The first postgastrectomy syndrome was noted not long after the first gastrectomy was performed: Billroth reported a case of epigastric pain associated with bilious vomiting as a sequel of gastric surgery in 1885. Several classic treatises exist on the subject; we cannot improve on them and merely provide a few references for the interested reader.
However, the indications for gastric resection have changed dramatically over the past 4 decades, and the overall incidence of gastric resection has decreased. The most marked reduction in the frequency of gastric resection has occurred among patients with peptic ulcer disease. For example, in Olmstead County, Minnesota, the incidence of elective operations on previously unoperated patients declined 8-fold during the 30-year study period between 1956 and 1985 and undoubtedly has declined even further since.
One population-based study concluded that elective surgery for ulcer disease had “virtually disappeared by 1992–1996.” Whereas emergency operations for bleeding and perforation are still encountered, acid-reducing procedures are being performed less frequently in these situations in favor of a damage control approach. Even for gastric cancer, resection rates decreased approximately 20% from 1988 to 2000 in the United States.
An estimated 21,000 new cases of stomach cancer occurred in the United States in 2010, so that the number of cases of gastric resection for cancer is probably less than 15,000 per year in the United States. The virtual disappearance of elective surgery for peptic ulcer has also changed the demographic profile of the postgastrectomy patient: patients who have gastric cancer tend to be older and there is only a slight male preponderance.
These significant changes in the gastric surgery population make it worthwhile to revisit postgastrectomy syndromes. The frequency with which postgastrectomy symptoms/syndromes are found can depend on how hard they are looked for. Loffeld, in a survey of 124 postgastrectomy patients, most of whom had undergone surgery more than 15 years earlier, found that 75% suffered from upper abdominal symptoms, and 1 or more symptoms that indicate dumping were found in 70% of patients who had undergone Billroth-II (B-II) reconstruction.
However, the lack of age-matched and sex-matched controls in this study may have overstated the frequency of symptoms caused by the surgical procedure. Mine and colleagues conducted a large survey of 1153 patients after gastrectomy for cancer and found that 67% reported early dumping and 38% late dumping. By contrast, Pedrazzani and colleagues surveyed 195 patients who underwent subtotal gastrectomy and B-II reconstruction for gastric adenocarcinoma for up to 5 years postoperatively, and concluded that “the incidence of late complications was low and the majority of them recovered within one year after surgery.”
This article focuses on the small proportion of patients with severe, debilitating symptoms; these symptoms can challenge the acumen of the surgeon who is providing the patient’s long-term follow-up and care.