TORONTO – Chewing gum after heart surgery could ease the recovery process and help patients avoid digestive issues during recovery, new research shows.
“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 Dr. Sirivan S. Seng, a physician based in Pennsylvania. who was one of the researchers involved in the study, in a press release.
Researchers examined more than 800 patients at a Pennsylvania hospital undergoing heart surgery. The research was presented Wednesday at the 18th Annual Society of Thoracic Surgeons Perioperative and Critical Care Conference.
The cohort consisted of two groups of patients. In one group, 341 patients who had heart surgery between 2017 and 2020 chewed a sugar-free piece of gum after their procedure. The second group involved 496 patients who had heart surgeries between 2013 and 2016 and did not chew gum after their procedure.
After heart surgery, some patients experience problems with their digestive system that prevent them from emptying their bowels with stool, causing blockages in their bowels. This is known as postoperative ileus and can lead to cramping, bloating, nausea, and constipation.
Only two patients who chewed gum after their surgery developed postoperative ileus, representing 0.59% of the group. On the other hand, postoperative ileus affected 3.43 percent, or 17 patients, of the group who did not chew gum.
Researchers say the chewing gum could stimulate the digestive system into believing food is coming. This is a process known as “sham feeding” and is believed to be the key to preventing postoperative ileus.
“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 Seng.
Previous studies on the effects of chewing gum after other types of surgery have found similar results. In 2020, British researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 16 studies on the effects of chewing gum after colorectal surgery and found that chewing gum was associated with a lower risk of postoperative ileus.
Another 2015 meta-analysis of 81 studies of people who had bowel surgery or Caesarean section found that there was a “small difference” in the length of hospital stays between patients who chewed food. gum and patients who did not chew it.