What Is Ileus?

Your intestine is a long and winding tube inside of your body that attaches your stomach to your anus. It has two parts -- small and large. The small intestine's main job is to break down the food that you eat. The large intestine, or colon, absorbs water and uses strong, wave-like movements to push broken-down food and waste to your anus so you can poop.

When your intestine stops making those wave-like movements for a while, it's called ileus. It usually lasts from 1 to 3 days.

Causes

It's common, especially after surgery on your belly. This is because doctors often shift your intestines then. Other causes include:

Symptoms

You’ll feel symptoms in your stomach area for 24 to 72 hours. You may:

  • Feel bloated from a buildup of gas and liquid in your belly
  • Feel sick to your stomach (nausea)
  • Throw up (vomit)
  • Find it hard to poop (constipation)
  • Not want to eat
  • Have stomach cramps
  • Have watery stools

Diagnosis

Your doctor will use a stethoscope to listen to the sounds your belly makes. Normal sounds like clicks and gurgles mean everything's probably OK. No sound could be a sign of ileus.

Your doctor may also take X-rays to see if your bowels are swollen anywhere.

Treatment

There are a couple of ways that doctors treat this condition. Which one they use depends on how bad your symptoms are:

  • No food or fluids by mouth for 24 to 72 hours. During this time, you'll get fluids and electrolytes through a needle in your vein (intravenously). Your doctor may also stop or cut back on strong pain relievers (opioid analgesics).
  • Relieve a buildup of gas and liquid. It's rare to throw up a lot when you have this condition, but if it happens, your doctor has to ease the buildup of gas and fluid that causes it. They'll pass a tube through your nose and into your stomach or small intestine. Then they'll use suction to relax pressure and bloating. If the problem is in your large intestine, the tube is passed through your anus.

Continued

Ileus vs. Other Blocks of the Intestine

Ileus is a problem in the muscles or nerves of your intestines. It stops them from working normally for a little while, but there’s no physical block. The most common causes of blocked intestines are:

Other blocks include:

  • Hernias, or when parts of your intestine push out into another part of your body
  • Crohn’s disease and other diseases that causes irritation of the intestine
  • Diverticulitis
  • Twisting of the colon
  • Poop stuck inside of the colon or rectum

Outlook

Your doctor will keep an eye on you in the hospital until you're well enough to go home. This should be within a few days.

Rarely, other problems will happen. If they do, then you may need surgery.

You’ll probably get better on your own, but sometimes your doctor will ask for a follow-up appointment. Call your doctor right away if you have:

  • Fever of 100.4 F (38 C) or higher
  • A swollen belly or pain that doesn’t go away
  • A hard time pooping or passing gas
  • A queasy feeling or are throwing up
  • A full feeling in your stomach after small amounts of food or drink
  • Bleeding from your rectum (last section of the large intestine)
  • Poop that's black or looks like tar
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on August 09, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Informedhealth.org: “How do the intestines work?”

Mayo Clinic: “Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)," “Appendicitis," “Diverticulitis," “Cystic fibrosis," “Intestinal obstruction.”

Merck Manual Consumer Version: “Ileus.”

Fairview Health Services: “Ileus.”

Loyola Medical Education Network: “Abdomen: Auscultation.”

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