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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).
tissue (adhesions), or twisting or narrowing of the intestines
can cause a bowel obstruction. These are called
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.
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.
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:
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
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Learning about a bowel obstruction:
The American College of Gastroenterology is an organization of digestive disease specialists. The website contains information about common gastrointestinal problems.
The American Gastroenterological Association is a
society of doctors who specialize in the digestive system
(gastroenterologists). This Web site can help you find a gastroenterologist in
your area. They also have patient information on many gastrointestinal diseases
The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons is the leading
professional society representing more than 1,000 board-certified colon and
rectal surgeons and other surgeons dedicated to treating people with diseases
and disorders affecting the colon, rectum, and anus.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is a U.S. government
agency that provides up-to-date information about the prevention, detection,
and treatment of cancer. NCI also offers supportive care to people who have cancer
and to their families. NCI information is also available to doctors, nurses,
and other health professionals. NCI provides the latest information about
clinical trials. The Cancer Information Service, a service of NCI, has trained
staff members available to answer questions and send free publications.
Spanish-speaking staff members are also available.
This clearinghouse is a service of the U.S. National
Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the
U.S. National Institutes of Health. The clearinghouse answers questions;
develops, reviews, and sends out publications; and coordinates information
resources about digestive diseases. Publications produced by the clearinghouse
are reviewed carefully for scientific accuracy, content, and readability.
Other Works Consulted
Parangi S, Hodin R (2006). Intestinal obstruction. In
MM Wolfe et al., eds., Therapy of Digestive Disorders,
2nd. ed., pp. 819–833. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
October 25, 2012
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Jerome B. Simon, MD, FRCPC, FACP - Gastroenterology
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