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Outcomes of full-term infants with bilious vomiting: observational study of a retrieved cohort


Bilious vomiting in a neonate may be a sign of intestinal obstruction often resulting in transfer requests to surgical centres. The aim of this study was to assess the use of clinical findings at referral in predicting outcomes and to determine how often such patients have a time-critical surgical condition (eg, volvulus, where a delay in treatment is likely to compromise gut viability).

Methods 4-year data and outcomes of all term newborns aged ≤7 days with bilious vomiting transferred by a regional transfer service were analysed. Specificity, sensitivity, likelihood ratios, correlations, prior and posterior probability of clinical findings in predicting newborns with surgical diagnosis were calculated.

Results Of 163 neonates with bilious vomiting, 75 (46%) had a surgical diagnosis and 23 (14.1%) had a time-critical surgical condition. The diagnosis of a surgical condition in neonates with bilious vomiting was significantly associated with abdominal distension (χ2=5.17, p=0.023), abdominal tenderness (χ2=5.90, p=0.015) and abnormal abdominal X-ray findings (χ2=5.68, p=0.017) but not with palpation findings of a soft as compared with a tense abdomen (χ2=3.21, p=0.073). Abnormal abdominal X-ray, abdominal distension and tenderness had 97%, 74% and 62% sensitivity, respectively, with regard to association with an underlying surgical diagnosis. Normal abdominal X-ray reduced the posterior probability of surgical diagnosis from 50% to 16%. Overall, clinical findings at referral did not differentiate between infants with or without surgical or time-critical condition.

Conclusions We recommend that term neonates with bilious vomiting referred for transfer are prioritised as time critical.

  • Paediatric Practice
  • Neonatology
  • Paediatric Surgery

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