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Clinical characteristics of chronic idiopathic intestinal pseudo-obstruction in adults


Background—Chronic idiopathic intestinal pseudo-obstruction, a syndrome of ineffectual motility due to a primary disorder of enteric nerve or muscle, is rare.

Aims—To determine the clinical spectrum, underlying pathologies, response to treatments, and prognosis in a consecutive unselected group of patients.

Methods—Cross sectional study of all patients with clinical and radiological features of intestinal obstruction in the absence of organic obstruction, associated with dilated small intestine (with or without dilated large intestine), being actively managed in one tertiary referral centre at one time.

Results—Twenty patients (11 men and nine women, median age 43 years, range 22–67) fulfilled the diganostic criteria. Median age at onset of symptoms was 17 years (range two weeks to 59 years). Two patients had an autosomally dominant inherited visceral myopathy. Major presenting symptoms were pain (80%), vomiting (75%), constipation (40%), and diarrhoea (20%). Eighteen patients required abdominal surgery, and a further patient had a full thickness rectal biopsy. The mean time interval from symptom onset to first operation was 5.8 years. Histology showed visceral myopathy in 13, visceral neuropathy in three, and was indeterminate in three. In the one other patient small bowel motility studies were suggestive of neuropathy. Two patients died within two years of symptom onset, one from generalised thrombosis and the other from an inflammatory myopathy. Of the remaining 18 patients, eight were nutritionally independent of supplements, two had gastrostomy or jejunostomy feeds, and eight were receiving home parenteral nutrition. Five patients were opiate dependent, only one patient had benefited from prokinetic drug therapy, and five patients required formal psychological intervention and support.

Conclusions—In a referral setting visceral myopathy is the most common diagnosis in this heterogeneous syndrome, the course of the illness is usually prolonged, and prokinetic drug therapies are not usually helpful. Ongoing management problems include pain relief and nutritional support.

  • adult
  • intestinal
  • pseudo-obstruction
  • myopathy
  • neuropathy

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