Strangulation is associated with an increased risk of mortality and morbidity in patients with mechanical bowel obstruction. The accurate and early recognition of the presence of strangulation is important to allow safe nonoperative treatment. A number of studies have shown that there was no single and reliable test to detect or exclude the presence of strangulation. The aim of this study was to evaluate the role of serum hexosaminidase ( Hex) levels in recognition of strangulation in an experimental model of closed loop small bowel obstruction. Forty-two Wistar albino rats were divided into four groups: I, control (n = 5); II, sham laparotomy (n = 5); III, simple obstruction (n = 16); and IV, strangulation groups ( n D 16). Activity levels of total Hex and its fractions ( Hex A and B) were assayed in serum samples obtained from rats after 3 and 8 hr. Samples of small bowel were also evaluated histologically. Histological evaluation of bowel sections obtained from the strangulation group after 8 hr, revealed transmural hemorrhagic infarction in all animals with a mean +/- SD total Hex activity of 978: 25 +/- 150 nmol/hr/ml, which was significantly higher than that in the other groups (P < 0.001). Although sections of bowel from the strangulation group after 3 hr showed severe ischemic injury, the activities of total Hex, Hex A, and Hex B were not different from those of the control, sham, and simple obstruction groups. Histological examination of these groups did not show any sign of ischemia. Total Hex, Hex A, and Hex B activities in the strangulation group were all significantly greater than the activities seen in the simple obstruction group (P < 0.001, for all). In conclusion, increased serum hex levels indicate irreversible transmural infarction only in the late period of strangulation in the closed loop small bowel obstruction model. It seems unuseful for detecting reversible and/or irreversible ischemia in the early period of strangulation.