What is a bowel obstruction?
A bowel obstruction
happens when either your
large intestine is partly or completely blocked. The blockage prevents food,
fluids, and gas from moving through the intestines in the normal way. The
blockage may cause severe pain that comes and goes.
covers a blockage caused by tumors, scar tissue, or twisting or narrowing of
the intestines. It does not cover
ileus, which most commonly happens after surgery on
the belly (abdominal surgery).
What causes a bowel obstruction?
tissue (adhesions), or twisting or narrowing of the intestines
can cause a bowel obstruction. These are called
mechanical obstructions .
In the small intestine, scar tissue is most
often the cause. Other causes include
Crohn's disease, which can twist or narrow the
intestine, and tumors, which can block the intestine. A blockage also can happen if
one part of the
intestine folds like a telescope into another part, which is called
In the large intestine,
cancer is most often the cause. Other causes are severe constipation from a
hard mass of stool, and narrowing of the intestine caused by
inflammatory bowel disease.
What are the symptoms?
- Cramping and belly pain that comes and goes.
The pain can occur around or below the belly button.
- Constipation and a lack of gas, if the
intestine is completely blocked.
Diarrhea, if the intestine is
Call your doctor right away if
your belly pain is severe and constant. This may mean that your intestine's
blood supply has been cut off or that you have a hole in your intestine. This
is an emergency.
How is a bowel obstruction diagnosed?
will ask you questions about your symptoms and other digestive problems you've
had. He or she will check your belly for tenderness and bloating.
Your doctor may do:
- An abdominal
X-ray, which can find blockages in the small and large
CT scan of the belly, which helps your doctor see
whether the blockage is partial or complete.
How is it treated?
Most bowel obstructions are
treated in the hospital.
In the hospital, your doctor will give you medicine and fluids through a vein (IV).
To help you stay comfortable, your doctor may place a tiny
tube called a
nasogastric (NG) tube through your nose and
down into your stomach. The tube removes fluids and gas and helps relieve pain and
pressure. You will not be given anything to eat or drink.
Most bowel obstructions are partial blockages that get better on their own. Some people may need more treatment. These treatments include using liquids or air (enemas) or small mesh tubes (stents) to open up the blockage.
Surgery is almost always needed
when the intestine is completely blocked or when the blood supply is cut off. You may need a
colostomy or an
ileostomy after surgery. The diseased part of the intestine is removed, and the remaining part is sewn to an opening in the skin. Stool passes out of the body through the opening and collects in a disposable
If your blockage was caused by another health problem,
such as diverticulitis, the blockage may come back if you don't treat that