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Sigmoid and Cecal Volvulus Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Scott C Thornton, MD; Chief Editor: John Geibel, MD, DSc, MSc, MA  more...
Updated: Nov 30, 2015


Patients with volvulus are commonly elderly, debilitated, and bedridden. Often, the patient has a history of dementia or neuropsychiatric impairment. As a result, only a limited history is available.

More than 60-70% of patients present with acute symptoms; the remainder present with subacute or chronic symptoms. A history of chronic constipation is common. The patient may describe previous episodes of abdominal pain, distention, and obstipation, which suggest repeated subclinical episodes of volvulus.


Physical Examination

The presentation of volvulus is much the same, regardless of its anatomic site. Cramping abdominal pain, distention, obstipation, and constipation are present. With progressive obstruction, nausea and vomiting occur. The development of constant abdominal pain is ominous and indicates the development of a closed-loop obstruction with significant intraluminal pressure. This, in turn, portends the development of ischemic gangrene and bowel wall perforation.

Abdominal distention is commonly massive and characteristically tympanitic over the gas-filled, thin-walled colon loop. Overlying or rebound tenderness raises the concern of peritonitis due to ischemic or perforated bowel. The patient may have a history of episodes of acute volvulus that spontaneously resolved; in such circumstances, marked abdominal distention with minimal tenderness may occur.

Depending on the extent of bowel ischemia or fecal peritonitis, signs of systemic toxicity may be apparent. Because of the massive abdominal distention, the patient may have respiratory and cardiovascular compromise.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Scott C Thornton, MD Associate Clinical Professor of Surgery, Yale University School of Medicine; Director, Colorectal Teaching, Bridgeport Hospital; Private Practice, Park Avenue Surgical Associates

Scott C Thornton, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Neelu Pal, MD General Surgeon

Neelu Pal, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

John Geibel, MD, DSc, MSc, MA Vice Chair and Professor, Department of Surgery, Section of Gastrointestinal Medicine, and Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology, Yale University School of Medicine; Director, Surgical Research, Department of Surgery, Yale-New Haven Hospital; American Gastroenterological Association Fellow

John Geibel, MD, DSc, MSc, MA is a member of the following medical societies: American Gastroenterological Association, American Physiological Society, American Society of Nephrology, Association for Academic Surgery, International Society of Nephrology, New York Academy of Sciences, Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract

Disclosure: Received royalty from AMGEN for consulting; Received ownership interest from Ardelyx for consulting.


Brian James Daley, MD, MBA, FACS, FCCP, CNSC Professor, Associate Program Director, Department of Surgery, Division of Trauma and Critical Care, University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Medicine

Brian James Daley, MD, MBA, FACS, FCCP, CNSC is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, American College of Chest Physicians, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, Association for Academic Surgery, Association for Surgical Education, Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma, Shock Society, Society of Critical Care Medicine, Southeastern Surgical Congress, and Tennessee Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

David L Morris, MD, PhD, FRACS Professor, Department of Surgery, St George Hospital, University of New South Wales, Australia

David L Morris, MD, PhD, FRACS is a member of the following medical societies: British Society of Gastroenterology

Disclosure: RFA Medical None Director; MRC Biotec None Director

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Medscape Salary Employment

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Sigmoid volvulus. (A) Counterclockwise torsion at base of mesentery. (B) Adhesions at base of sigmoid mesocolon leading to formation of fixed omega loop that is susceptible to repeat torsion.
Cecal volvulus. (A) Clockwise torsion of mesentery of cecum, ascending colon, and terminal ileum. (B) Absence of dorsal mesenteric attachments of cecum and proximal ascending colon, leading to lack of fixation to retroperitoneum.
Cecal bascule. (A) Anterior folding of cecum. (B) Lack of dorsal mesenteric fixation of cecum to retroperitoneum.
Plain abdominal radiograph demonstrating massively dilated sigmoid colon loop and convergence of walls of colon into beaklike formation.
CT scan of abdomen demonstrating massive dilation of sigmoid colon and normal caliber of proximal bowel.
Barium enema of sigmoid volvulus revealing termination of contrast in bird's-beak formation at base of volvulus.
Cecal volvulus with associated small bowel obstruction.
Extent of resection required for sigmoid volvulus is limited to resection of omega loop of sigmoid volvulus and resection of sigmoid mesentery.
Divided descending colon and rectum are reanastomosed in hand-sewn manner or with GI stapling device.
Hartmann procedure for sigmoid volvulus.
Extent of resection for cecal volvulus is similar to that in right hemicolectomy for benign disease.
Terminal ileum is anastomosed to transverse colon in reconstruction after right hemicolectomy.
Algorithm for treatment of patients with sigmoid and cecal volvulus.
Variable degrees of attachment of ascending colon to abdominal wall by reflection of overlying parietal peritoneum. (A) Normal attachment. (B) Reflection of peritoneum to create paracolic gutter. (C) Mobile colon with reflection of peritoneum to create colonic mesentery.
Jackson veil over ascending colon contains numerous small blood vessels from renal and lumbar arteries.
Average measurements of sigmoid mesocolon.
Arterial blood supply to colon.
Cecal volvulus with ischemic changes of distended cecum and terminal ileum. Remainder of small bowel involved in volvulus appears distended but not ischemic. No obvious peritoneal contamination is observed.
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