Pyloric stenosis surgery – “somewhat improved”

Has the treatment of infant pyloric stenosis (“PS”) improved with the years?

Yes!  In a recent post I listed many of the clear and obvious ways it has.

Adults struggling with IBS, adhesions, or PTSD may well doubt that; any and all of these can at times be linked with their infant surgery.

The mother I read about recently must surely also doubt that much has been learnt: she was diagnosed with PTSD a few months after suffering with her newborn through several weeks of slow and shoddy diagnosis followed by “last minute, life-saving” PS surgery.

And the continuing avalanche of parents’ posts on social forum sites like Facebook and BabyCenter show this hapless mother is far from alone.

However, what I wrote in the above-mentioned post stands: it is beyond doubt that, thank God and thanks to the medical community, infant surgery including the treatment of PS has made huge progress.

Infant surgery03Last year I read the summary of a 2014 report that supports the claim that the actual surgery to remedy PS has also improved – but only marginally.  The survey evaluates the records of 791 little PS patients of a pediatric surgeon over a 35 year period (1969-2003).

Most of the results reported in the Abstract of this article (sadly, all that is publicly available) merely confirm the usual facts about PS, information that will not surprise those who know something about this condition.

  • 82% of the patients were male and 18% were female.
  • The average age (presumably at surgery) was 38 days and ranged from 7 days to 10 months.
  • Only 5% were not Caucasian.
  • 10% had a family history.
  • 15 babies (3.1%) were premature at the time of diagnosis (so in fact, many more).
  • 9% had other conditions or abnormalities.
  • 10 babies (1.2%) developed PS after surgery for another condition.
  • 13 (1.7%) were treated medically and avoided surgery.
  • All the pyloromyotomy operations were done by open surgery: the incisions used were sub-costal, transverse, or upper midline.
  • 14 babies (1.7%) had other surgical work done (presumably including herniation).
  • 87 of the operations (10%) were followed by complications: 1.1% happened during the surgery, and 9% post-operatively.
  • 2 babies died.
  • Other evaluation results showed some areas of improvement.
  • When ultrasound imaging was used, the age at diagnosis was reduced by about 10 days.
  • All the operations were done using general anesthesia and endotracheal intubation (breathing tube).
  • From 1982, precautionary antibiotics were given before surgery and this resulted in wound infections being reduced to 3.9%.

This surgeon was also responsible for correcting the inadequacy of the work of some non-pediatric surgeons, and these statistics make grim reading:

  • There were 13 such little patients, 12 of them transferred from non-pediatric surgeons.
  • These 13 accounted for 16 complications including one death.
  • 5 of the babies needed further surgery: 4 for an incomplete pyloromyotomy and the other for a perforation of the pyloric canal.

The report drew these conclusions:

  • IHPS should be considered in any vomiting infant.
  • Ultrasound examination allows earlier diagnosis.
  • Serious complications are uncommon and avoidable, but recognizable and easily corrected.
  • Surgeons who do more than 14 pyloromyotomies per annum see fewer complications.

This report (as stated above) deals only with the actual surgical treatment of PS, and not the complaints of many about the total management of this condition.  The report featured does not survey the standard of the diagnosis of PS, nor the often uninformed, sweeping, and simplistic reassurances given about the possible short- and long-term after-effects of PS and its surgical treatment, about which so many doctors and parents seem to be quite “in the dark” (or possibly in denial).

RUQ PLM-3This blogsite and the social media posts of countless parents and patients express gratitude for the survival of almost every PS baby, ever since the Ramstedt pyloromyotomy (surgical operation) rapidly became the standard treatment after 1912.

It is often remarked that the Ramstedt pyloromyotomy is one of the few surgical techniques that has continued as the standard and virtually unchanged since it was introduced.  It is relatively quick and simple to perform, and almost always immediately effective (as much as can be expected of any surgical procedure).

What the report implies but fails to acknowledge is that many older surgeons continue to perform Ramstedt’s pyloromyotomy using the old and often disfiguring open incisions.  Other recent statistics show that the new and cosmetically superior laparoscopic surgery is now used in over half of PS operations.  Understandably but sadly, many older surgeons resist mastering current best practice.

What then is clear from the material collected and reviewed in the two posts (this one and the linked post)?

  • The overall management of PS has seen huge progress.
  • The actual surgery for PS has changed little in a century, but continues to be marginally and slowly improved on.
  • There remain several areas of immediate and significant concern to PS patients and their parents which the medical community is loathe to recognise, let alone seriously tackle.

And therefore numerous PS parents and patients will continue to speak up, network – and post!

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2 thoughts on “Pyloric stenosis surgery – “somewhat improved”

  1. Wendy

    Very upbeat and hopeful. Fascinating data. How cool that you find this type of information. How good that so many things have changed with regard to PS surgery. Too bad though that many surgeons do not practice the laparoscopic techniques but stick with the old open incision deal. And it’s criminal that general surgeons still perform the pyloric stenosis surgery. I think 100% of PS babies should be operated on by a pediatric surgeon! Those poor babies who had to be repaired after a failed PS operation. Of course, if one is not constantly practicing on infants, one is not going to be as adept. The work that needs to be done then, in my opinion, in the PS area has to do with more focus on the medical treatment of PS and better communication between the medical community (doctors, ERs) and the parents of PS babies. With regard to the PS surgery itself, thanks, Fred, for pointing out the continuing progress.

    Reply
    1. Fred Vanderbom Post author

      You have been so helpful in underlining most of the main points made by this report, Wendy. I was happy indeed to find a somewhat upbeat article about the current state of pyloric stenosis surgery because I come across so many ugly stories of haughty doctors and surgeons, sloppy diagnosis, and occasionally even incompetent surgery. I very much hope that the prevalence of this bad news is merely the result of good news usually not being newsworthy! As you point out, surgeons who don’t see enough cases of a particular kind should not do work related to that area – but human nature sometimes seems to override that sensible rule, even when it relates to the well-being of defenceless little people.

      Reply

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