Postoperative ileus (POI) is a common complication following colon and rectal surgery, with reported incidence ranging from 10 to 30%. It can lead to increased morbidity, cost, and length of stay. Although definitions vary considerably in the literature, in its pathologic form, it can be characterized by a temporary inhibition of gastrointestinal motility after surgical intervention due to nonmechanical causes that prevents sufficient oral intake. Various risk factors for development of POI have been identified including increasing age, American Society of Anesthesiologists scores 3 to 4, open approach, operative difficulty, operative duration more than 3 hours, bowel handling, drop in hematocrit or need for a transfusion, increasing crystalloid administration, and delayed mobilization. While treatment is expectant and supportive, significant investigations into strategies to mitigate development of POI or shorten its duration have been undertaken with mixed results. There is significant evidence to suggest that a minimally invasive approach and multimodal pain regimens reduce the development of POI. The beneficial effect of chewing gum, alvimopan, and enhanced recovery after surgery protocols may decrease development of POI in selected groups of patients who undergo elective colorectal surgery, and shorten time to return of bowel function, but overall, the data remain inconclusive.
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