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Definition

What is ileus?

Ileus is the medical term for the decrease of movement in the gastrointestinal tract that leads to a buildup or blockage of food material. An ileus can lead to an intestinal obstruction. This means no food material, gas, or liquids can get through. Although ileus has numerous causes, a side effect after surgery is the most common setting for the development of ileus.

An ileus is a serious concern. But people often don’t know that food is building up in their intestines and continue to eat. This pushes more and more material toward the blockage. Without treatment, the ileus can perforate or tear the intestine. This causes bowel contents, which have high levels of bacteria, to leak into areas of your body cavity. This can be deadly. If an ileus does occur, it’s important to get treatment as quickly as possible.

An ileus can develop into a serious and potentially life-threatening situation. Two of the most severe complications are necrosis, peritonitis.

How common is ileus?

This health condition is extremely common. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of ileus?

The common symptoms of ileus are:

  • Abdominal cramping;
  • Appetite loss;
  • Feeling of fullness;
  • Constipation;
  • Inability to pass gas;
  • Stomach swelling;
  • Nausea;
  • Vomiting, especially vomiting stool-like contents.

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?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above, especially after surgery or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes ileus?

  • Abdominal surgery.
  • Joint or spine surgery.
  • Injury or trauma.
  • Severe generalized infections (sepsis).
  • Heart attack.
  • Imbalance of electrolytes.
  • Disorders that affect muscle function.
  • Use high blood pressure medicine.
  • Certain medications,such as hydromorphone (Dilaudid), morphine, oxycodone, tricyclic antidepressants (amitriptyline, imipramine).
  • Colon cancer.
  • Crohn’s disease, which causes the intestinal walls to get thicker.
  • Diverticulitis.
  • Parkinson’s disease, which affects muscles and nerves in the intestines.
  • The most common cause for an ileus in children.
  • Low blood supply to parts of intestine (mesenteric ischemia).

Risk factors

What increases my risk for ileus?

There are many risk factors for ileus, such as:

  • Abdominal surgery, infection, or injury;
  • A previous history of ileus;
  • Electrolyte imbalance, especially for potassium and calcium;
  • Having intestinal injury or trauma in the past;
  • Crohn’s disease;
  • Diverticulitis;
  • Sepsis;
  • History of irradiation of or near the abdomen;
  • Peripheral artery disease;
  • Rapid weight loss;
  • Aging.

Diagnosis & treatment

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

How is ileus diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam. Diagnosis of ileus is usually based on symptoms and testing. Tests may include:

  • X-ray. This may show signs of trapped gas and possibly the obstruction, but X-rays aren’t always the most conclusive way to diagnose an ileus.
  • CT scan. This scan provides more detailed X-ray images to help doctors identify the potential area where the ileus is located.
  • This imaging technique is more commonly used to identify an ileus in children.
  • Barium enema. A test that uses radiation to take a picture of the colon, after the colon has been filled with barium.
  • Colonoscopy. A thin, lighted tube inserted through the rectum and into the colon to examine the lining of the colon.

How is ileus treated?

Treatments for an ileus depends on its severity.

  • A low-fiber diet. A doctor may recommend a low-fiber diet in partial obstruction. This can help reduce the bulky stool, making it easier to pass. However, if that doesn’t work, surgery to repair or move the affected portion of the bowel may be needed.
  • A complete obstruction is a medical emergency. Treatment will depend upon your overall health. Abdominal surgery to remove the blockage or the damaged intestine portion may still be needed, though.
  • Discontinuing the medications that caused the ileus. If medicine is the cause, a doctor may be able to prescribe another medication to encourage motility. Always consult your doctor before changing any prescription, such as antidepressant.
  • This is a bag that allows stool to drain from the stomach. You have to care for the ostomy, but you can live without your intestine after an ileus
  • Nasogastric Suction (NG Tube). A tube is inserted through the nose and into the stomach to remove digestive fluids. This will help relieve pain and bloating.
  • Intravenous fluids and electrolytes. Fluids are given by vein to avoid dehydration. Electrolytes are given by vein to help the ileus resolve.
  • There are medications that increase peristalsis (e.g., neostigmine, tegaserod) that can be used in selected patients to help ileus resolve.
  • Colonoscopic Decompression. A flexible tube may be inserted into the colon to relieve pressure.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage ileus?

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

  • Eating a healthy diet;
  • Weight loss;
  • Take a rest.

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.

Sources

Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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