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Colorectal Cancer Health Center

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Gum May Aid Colon Surgery Recovery

Chewing Gum May Reduce Time in Hospital After Colon Surgery, Study Shows
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 21, 2006 -- Chewing gum may shorten hospital stays after colon surgery, new research shows.

The findings, published in the Archives of Surgery, come from Rob Schuster, MD, and colleagues. The doctors work in the surgery department of California's Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

The study included 34 people who had part of their colon removed due to cancer or recurrent diverticulitis, in which pouches form in the colon wall and become inflamed or infected. After such surgery, it takes time for the intestines to start working normally.

Prolonged delay in bowel function (ileus) may lead to longer hospital stays, infections, or other complications, the researchers write, adding that other abdominal surgeries can also lead to development of ileus. Common symptoms of ileus include pain, vomiting, and abdominal swelling.

Prescription: Chew Gum

Half of the patients chewed sugarless gum three times daily -- for an hour each time -- until leaving the hospital. They chewed gum in the morning, afternoon, and evening.

For comparison, the other 17 patients didn't chew gum during their hospital stay.

The gum chewers were quicker to feel hungry, pass gas, have their first postoperative bowel movement, and leave hospital, the study shows.

The details:

  • Days in hospital: 4 for gum chewers; nearly 7 days for comparison group.
  • Hours from surgery to feeling hungry: 64 for gum chewers; 73 for comparison group.
  • Hours from surgery to passing gas: 65 for gum chewers; 80 for comparison group.
  • Hours from surgery to bowel movement: 63 for gum chewers; 89 for comparison group.

How It Works

Gum chewing may stimulate the digestive system, spurring it back into action after surgery, the researchers note.

Eating food and drinking water might do the same thing. But patients often can't tolerate eating and drinking soon after colon surgery, Schuster's team notes.

The patients they studied had no problem chewing gum as directed.

"It is also possible that alternatives to chewing sugarless gum could be more effective," the researchers write. "For example, might gum containing sugar, different flavors, or different textures be even more efficacious?"

Meanwhile, Schuster and colleagues call gum chewing an "inexpensive and helpful" addition to postoperative care for such patients.

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