RATIONALE: Pneumatosis intestinalis (PI) and hepatic portal venous gas (HPVG) are rare but potentially lethal conditions in which gas pathologically accumulates in the portal vein and intestinal wall, respectively. Proposed mechanisms include flatus escaping through an injured intestinal mucosa into the submucosa and thence into the portal venous system, or bacterial translocation (BT) of gas-forming enteric microorganisms from the gut into and through the intestinal wall to other organs. However, there has been no clear histopathological evidence to support these hypotheses. PATIENT CONCERNS: A 61-year-old man underwent sigmoidectomy for colonic adenocarcinoma. Postoperatively, he developed paralytic ileus and then had a sudden cardiopulmonary arrest. DIAGNOSES: PI and HPVG were found at autopsy, presumably caused by the postoperative paralytic ileus and associated with BT of gas-forming organisms. INTERVENTIONS: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation was unsuccessful. OUTCOMES: Postmortem imaging indicated the presence of massive PI and HPVG. At autopsy, there was marked intestinal emphysema with diffuse ischemic mucosal necrosis and severe pneumatosis in the stomach and intestine and marked gaseous dilation of the intrahepatic portal veins. Postmortem bacterial cultures revealed enteric bacteria in the peripheral blood and liver tissue. LESSONS: Postoperative ileus leading to intestinal mucosal damage may be associated with BT of gas-forming enteric bacteria and the rapid onset of PI and HPVG with a lethal outcome.
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