Cecal perforation has been well established as a consequence of mechanical obstruction of the distal colon and has been estimated to occur in 1.5% to 7% of patients with colon obstruction. Perforation of the cecum also occurs in cases of non-obstructive colonic dilatation (NCD). Although the incidence is unknown, the mortality rate is nearly 50%. Over an eight-year period, 44 patients (mean age 59 years) underwent 52 colonoscopic examinations for presumed NCD. Twelve patients (27%) developed NCD while convalescing from a recent operation and 29 patients (66%) had major systemic disorders that preceded the development of NCD. Medical treatment for an average of 2.6 days was uniformly unsuccessful. Mean cecal diameter prior to colonoscopy was 12.8 cm (range 9.5 to 17 cm). Based on radiographic or clinical criteria, 38 patients (86%) were successfully decompressed on the initial colonoscopic examination; mean cecal diameter decreased to 8.7 cm (p < 0.01). Perforation of the cecum during colonoscopy occurred in one patient (2%) who survived. Fourteen patients died; six deaths were attributed solely to the patient's underlying disease, and eight deaths occurred in patients who underwent operation. In summary, colonoscopy is a safe and effective therapeutic and diagnostic tool in cases of massive cecal dilatation. It should be considered before cecostomy in patients without radiographic evidence of pneumoperitoneum or clinical signs of peritoneal irritation.
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