ported site of intestinal tract volvulation.
1 – 4
The symptom triad of constipation, severe
common in patients with sigmoid volvulus. Sigmoid
volvulus is responsible for 5% to 7% of all intestinal
and is the third leading cause of large
In the United States, sigmoid volvu-
persons with psychiatric disorders, or persons residing in
nursing homes or mental institutions.
age-groups more frequently than has been reported.
This report reviews the case of a 46-year-old previously
A 46-year-old African-American man with a history
of untreated hypertension presented to the emergency
department for evaluation of constipation that had
been present for 6 days and severe left lower quadrant
abdominal pain that had been present for 6 hours. He
was normotensive, nontachycardic, and in moderate
acute distress. He had no surgical history or significant
medical history. Physical examination revealed a distend-
ed abdomen with tympanic percussion tones in the
upper quadrants. Rectal examination revealed normal
mucosa and guaiac-negative stools. The patient devel-
oped nausea 4 hours prior to examination and began to
vomit in the emergency department.
Intravenous lines were placed and resuscitation was
started with normal saline. Results of a complete blood
count, serum electrolyte panel, assessment of amylase
and lipase values, liver function studies, and coagula-
tion profile were within normal limits. A nasogastric
tube and Foley catheter were placed. Surgical consulta-
tion was requested. Abdominal radiography demon-
strated a dilated sigmoid colon projecting into the
upper quadrants of the abdomen (Figure).
After the surgical team examined the patient and
reviewed the abdominal radiographs, sigmoidoscopy
and rectal tube placement were scheduled for reduc-
tion of a sigmoid volvulus. The patient also consented
to laparotomy in the event that nonviable mucosa was
encountered on sigmoidoscopy. Sigmoidoscopy dem-
onstrated pink viable mucosa with a contracted seg-
ment of colon suggestive of torsion. A rectal tube was
left in place for 48 hours, and the patient underwent
sigmoid resection 2 days after reduction of the volvu-
lus. The patient’s course following surgery was un-
eventful, and he was discharged 3 days after surgery.
The worldwide incidence of sigmoid volvulus is un-
known. In the United States patients with sigmoid
volvulus are typically older than age 50 years. These
patients are often elderly, have neurologic or psychi-
atric conditions, or are residents of nursing homes or
mental health care facilities. Chronic constipation is a
common symptom of sigmoid volvulus in these pa-
tients. However, there are reports of younger individu-
als presenting with a medical history of intermittent
abdominal pain as a sign of sigmoid volvulus.
7 – 10
nationally, the pediatric age-group is the second most
affected population in areas of roundworm infestation,
such as Africa, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific. In
a review by Ballantyne,
sigmoid volvulus was more com-
Women are thought to have a lower incidence because
of a wider pelvis. Sigmoid volvulus causes 5% to 7% of
all intestinal bowel obstructions, with a mortality rate as
high as 20% to 25% depending on the time interval
from symptom onset to treatment.
In the United States, a long, redundant sigmoid
colon—commonly seen in patients with illnesses such
as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord
injuries, and psychiatric disorders—is the major cause
of sigmoid volvulus. Inhibition of colonic motility by
ent colonic dysmotility properties of the primary disease
lead to sigmoid elongation. This redundant, enlarged
bowel causes the approximation of 2 limbs of sigmoid
colon and predisposes the limbs to twist around the
mesenteric axis. Similarly, the patient with congenitally
narrow sigmoid mesentery is predisposed to sigmoid
volvulus due to increased mobility of the colon. Hirsch-
sprung’s disease affects the myenteric plexus of the
colon and also predisposes the patient to sigmoid vol-
Chronic constipation, most often resulting from the
care facilities, is also a cause of sigmoid volvulus sec-
ondary to sigmoid enlargement. Another important
etiologic factor is the repetitive use of laxatives, cathar-
tic agents, and enemas. The etiology of sigmoid volvulus
in younger patients has been thought to be a congenital
megasigmoid with additional stimuli, such as purgation,
diet, fecal loading, active peristalsis, or pregnancy.
Outside the United States, sigmoid volvulus may be
industrialized countries often have high-residue diets
that may result in overloading and enlargement of the
sigmoid colon, prompting rotation around the root of
the mesentery. The myenteric plexus of the bowel is
affected by Chagas’ disease, resulting in megacolon
and predisposing the patient to sigmoid volvulus.
Roundworm infestation is prevalent in more than
1 million persons worldwide and causes sigmoid en-
largement secondary to constipation.
Because patients with sigmoid volvulus often pre-
sent with debilitated physical status resulting from neu-
rologic or psychiatric illness, it may not be possible to
obtain a coherent and complete medical history from
the patient. A patient history should be obtained from
family or caregivers. A history of recent weight loss may
signal a coexisting condition. Patients with dehydration
from vomiting and/or third-spacing of fluid caused by
bowel obstruction may present with hypovolemic
shock. Prompt resuscitation with crystalloid should
begin immediately. Because of underlying illness, resus-
citation may not improve the patient’s mental status.
The abdomen should be examined for surgical scars. A
gastrostomy tube that is vented without significant
improvement of the abdominal distention may signal a
distal or complete obstruction. Leukocytosis and
guaiac-positive stools may be an indicator of bowel
ischemia. A distended and painful abdomen with
guaiac-positive stools may indicate a need for laparoto-
my after resuscitation.
The diagnosis of sigmoid volvulus is made by physi-
cal examination and radiographic studies. Abdominal
radiographs demonstrate a markedly distended sig-
moid colon with a convex superior margin projecting
into the right upper quadrant of the abdomen. This
section of sigmoid colon is often devoid of haustral
markings (Figure). A “coffee bean” or “omega loop”
sign has been described on abdominal radiograph.
These terms refer to the 2 large compartments of dis-
tended sigmoid colon with central double walls of
colon and a single outer wall, which assume the shape
of a coffee bean or omega loop. Computed tomogra-
phy scan has been used to rule out other etiologies of
obstruction and colonic ischemia in patients with sig-
Contrast enema can be used as a diagnostic study as
well as a therapeutic radiographic study that can
reduce the sigmoid volvulus and provide immediate
relief of the patient’s symptoms. On radiography, a
“bird’s beak” sign can be demonstrated at the torsion
point of the sigmoid. A limited enema using water-
soluble contrast material can be performed in patients
for whom perforation is suspected. Contrast enema
ed colon with an “omega loop” projecting into the right upper
quadrant. The right colon is distended with signs of fecal stasis.
Although the patient experiences dramatic relief of
Recurrence rates of sigmoid volvulus after contrast
enema are 80% to 90%, and sigmoid resection is rec-
ommended as definitive treatment. Although air ene-
mas have been described in the reduction of intestinal
intussusception, no data are available to support their
use in sigmoid volvulus.
Sigmoidoscopy with insertion of a rectal tube be-
yond the obstruction point is a safe and fast method
for diagnosis that allows thorough assessment of the
bowel mucosa and that has therapeutic value as well.
Sigmoidoscopy for reduction of sigmoid volvulus was
first described by Bruusgaard.
It can be performed in
enema, sigmoidoscopy with rectal tube placement is an
acute management strategy.
The 3 goals of the therapy for the patient with
sigmoid volvulus are (1) resuscitation of the patient,
(2) acute reduction of the volvulus and relief of the
colonic obstruction, and (3) prevention of recurrence
of the volvulus. It is essential that patients be fluid
resuscitated on presentation to the hospital. Electrolyte
abnormalities and fluid deficits may be present. The
patient’s ability to survive invasive procedures, includ-
ing surgery, may depend on appropriate resuscitation.
Fluid resuscitation may be accomplished with lactated
Ringer’s solution or normal saline. Premorbid heart
conditions may require invasive monitoring of filling
pressures. A Foley catheter, at the very least, should be
placed to monitor urine output.
Acute reduction of the volvulus by either detorsion
or resection is the second goal of therapy. The manage-
ment approach is contingent on the hemodynamic sta-
bility of the patient and the presence or absence of
necrotic bowel. Patients with viable mucosa may under-
go delayed resection after sigmoidoscopy or contrast
studies with rectal tube placement beyond the torsion
point. It is important that this rectal tube be secured in
place. Patients who have necrotic colon mucosa should
undergo detorsion and immediate resection.
Prevention of recurrence of the volvulus involves
surgical resection. Patients who are hemodynamically
stable with viable bowel are candidates for laparoscopic
resection. After bowel preparation, resection of the sig-
moid without diversion is the procedure of choice. For
patients with compromised bowel or hemodynamic
instability, we recommend laparotomy.
Arnold and Nance
reported a 15% mortality rate
sode of sigmoid volvulus and a 9% mortality rate for
those who undergo resection after recurrence of sig-
moid volvulus; the data demonstrated higher mortality
rates for patients older than age 70 years. If these older
patients are hemodynamically stable with viable bowel,
some surgeons advocate acute management by detor-
sion without surgery for a first episode of sigmoid
volvulus. Patients younger than age 70 years who are
hemodynamically stable with viable bowel should
undergo detorsion with resection. These data are
rather old, however, and we propose that the patient’s
overall physiologic and functional status should be
evaluated before recommending surgery. We also ex-
pect that, with appropriate perioperative care, some
octogenarian patients with sigmoid volvulus will have a
good outcome after resection. Clinicians should recog-
nize that some patients and their families will refuse oper-
ative management because of the overall prognosis and
will instead opt for palliative decompression or analgesia.
Grossmann et al
reported on 228 patients with sig-
70 years, and higher mortality was associated with
emergency surgery and the presence of necrotic
bowel. The mortality rate in this series was 6% for elec-
tive operations versus 24% for emergency surgeries.
Kuzu et al
reviewed 106 patients with sigmoid volvu-
to 11% when necrotic bowel was present. Bhatnagar et
demonstrated that when necrotic bowel is present,
the rectum and descending colon. This finding predis-
poses to failure of the anastomoses constructed during
primary repair operations.
Percutaneous endoscopic sigmoidopexy has been
described as a treatment for sigmoid volvulus but is not
the standard of care.
Mesosigmoidoplasty has been
grenous sigmoid volvulus but is not first-line therapy.
Martinez et al
demonstrated that endoscopic reduc-
tion of sigmoid volvulus can be performed with high
efficacy, but recurrence rates are high. Although all of
these authors have reported small series of creative
management strategies for sigmoid volvulus, the defini-
tive therapy remains sigmoid resection.
Sigmoid volvulus is a surgical emergency that com-
monly occurs in patients older than age 50 years but
can occur in younger age-groups. An accurate patient
history and physical examination followed by prompt
resuscitation is essential. Detorsion of the bowel and
rectal tube is placed to maintain the reduction in the
preoperative evaluation and stabilization period. A sig-
moid colectomy is then performed. Findings of is-
chemic colonic mucosa mandate immediate operative
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