Enteroatmospheric fistula: from soup to nuts

Sarah Majercik, Merin Kinikini, Thomas White
Nutrition in Clinical Practice 2012, 27 (4): 507-12
Enteroatmospheric fistula (EAF), a special subset of enterocutaneous fistula (ECF), is defined as a communication between the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the atmosphere. It is one of the most devastating complications of "damage control" laparotomy (DCL) and results in significant morbidity and mortality. The published incidence of EAF ranges from 5%-19% of patients who have undergone DCL and survived long enough to develop complications. Their etiology is complex and ranges from persistent abdominal infection, anastomotic leakage, adhesions of the bowel to itself or fascia, and repeated bowel manipulation during return trips to the operating room or dressing changes. Prevention is clearly the best treatment strategy but may be difficult to achieve. Once an EAF occurs, immediate management consists of treatment of sepsis if present; nutrition, fluid, and electrolyte support in the form of parenteral nutrition (PN); and wound/effluent control and protection of surrounding tissues and exposed bowel. It should be noted that EAF almost never close spontaneously, and definitive repair usually requires major surgical intervention and abdominal wall reconstruction 6 to 12 months after the original insult. Enteral feeding should be attempted once the anatomy of the EAF is defined and reliable enteral access is obtained. Most patients can tolerate some amount of enteral and even oral feeding and do not need to be maintained on PN alone. Professional judgment, experience, and teamwork are key to successfully managing the patient with EAF.

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