A retrospective analysis was undertaken of the records of 107 patients with Crohn's disease of the colon or with ulcerative colitis who underwent 162 operations under steroid cover. The study revealed no correlation between steroid dosage and postoperative morbidity or mortality. The incidence of wound dehiscence and incisional hernia compared favourably with the reports of other unselected series of similar patients. Contamination did significantly influence results. Septic complications were more frequent when the operative field was contaminated and both delayed wound healing and mortality were related to this sepsis. A `clean and dirty' technique was effective in controlling contamination during elective bowel division but preoperative bowel perforation and accidental entry into the lumen of the bowel during dissection were potentially avoidable sources of contamination. Primary healing of the perineal wound after proctocolectomy was seldom achieved in contaminated patients where a drain tube was brought out through the main perineal incision. When perineal sinuses or fistulae followed a proctocolectomy, patients with Crohn's disease had a significantly slower rate of healing than did patients with ulcerative colitis. However, there was no difference in the healing of abdominal wounds in relation to the primary pathology. Even abdominal incisions which were used on more than one occasion healed as well as those which were used for the first time. A prophylactic antibiotic regime of either ampicillin or tetracycline offered little protection against postoperative sepsis. The organisms which caused such infections were often insensitive to the two antibiotics.
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