Chewing Gum After Heart Surgery May Help Relieve Bowel Problems

Newswise – CHICAGO (September 10, 2021) – Chewing gum after heart surgery can jump-start the digestive tract, helping patients feel better and potentially come out sooner than those who don’t use this generally safe and simple procedure, according to research presented today at the 18th Annual Society of Thoracic Surgeons Perioperative and Critical Care Conference.

“Before our study, there was no previously published study on the use of chewing gum in patients with heart surgery, but we found that it can speed up the return of bowel function,” said Sirivan S. Seng, MD, who is a resident physician at Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Upland, Pennsylvania. “This easy-to-perform procedure can be used with almost any postoperative patient.”

Dr Seng and his colleagues studied patients at Crozer-Chester Medical Center who underwent elective open heart surgery, aortic valve replacement, or mitral valve repair / replacement. One group included 341 patients who underwent surgery from 2017 to 2020 and participated in the sugar-free chewing gum protocol after their operations. A second group, which included 496 patients, underwent similar heart surgeries between 2013 and 2016, but did not chew a gum after their procedures.

Research found that only two of the patients chewing gums (0.59%) had confirmed postoperative ileus, while 17 patients in the non-chewing gum group (3.43%) developed postoperative ileus, that is. that is, a lack of normal muscle contractions in the intestines which leads to a build-up and potential blockage of food material.

This brief stoppage of the digestive system is among the most common complications after heart surgery, occurring in up to 5.5% of patients, explained Dr Seng. Although not a major health problem, ileus can cause abdominal cramps, bloating, nausea, vomiting, constipation, and difficulty tolerating a normal diet. As a result, patients may experience discomfort, slow recovery, and longer hospital stays, which in turn leads to increased physical, emotional and financial strain on patients.

“An underestimated concern after heart surgery is the development of an ileus or a slow return of bowel function,” said Rakesh C. Arora, MD, PhD, St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, MB, Canada, which was not directly involved in this research. “The idea that something as simple as chewing gum after heart surgery could minimize this problem is very appealing. In hundreds of heart surgery patients who received a piece of chewing gum after recovering from the ventilator, less than 1 in 100 patients developed ileus. This is a striking reduction of almost 5 times from the historical average. This eagerly awaited study will be hotly debated with plenty to chew on! “

Chewing gum is believed to stimulate the intestines into believing that food is coming. This is known as “sham eating,” which is a procedure that mimics normal food consumption, but where food and drink are not actually digested or absorbed.

According to the researchers, postoperative chewing of the gum is an effective and inexpensive procedure that helps improve the feeling of patients after surgery. When patients feel better, they are more likely to participate in their own recovery and, ultimately, to be released more quickly.

“Given the minimal risk and extremely insignificant cost of this procedure, incorporating chewing gum after cardiac surgery should be strongly regarded as a new standard of care,” said Dr Seng. “Talk to your surgeon about using chewing gum after surgery. Almost anyone can benefit from an affordable, tasty and refreshing pack of chewing gum.


The other study authors were H. Orbay, MD, PhD, and C. Geller, MD.

Founded in 1964, the Society of Thoracic Surgeons is a non-profit organization representing more than 7,500 cardiothoracic surgeons, researchers and allied health professionals around the world who are dedicated to ensuring the best possible results for surgeries of the heart, lungs and l esophagus, as well as other surgeries in the chest. The Company’s mission is to advance the delivery of the highest quality patient care by cardiothoracic surgeons through collaboration, education, research and advocacy.

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