Thursday, 27 October 2005 00:00

Chewing Gum Speeds Surgery Recovery

THURSDAY, Oct. 27 (HealthDay News) -- New research has given doctors and their patients something to chew on: Patients who use chewing gum have shorter hospital stays after laparoscopic colon surgery than those who don't.

In laparascopic surgery, surgeons use video-equipped tools inserted through a tiny incision to operate in a specific area.

"We know that patients who undergo laparoscopic surgery have a faster recovery and less pain than with traditional techniques. We wanted to see if we could do even better. People today want to get home as soon as possible, back to their lives and families," Dr. James McCormick, a laparoscopic surgeon at The Western Pennsylvania Hospital in Pittsburgh and a lead investigator in this study, explained in a prepared statement.

"Something as simple as chewing gum can help make that a reality," he said.

In the study, 102 patients undergoing elective colon resection surgery were divided into two groups. Those in the control group received the standard fare after abdominal surgery -- sips of clear liquid. The patients in the study group were also given gum to chew at mealtimes.

Patients who chewed gum went home, on average, one day sooner than those who didn't receive gum, the researchers found.

The study authors said chewing gum after surgery can prevent or reduce postoperative ileus, a condition where the digestive system remains inactive for a period of time following surgery. Ileus is a major cause of postoperative problems and prolonged hospital stays, and costs up to $1 billion a year in the United States, the researchers said.

"There are a few scientific theories which attempt to explain why this approach works. Most prevalent is the concept of 'sham feeding,' " McCormick said.

"It is normal to sit down at meal time and chew and swallow for 15 minutes," he explained. "Gum chewing stimulates that activity nicely. The sooner the body thinks it is normal, the sooner it will act normally. And the sooner you get to go home."

The study was presented this week at the annual meeting of the American College of Surgeons, in San Francisco.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about surgery.