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Stomach and Small Bowel Injuries

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Stomach and Small Bowel Injuries

Stomach and Small Bowel Injuries
A ruptured stomach, also called gastrointestinal perforation, is a condition where a hole builds in the wall of some part of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Suffering from a ruptured stomach is a life-threatening situation. The causes of this traumatic injury can be due to diseases like diverticulitis and appendicitis, or trauma, such as gunshot wounds or knife wounds. But, if the primary cause of a ruptured stomach is trauma, it could either be blunt or penetrating trauma.

Abdominal trauma requires extensive medical treatment, which can be costly. Don’t let the fear of medical costs prevent you from getting the care you need. If you or a loved one has sustained stomach injuries as a result of an accident that is not your fault, you may be able to pursue financial compensation for your damages. Call our experienced injury lawyers at (916) 921-6400 for guidance on how to take legal actions. We always offer free, friendly advice.

Read on to have a better understanding of what this injury is all about.

Everything You Need to Know About a Ruptured Stomach

In this article:

Stomach Injuries

A ruptured stomach has different types of injuries that are more common in penetrating trauma than in blunt trauma. In gunshot wounds, the incidence of GI injury is 80 percent or more. This means that surgery should be done on every gunshot wound to the abdomen. Stab wounds result in fewer GI injuries, but many still require surgical exploration. Blunt trauma injuries to the stomach and small bowel are the third most common type of injury in blunt trauma. The key to treating these types of injuries successfully is to do surgery as soon as possible before any infection has had a chance to spread inside the abdomen.

Location of The Stomach

The stomach is located in the upper left quadrant of the abdomen and when empty, is up inside the chest cavity some more, so it is protected by the breastplate and ribs. There are two big arteries that supply the stomach, the right and left gastric arteries. The stomach is relatively free of bacteria because of its acidity. With the use of antacids, however, there can be an increase in bacteria in the stomach, which can cause infection when the stomach is disrupted. The small intestine is not very protected and is at an increased risk of injury.

Gastric Injuries

Most gastric injuries come from pedestrian or motor vehicle accidents or during high-speed crashes. This is especially true if the person has a full stomach or has the wrong positioning of the seat belt. Most injuries are from the front of the stomach and can involve cuts in the stomach or perforations of the stomach wall. There are often other injuries along with stomach injury, which is why there is such a high mortality rate in stomach perforations.

Small Bowel Injuries

Small Bowel Injuries | Overcoming Traumatic Injuries: Stomach And Small Bowel
Small bowel injuries come from blunt abdominal trauma and are uncommon. They come from motor vehicle accidents, as well as falls and bicycle accidents. The bowel can be crushed against the spine or sheared from the rest of the connection points during rapid decoration injuries. Injuries to the small bowel are more common when the seat belt has not been used properly. Airbags somewhat protect a person from a seat belt injury. About twenty percent of people with small bowel injuries have no other injury in the abdomen, but the remaining do. This means that if a patient is having surgery for a rupture of the intestine, they should have a full investigation for other injuries to the abdomen done. Sometimes the blood vessels to the small bowel are damaged, causing a lack of circulation to the bowel, and weeks later, the person has narrowing of the bowel and bowel blockage.

Diagnosis of Bowel Trauma

An accurate history of the traumatic event can help tell if there is a likelihood of a stomach or bowel injury. Knife wounds or gunshot wounds have a high likelihood of having some kind of stomach or bowel rupture. Laparotomy should be done in situations such as handlebar injuries, blows to the abdomen, and kicks by a horse, or seat belt sign (which is characterized by abrasions of the chest and abdomen as a result of the seatbelt acting against the abdomen and chest). Patients with a stomach injury usually have signs of irritation because of the acid that is in their stomach. There can be air found outside the stomach on a plain film x-ray, and a nasogastric tube usually comes back showing blood in the fluid. Injuries to the small bowel take longer to show up because the fluid content of the small bowel is not acidic. The surgeon can look for a seatbelt sign or abdominal tenderness as ways to suggest that a small bowel injury has occurred.

Laboratory Testing

Laboratory tests that check white blood cell count, hematocrit, and amylase level can help identify small bowel injuries and gastric injuries. In patients who are being treated without surgery, changes in these lab values can help decide if surgery is necessary.

Peritoneal Lavage

Peritoneal lavage can show elevated white blood cell counts in situations of bowel rupture. Blood can also be seen in the lavage fluid. The focused abdominal sonography for trauma, or FAST, test has been used to detect small bowel injuries and gastric injuries, but it isn’t a very sensitive test because often, there isn’t a lot of bleeding. This makes the FAST test somewhat unreliable in testing for small bowel and stomach injuries.

CT Scan

CT Scan | Overcoming Traumatic Injuries: Stomach And Small Bowel
The CT scan can be abnormal with a ruptured stomach or rupture of the small bowel. There can be dye coming out of a hole, or rupture of a hollow organ, like the small bowel, when the dye is swallowed. Air can be seen in the area outside of the gut on a CT scan. Bleeding or blood clot in the bowel wall can be seen. There can be free fluid seen on a CT scan in the absence of an injury to a solid organ that can help identify the possibility of a hollow organ injury. Sometimes, the CT scan is negative, but the patient with a high-risk injury should be observed just in case the CT scan was wrong and further evidence of a ruptured bowel shows up.

Diagnostic Laparoscopy

Diagnostic laparoscopy can be helpful in avoiding opening up the patient altogether to look for injuries to the hollow organs. In some cases, small tears can be repaired using laparoscopy, thus avoiding open surgery. If a good laparoscopy is used, it can detect most hollow organ injuries without missing anything. If an intestinal injury is noted, then the laparoscopy can be stopped, and open surgery is done to repair the injury.

Surgery to Repair a Hollow Organ Injury

A midline excision is the most often-used approach for repairing hollow organ injuries. The entire abdomen can be exposed, and the gut can be removed from the abdominal cavity and thoroughly assessed for rupture or holes. After the control of hemorrhage, the stomach and bowel can be fully assessed for injury. The stomach can be more difficult to assess because of its attachment to other organs. It must be mobilized in order to see all of its parts. If a hole in the front of the stomach is noted, exploration should be undertaken to look for another hole, such as with an exit wound. If such a wound is not found, the stomach can be submerged in saline and air bubbled into the stomach. If bubbles show up in the saline, a hole exists somewhere in the abdomen. If the diaphragm is ruptured in addition to the stomach, bacteria can get up inside the chest cavity, causing a chest cavity infection. The diaphragm must be closed after the closure of the stomach injury. A chest tube may be required in order to drain the chest cavity of infection.

Surgery on Small Bowel Injuries

In small bowel injuries, the entire bowel is removed from the abdomen and carefully evaluated centimeter by centimeter for injuries. If there is active bleeding, the bleeding spots should be clamped off, and the bleeding vessels must be secured by suturing them. Tears in the bowel are also closed carefully. Complete transection of the bowel is treated by removing injured bowel and reattaching the healthy ends of the bowel. Patients who have significant bleeding in surgery can suffer from hypothermia, bleeding disorders, and excessive acid in the bloodstream. In such cases, damage control with abdominal packing can be done to control bleeding before a definitive repair can be undertaken. If a large part of the bowel is damaged, this part of the bowel must be removed so that healthy ends can be reconnected.

Postoperative Management

Postoperative Management | Overcoming Traumatic Injuries: Stomach And Small Bowel
Antibiotics are usually given for 24 hours after surgery to prevent surgical infection. A nasogastric tube is used to decompress the stomach contents during healing. It is continued until the bowel begins to be active again. Nutritional support with parenteral nutrition can be given to people who were not very well-nourished prior to the injury. Some patients can tolerate careful feeding through the nasogastric tube, while others need nutrition through an IV.


Complications after gastric or small bowel surgery include intra-abdominal infections and sepsis. An abscess can form inside the abdomen in some cases. These are more common if the colon is injured or if there is blunt trauma to the abdomen. A delay in repair can increase the risk of infection. Bleeding complications can result in bleeding into the bowel itself or into the abdominal cavity. Bleeding can come from the area of repair that wasn’t seen at the time of surgery. CT scans can show areas of leakage at the site of injury. 

There can then be another surgery, or a needle can be inserted through the skin to drain areas of infection or bleeding. Small bowel obstruction can also occur after repairing a small bowel injury. This can be the result of scar tissue formation in the intestine that blocks the passage of stool. Malabsorption can also happen if a large amount of small intestine is needed to be removed. The patients can get B12 deficiency and deficiencies of other nutrients. The patients can also suffer from short bowel syndrome. Changes in the remaining bowel can occur over months and years that can improve the absorption of nutrients. At least three feet of the small intestine is necessary to prevent diarrhea in patients who have had small bowel removed.

Stephanie Mason, M.D., explains more about abdominal injuries in this video by Medskl.com:

Patients suffering from a ruptured stomach suffer not only from pain and suffering, but they also have to undergo several tests and complicated surgery. It is true that accidents can happen and cannot be avoided, so it is best to be prepared and to have faith in the experts. It is also wise to know more about injuries like these not just for yourself, but so you can offer the necessary help and support when someone you know becomes a victim of injuries like these.Sacramento Traumatic Injury Lawyer

I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento Traumatic Injury Lawyer. If you or a loved one has suffered stomach injuries in an accident, call me for free, friendly advice at (916) 921-6400 or 9800) 404-5400.

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Editor’s Note: This page has been updated for accuracy and relevancy [cha 1.16.20]