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Chewing Gum May Aid Recovery From Surgery

Gum May Spell Relief From Post-Operative Gas Pain and Bloating
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WebMD Health News

May 3, 2004 (Philadelphia) -- Sometimes it is the little things that make all the difference in the way a person recovers from surgery -- the really little things like a stick of gum.

Ding Ding Kelly Lee, MD, an ob-gyn at Long Island College Hospital in New York, tells WebMD that the day after a hysterectomy or other gynecologic surgery is usually a long and painful day, marked by gas pain and bloating (common side effects of surgery). But she says that chewing gum three times a day starting the day after the surgery leads to speedier relief of gas pains, which means a quicker return to normal diet.

She says, too, that women who chew gum may be able to spend less time in the hospital after surgery, but she says her study was too small to offer proof for shorter hospital stays. Lee conducted the study while she was completing her obstetrics and gynecology training at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York.

Passing Gas Faster

Women who chewed gum passed gas about 11 hours faster -- an average of 44 hours after surgery -- than women who didn't chew gum, she says.

When people talk about "pain after stomach surgery, they are usually talking about gas pain," says Lee. She says that most stomach surgeries disturb the bowel in some way. "Anytime you touch the bowel, it shuts down," Lee says.

A few years ago some Japanese surgeons reported that gum chewing soon after surgery appears to "re-start" the bowel, which allows gas to pass, thus easing pain.

"But that study only had 19 patients, "she says.

In her study, she enrolled 64 women who had various gynecologic surgeries such as hysterectomy or surgical removal of the ovaries. Thirty-one women were given chewing gum and "I told them to chew gum three times at day for a half-hour to an hour each time. They were told to continue the three-times-daily gum chewing until they passed flatus [gas]," she says. The other 34 women had just normal post-operative care.

Stimulates Saliva

Mark Perlman, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan Medical School, tells WebMD that the study is "interesting. Other studies have shown that resuming normal diets sooner rather than later after surgery can also help the bowel return to normal. What happens is that eating stimulates saliva production and this seems to help the bowel. Of course, gum chewing stimulates saliva even more, so that may explain this slight benefit."

But Perlman noted that even though the women who chewed gum were able to pass gas sooner than the women in the control group, "they didn't get out of the hospital any sooner. So I'm not sure this is a great benefit."

Moreover, Perlman says that after surgery some women have lingering effects from anesthesia. "In those women, chewing gum could present a choking risk," he says. Perlman was not involved in the study, but he chaired the scientific program committee at the 52nd annual clinical meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists where Lee presented her findings.

Lee agrees that the gum chewing women weren't discharged faster, but she says that a shorter period of discomfort from gas is a benefit. Moreover, "there was really no downside to gum chewing. It is safe, cheap, and many women liked the mint taste rather than the dry mouth associated with surgery."

SOURCE: 52nd Annual Clinical Meeting American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Ding Ding Kelly Lee, MD. Mark Perlman, MD.

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