The incidence, predisposing factors, management and outcome of toxic megacolon (TM) has been reviewed in 65 cases of severe ulcerative colitis (UC) and compared in 2 successive 6-year periods before and after January, 1973. Nineteen episodes of TM occurred in 18 patients. Despite a conscious aim towards earlier surgery in recent years this was not achieved, and despite more intensive medical therapy the incidence of TM was unchanged. Emergency operative mortality in UC fell from 36% to 21% but the mortality of TM remained at 30%. The chief cause of death was colonic perforation. Mortality was associated with increased age, longer pre-operative hospital stay and lower levels of serum albumin. These findings reemphasize the need for earlier surgery if TM is to be prevented, but such a policy must result in some unnecessary emergency colectomies.
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