Having Bowel Surgery? Don’t Forget to Pack Your Chewing Gum!

Chewing gum after intestinal surgery can help reactivate paralyzed bowels and get patients out of the hospital sooner, according to a 2006 study published in the Archives of Surgery1.

Patients who have abdominal surgery often suffer a slowdown or shutdown of the bowels called ileus that causes pain, vomiting, and abdominal swelling, and they may not be able to tolerate food or even water.

In this study, researchers randomly divided 34 patients undergoing elective open sigmoid resections for recurrent diverticulitis or cancer into two groups, half who chewed gum following surgery, and half who did not. The patients in the gum-chewing group chewed sugarless gum three times daily for a one-hour duration each time until discharge.

Seventeen of 34 patients who chewed gum beginning a few hours after surgery passed gas several hours sooner than the half who did not chew and they had their first bowel movements an average of 63 hours after surgery compared with 89 hours for non-chewers.

Chewing stimulates nerves that promote the release of hormones responsible for activating the gastrointestinal system, the researchers report.

The gum chewers got out of the hospital an average of 4.3 days after surgery versus 6.8 days for non-chewers, reducing costs and lowering the risk of complications.

The study concluded that gum chewing is an inexpensive and helpful addition to postoperative care after bowel surgery.

First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 155 – May/June 2006
Archives of Surgery 2006;141:174-176.