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Intestinal Malrotation Treatment & Management

  • Author: Denis D Bensard, MD, FACS, FAAP; Chief Editor: Carmen Cuffari, MD  more...
Updated: Oct 08, 2015

Medical Care

Medical care of intestinal malrotation is directed toward stabilizing the patient.

Where malrotation with volvulus or obstruction is suspected, seek immediate pediatric surgical consultation. Maintain patients on nothing by mouth (NPO) and adjust NG or orogastric tube to low intermittent suction. Correct fluid and electrolyte deficits. All patients require intravenous resuscitation with physiologic salt solution. Administer broad-spectrum antibiotics prior to surgery, if possible.

If a patient has signs of shock, administer appropriate fluids, blood products, and vasopressor medications to improve hypotension. Dopamine is often used as first-line therapy because of its possible effects to increase splanchnic blood flow. Dopamine can be started at an infusion rate of 3 mcg/kg/min intravenously (IV) and continued postoperatively even if the patient is not hypotensive.

Most patients require long-term intravenous access after surgery, particularly if midgut volvulus is present. Additionally, intravenous nutrition is likely to be necessary. For this reason, central venous catheters should be placed in most patients.

If the patient is unstable, do not delay surgical intervention for upper GI and laboratory studies. Quick surgical intervention, not prolonged medical management, is associated with the best results if midgut volvulus is suspected.


Surgical Care

The Ladd procedure remains the cornerstone of surgical treatment for malrotation today. Prior to William Ladd's publication in 1936, surgical treatment for malrotation with or without volvulus had a mortality rate higher than 90%. In fact, at Ladd's own institution, the mortality rate was 100% before the development of his new technique. A classic Ladd procedure is described as reduction of volvulus (if present), division of mesenteric bands, placement of small bowel on the right and large bowel on the left of the abdomen, and appendectomy. Published reports for laparoscopic Ladd procedure are now appearing in the literature as well.

Midgut volvulus

If midgut volvulus is present, the entire small intestine along with the transverse colon is delivered out of the abdominal incision, where the volvulus can be reduced. Because the volvulus usually twists in a clockwise direction, reduction is accomplished by twisting in a counterclockwise direction. Complete detorsion usually requires 2-3 twists of the bowel. After the blood supply has been restored by detorsion, the surgeon must make a decision about viability of the involved bowel. The outcome is better when no gangrenous bowel is present or when a small, localized gangrenous segment is present, which can be resected and a primary anastomosis performed.

If multiple areas of questionable viability are present, many surgeons choose to leave the areas and perform a second-look operation in 12-24 hours if the patient is not showing clinical recovery. See the image below.

This patient had malrotation with midgut volvulus. This patient had malrotation with midgut volvulus. The gut is darkened in color because of ischemia.

Grossly necrotic bowel should be resected. Primary anastomosis versus diversion of the fecal stream with a proximal ostomy should be performed at the surgeon’s discretion. Three principles should be used to guide decision making:

  • The highest priority is to preserve the maximum length of intestine required for survival.
  • Questionably viable bowel should not be anastomosed.
  • Resection of the entire small bowel require life-long parenteral nutrition or small bowel transplant. [29]

Duodenal obstruction

After the volvulus is reduced or if no volvulus was present, identify any extrinsic obstruction to the duodenum.

If peritoneal bands crossing the duodenum are found, ligate them with careful attention to protecting the superior mesenteric vessels. The bands may also obstruct the ileum or the jejunum and sometimes run to the gallbladder and liver.

Extrinsic obstruction may also be due to the cecum, colon, or superior mesenteric artery (SMA), impinging on the duodenum; relief is obtained by placing the cecum with its mesentery in the left upper quadrant and exposing the anterior duodenum through its entire length. After extrinsic obstruction has been relieved, determine that no intrinsic obstruction exists by passing an NG tube through the duodenum.


Appendectomy is performed during operation for malrotation for 2 reasons:[30]

  • The normal anatomical placement of the appendix is disrupted when the cecum is placed in the left upper quadrant, making the diagnosis of future appendicitis challenging.
  • Dissection of the peritoneal bands causes damage to the appendiceal vessels.


Use of a laparoscopic approach to the correction of malrotation is feasible (level III, level IV evidence) but long-term outcome data are lacking. An open approach is thought to create adhesions, thereby reducing the risk of recurrent volvulus. Critics of the laparoscopic approach cite that laparoscopy is associated with minimal adhesion formation and thus may not afford the patient comparable long-term benefit.[31]

Laparoscopy has been used to repair malrotation in clinically stable patients with or without signs of duodenal obstruction without midgut volvulus.

The Ladd procedure, including widening of the mesenteric base and dissection of peritoneal bands, has been performed successfully using a laparoscopic approach and has resulted in shorter hospital length of stay.

Laparoscopic Ladd procedure is now accepted as an initial approach to surgical correction, with recent reports showing superior short-term results without any increase in operative duration.[32, 33, 34]

Some authors have reported on the success of single-incision laparoscopic Ladd procedure for intestinal malrotation without volvulus in adults.[35]

A study reported that in children aged 6 months or older with suspicion of intestinal malrotation but not presenting with an acute abdomen or hemodynamically instability, laparoscopy should be considered as a first approach to diagnose and subsequently treat intestinal malrotation.[36]



Patients with heterotaxy syndromes have increased rates of abnormalities of intestinal rotation. The approach to the management of these rotational abnormalities is controversial.[37]

Some authors advocate for screening of all children with an upper GI study and elective correction of any rotational abnormality.[37] However, a retrospective review of 29 children who underwent Ladd procedure revealed that the complication rate was 57% among patients with heterotaxy who were otherwise asymptomatic, compared with only 9% in the symptomatic, nonheterotaxy group.[38] These authors recommend that asymptomatic children be managed conservatively with operative intervention reserved for those children who become symptomatic.



Consultations with the following specialists may be helpful:

  • Pediatric surgeon: The only definitive treatment for malrotation is surgical in nature
  • Dietary/intravenous nutrition team: In hospitals where available, include a nutritionist in the medical team to monitor total parenteral nutrition to ensure optimal nutrition. Children who undergo extensive small bowel resection require long-term nutritional support and benefit from early consultation with the nutrition team.
  • Pediatric gastroenterologist: Consultation with a gastroenterologist should be considered early in the postoperative course, particularly in those children who have undergone extensive small bowel resection due to the need for long-term parenteral nutrition and the resulting cholestasis in this population.
  • Physical therapist: A physical therapist can help with range of motion exercises and strength conditioning while patients are bedridden. Frequent repositioning also helps prevent decubitus pressure ulcers and head molding in infants.
  • Occupational therapist: Occupational therapists can also assist with splinting of extremities that contain central lines to prevent contractures as well as range of motion exercises.
  • Speech therapist: A speech therapist can help with oral stimulation while patients are not being fed. This stimulation can prevent feeding aversion and poor coordination when oral feeds are restarted.


Feeding strategies are discussed under Further Inpatient Care.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Denis D Bensard, MD, FACS, FAAP Director of Pediatric Surgery and Trauma, Attending Surgeon in Adult and Pediatric Acute Care Surgery, Attending Surgeon in Adult and Pediatric Surgical Critical Care, Denver Health Medical Center; Professor of Surgery, University of Colorado School of Medicine; Associate Program Director, General Surgery Residency, Attending Surgeon, Children's Hospital Colorado

Denis D Bensard, MD, FACS, FAAP is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, Alpha Omega Alpha, Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons, Southwestern Surgical Congress, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Surgeons, American Pediatric Surgical Association, Association for Academic Surgery, Society of University Surgeons

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Shannon N Acker, MD Resident Physician, Department of Surgery, University of Colorado School of Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Ann M Kulungowski, MD Assistant Professor of Pediatric Surgery, University of Colorado School of Medicine

Ann M Kulungowski, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Surgeons, American Pediatric Surgical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

David A Piccoli, MD Chief of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia; Professor, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

David A Piccoli, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, American Gastroenterological Association, North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Carmen Cuffari, MD Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Gastroenterology/Nutrition, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Carmen Cuffari, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Gastroenterology, American Gastroenterological Association, North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada

Disclosure: Received honoraria from Prometheus Laboratories for speaking and teaching; Received honoraria from Abbott Nutritionals for speaking and teaching.

Additional Contributors

Jeffrey J Du Bois, MD Chief of Children's Surgical Services, Division of Pediatric Surgery, Kaiser Permanente, Women and Children's Center, Roseville Medical Center

Jeffrey J Du Bois, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Surgeons, American Pediatric Surgical Association, California Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Robyn Hatley, MD Professor, Departments of Surgery and Pediatrics, Medical College of Georgia

Robyn Hatley, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association, and American Pediatric Surgical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Anjali Parish, MD Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Department of Neonatology, Medical College of Georgia

Anjali Parish, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics and American Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Normal rotation of the intestines during development. The superior mesenteric artery (SMA) is the axis. The duodenojejunal loop (red arrow) begins superior to the SMA, and the cecocolic loop (green arrow) begins inferior to the SMA.
In this upper GI series with abnormal results, the duodenum does not cross the midline, and the small bowel is present only in the right side of the abdomen.
These 2 lower GI series show the cecum (arrows) in the right upper quadrant, indicative of malrotation.
This patient had malrotation with midgut volvulus. The gut is darkened in color because of ischemia.
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