective colonoscopy (relative risk, 1.70), but not with improved bleeding source localization (RR, 1.08), adverse event rates (RR, 1.05), rebleeding rates (RR, 1.14), transfusion requirements (RR, 1.02), or mortality (RR, 1.17), the investigators found (Gastrointest Endosc. 2017 Feb 4. doi: 10.1016/j.gie.2017.01.035 ).

The findings are based on nine studies from the United States, two from Japan, and one from Spain. Nine were retrospective cohort studies, two were randomized controlled trials, and one was a prospective cohort study.

With respect to the 70% greater use of therapeutic interventions with urgent colonoscopy, a subanalysis showed that the difference between urgent and elective colonoscopy was evident only in the randomized trials; no difference was seen in the prospective trials. With further stratification of urgent colonoscopy into procedures performed within 12 hours, the observation of increased therapeutic interventions was no longer statistically significant (RR, 3.46), they said.

As for bleeding source localization, the outcomes remained similar when retrospective studies were analyzed separately, and with colonoscopy performed within 12 hours. Blood transfusions decreased with urgent colonoscopy when only retrospective studies were analyzed (RR, 0.84).

The investigators noted that there was a trend toward decreased length of hospital stay among those undergoing urgent colonoscopy (mean of 4.8 days vs. 6.4 days with elective colonoscopy). Only two studies looked at cost: One showed a decrease in hospital costs with urgent vs. elective colonoscopy, while one showed no difference.

“In our pooled analysis, the mean hospital costs in the urgent colonoscopy group were $24,866, compared with $27,691 in the elective group; however, the difference between the two was not statistically significant,” they wrote.

The annual incidence of lower gastrointestinal bleeding (LGIB) in the United States is 20.5-35.7 out of 100,000 patients, and the incidence increases with age; there is a 200-fold increase in incidence from the 3rd to 9th decade of life, the investigators said, adding that the incidence is rising as the population ages.

“Such a trend has important implications for both the quality of care for treating LGIB and the associated costs to the overall U.S. health care system,” they wrote, noting that while colonoscopy is appropriate for evaluating LGIB in most cases, no clear consensus exists with respect to timing of colonoscopy.

Even a recent American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy guideline recommending that initial colonoscopy for severe and hemodynamically stable hematochezia be performed within 8-24 hours of admission is based only on moderate-quality level evidence that is “fraught with a number of limitations,” they wrote.

The current study was designed to “further clarify the utility of urgent versus elective colonoscopy in evaluating patients hospitalized with a lower GI bleed,” they added.

The lack of clinical benefit seen in this study “may be secondary to the benign, often self-resolving natural history in the majority of LGIB cases. However, there may be a subset of patients who could benefit from early intervention (such as severe blood loss, hemodynamically unstable patients), and thus the decision to pursue urgent colonoscopy should be made on a case-by-case basis,” they said.

Further, although several critical patient outcomes did not appear to be impacted by urgent vs. elective colonoscopy in this study, the trends toward a decrease in length of stay suggest that earlier performance of colonoscopy may lead to earlier and better identification of low-risk and high-risk stigmata, allowing those with low-risk lesions to be discharged much earlier.

“Additionally, earlier discharge of patients could also reduce their risk of health care–associated infections and adverse events,” the investigators noted.

The findings with respect to length of stay and cost “align perfectly with the new focus in health care on providing high quality and safe care to patients while at the same time containing medical costs,” they wrote, adding that clinicians should carefully consider all factors when deciding to pursue urgent colonoscopy.”

The study is limited by heterogeneity and publications bias, and by factors inherent in meta-analyses, but it also has several strengths, including a large number of studies and patients. Also, it is the first of its kind to examine “all of the available literature to elucidate the time frame for performing colonoscopy in patients with hematochezia,” the investigators said, concluding that further research is needed to identify subsets of patients who will benefit from early intervention, to evaluate the cost effectiveness of urgent colonoscopy, and to look at – in larger randomized controlled trials – the overall benefit of urgent colonoscopy.

The authors reported having no disclosures.