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Bowel cleansing techniques

Last reviewed dd mmm yyyy. Last edited dd mmm yyyy

Authoring team

The aims of bowel cleansing techniques are:

  • clearance of the bowel of faecal material
  • reduction of bacterial flora

Bowel cleansing is achieved with a combination of the following:

  • dietary restriction: the patient is usually admitted 3 days prior to surgery and placed on a low fibre, low residue diet. 24 hours prior to surgery the patient is then placed on only free fluids.
  • use of purgatives: laxatives such as picolax may be given the morning before surgery, and a second dose the afternoon before surgery. Care should be taken however if there is risk of perforation.
  • bowel enemas and distal bowel washouts: washouts should be continued until evacuation is clear
  • bowel sterilisations - this is performed on occassion with non-absorbed oral antibacterial agents, e.g. neomycin. These are necessary if mannitol is used in order to prevent bacterial fermentation and gas formation - diathermy may trigger an explosion.

Great care should be taken when using purgatives in the presence of bowel obstruction as there is a risk of perforating the bowel. In cases of complete obstruction, only distal washouts and enemas can be given.

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