Diagnosis and Management of Small Bowel Bleeding

Lauren B. Gerson, MD, MSc, FACG1, Jeff L. Fidler, MD2, David R. Cave, MD, PhD, FACG3 and Jonathan A. Leighton, MD, FACG4

1Division of Gastroenterology, California Pacific Medical Center and Department of Medicine, University of California School of Medicine, San Francisco, California, USA; 2Division of Radiology, Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, Rochester, Minnesota, USA; 3Division of Gastroenterology, University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA; 4Division of Gastroenterology, Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, Scottsdale, Arizona, USA.

Am J Gastroenterol 2015; 110:1265–1287; doi:10.1038/ajg.2015.246; published online 25 August 2015
Received 7 January 2015; Accepted 1 June 2015
Advance online publication 25 August 2015

Correspondence: Lauren B. Gerson, MD, MSc, Director of Clinical Research, GI Fellowship Program, Division of Gastroenterology, California Pacific Medical Center, 2340 Clay Street, 6th Floor, San Francisco, California 94115, USA. E-mail: GersonL@sutterhealth.org


Bleeding from the small intestine remains a relatively uncommon event, accounting for ~5–10% of all patients presenting with gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding. Given advances in small bowel imaging with video capsule endoscopy (VCE), deep enteroscopy, and radiographic imaging, the cause of bleeding in the small bowel can now be identified in most patients. The term small bowel bleeding is therefore proposed as a replacement for the previous classification of obscure GI bleeding (OGIB). We recommend that the term OGIB should be reserved for patients in whom a source of bleeding cannot be identified anywhere in the GI tract. A source of small bowel bleeding should be considered in patients with GI bleeding after performance of a normal upper and lower endoscopic examination. Second-look examinations using upper endoscopy, push enteroscopy, and/or colonoscopy can be performed if indicated before small bowel evaluation. VCE should be considered a first-line procedure for small bowel investigation. Any method of deep enteroscopy can be used when endoscopic evaluation and therapy are required. VCE should be performed before deep enteroscopy if there is no contraindication. Computed tomographic enterography should be performed in patients with suspected obstruction before VCE or after negative VCE examinations. When there is acute overt hemorrhage in the unstable patient, angiography should be performed emergently. In patients with occult hemorrhage or stable patients with active overt bleeding, multiphasic computed tomography should be performed after VCE or CTE to identify the source of bleeding and to guide further management. If a source of bleeding is identified in the small bowel that is associated with significant ongoing anemia and/or active bleeding, the patient should be managed with endoscopic therapy. Conservative management is recommended for patients without a source found after small bowel investigation, whereas repeat diagnostic investigations are recommended for patients with initial negative small bowel evaluations and ongoing overt or occult bleeding.

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