Retained surgical sponges: What the practicing clinician should know

4th Department of Surgery, Athens University, Medical School, ATTIKON U. Hospital, Arkadias 19-21, 115 26, Athens, Greece.
Langenbeck s Archives of Surgery (Impact Factor: 2.19). 11/2010; 395(8):1001-7. DOI: 10.1007/s00423-010-0684-4
Source: PubMed


Retained surgical sponges (RSS) are an avoidable complication following surgical operations. RSS can elicit either an early exudative-type reaction or a late aseptic fibrous tissue reaction. They may remain asymptomatic for long time; when present, symptomatology varies substantially and includes septic complications (abscess formation, peritonitis) or fibrous reaction resulting in adhesion formation or fistulation into adjacent hollow organs or externally. Plain radiograph may be useful for the diagnosis; however, computed tomography is the method of choice to establish correct diagnosis preoperatively. Removal of RSS is always indicated to prevent further complications. This is usually accomplished by open surgery; rarely, endoscopic or laparoscopic removal may be successful. Prevention is of key importance to avoid not only morbidity and even mortality but also medicolegal consequences. Preventive measures include careful counting, use of sponges marked with a radiopaque marker, avoidance of use of small sponges during abdominal procedures, careful examination of the abdomen by the operating surgeon before closure, radiograph in the operating theater (either routinely or selectively), and recently, usage of barcode and radiofrequency identification technology.

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    ABSTRACT: Retained sponges and instruments (RSI) due to surgery are a recognised medical 'never event' and have catastrophic implications for patients, healthcare professionals and medical care providers. The aim of this review was to elucidate the extent of the problem of RSI and to identify preventative strategies. A comprehensive literature search was performed on MEDLINE(®), Embase™, the Science Citation Index and Google™ Scholar for articles published in English between January 2000 and June 2012. Studies outlining the incidence, risk, management and attempts to prevent RSI following surgical intervention were retrieved. The overall incidence of RSI is low although its incidence is substantially higher in operations performed on open cavities. Sponges are the most commonly retained item when compared with needles and instruments. Clinical presentation is varied, leading to avoidable morbidity, and the error is indefensible medicolegally. Risk factors include emergency operations, operations involving unexpected change in procedure, raised body mass index, and a failure to perform accurate sponge and instrument counts. The existing strategy for prevention is manual counting of sponges and instruments undertaken by surgical personnel. This, however, is fallible. Computer assisted counting of sponges using barcodes and gauze sponges tagged with a radiofrequency identification device aiding manual counting have been trialled recently, with success. Vigilance among operating theatre personnel is paramount if RSI is to be prevented. Prospective multicentre trials to assess efficacy of new technologies aiding manual counting should be undertaken if this medical error is to be eliminated completely.
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