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Definition

What is a bowel obstruction?

A bowel obstruction happens when either your small  or 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.

How common is a bowel obstruction?

Bowel obstruction is not a common problem for most people. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of a bowel obstruction?

The common symptoms of a bowel obstruction are:

  • Crampy abdominal pain that comes and goes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Inability to have a bowel movement or pass gas
  • Swelling of the abdomen

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

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.

Causes

What causes a bowel obstruction?

Tumors, scar 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 hernias and 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 intussusception.

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 diverticulitis or inflammatory bowel disease.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for a bowel obstruction?

There are many risk factors for bowel obstruction, such as:

  • Abdominal or pelvic surgery, which often causes adhesions — a common intestinal obstruction
  • Crohn’s disease, which can cause the intestine’s walls to thicken, narrowing the passageway
  • Cancer in your abdomen, especially if you’ve had surgery to remove an abdominal tumor or radiation therapy

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is a bowel obstruction diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms, other digestive problems you’ve had, and any surgeries or procedures you’ve had in that area. 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 intestines.

A CT scan of the belly, which helps your doctor see whether the blockage is partial or complete.

How is a bowel obstruction treated?

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 ostomy bag. In some cases, the colostomy or ileostomy is temporary until you have recovered. When you are better, the ends of the intestine are reattached and the ostomy is repaired.

If your blockage was caused by another health problem, such as diverticulitis, the blockage may come back if you don’t treat that health problem.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage a bowel obstruction?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with bowel obstruction:

  • To help prevent colorectal cancer, eat a balanced diet low in fat with plenty of vegetables and fruits, don’t smoke, and see your doctor for colorectal cancer screening once a year after age 50.
  • To help prevent hernias, avoid heavy lifting, which increases pressure inside the abdomen and may force a section of intestine to protrude through a vulnerable area of your abdominal wall. If you develop an abnormal lump under the skin of your abdomen, especially near your groin or near a surgical scar, contact your doctor.
  • There is no proven way to prevent obstruction caused by diverticular disease, but some doctors believe that people with diverticular disease should follow a high-fiber diet and avoid foods that may become lodged in the diverticula, such as seeds and popcorn.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: July 31, 2017 | Last Modified: July 31, 2017

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