Intestinal obstruction and Ileus
Intestinal obstruction is a partial or complete blockage of the bowel. The contents of the intestine cannot pass through it.
Obstruction of the bowel may be due to:
- A mechanical cause, which means something is in the way
- Ileus, a condition in which the bowel does not work correctly, but there is no structural problem causing it
Paralytic ileus, also called pseudo-obstruction, is one of the major causes of intestinal obstruction in infants and children. Causes of paralytic ileus may include:
- Bacteria or viruses that cause intestinal infections (gastroenteritis)
- Chemical, electrolyte, or mineral imbalances (such as decreased potassium level)
- Abdominal surgery
- Decreased blood supply to the intestines
- Infections inside the abdomen, such as appendicitis
- Kidney or lung disease
- Use of certain medicines, especially narcotics
Mechanical causes of intestinal obstruction may include:
Symptoms may include:
Exams and Tests
During a physical exam, the health care provider may find bloating, tenderness, or hernias in the abdomen.
A hernia is a sac formed by the lining of the abdominal cavity (peritoneum). The sac comes through a hole or weak area in the strong layer of the be...Read Article Now Book Mark Article
Tests that show obstruction include:
Treatment involves placing a tube through the nose into the stomach or intestine. This is to help relieve abdominal swelling (distention) and vomiting. Volvulus of the large bowel may be treated by passing a tube into the rectum.
Surgery may be needed to relieve the obstruction if the tube does not relieve the symptoms. It may also be needed if there are signs of tissue death.
The outcome depends on the cause of the blockage. Most of the time, the cause is successfully treated.
Complications may include or may lead to:
- Electrolyte (blood chemical and mineral) imbalances
- Hole (perforation) in the intestine
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
If the obstruction blocks the blood supply to the intestine, it may cause infection and tissue death (gangrene). Risks for tissue death are related to the cause of the blockage and how long it has been present. Hernias, volvulus, and intussusception carry a higher gangrene risk.
In a newborn, paralytic ileus that destroys the bowel wall (necrotizing enterocolitis) is a life-threatening condition. It may lead to blood and lung infections.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if you:
- Cannot pass stool or gas
- Have a swollen abdomen (distention) that does not go away
- Keep vomiting
- Have unexplained abdominal pain that does not go away
Prevention depends on the cause. Treating conditions, such as tumors and hernias that can lead to a blockage, may reduce your risk.
Some causes of obstruction cannot be prevented.
Bradley J. Winston, MD, board certified in gastroenterology and hepatology, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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