Intestinal obstruction

By Medically reviewed by Hello Doktor Medical Panel


What is intestinal obstruction?

Intestinal obstruction is a blockage that keeps food or liquid from passing through your small intestine or large intestine (colon).

How common is intestinal obstruction?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of intestinal obstruction?

The common symptoms of intestinal 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?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above 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.


What causes intestinal obstruction?

The most common causes of intestinal obstruction in adults are:

  • Intestinal adhesions — bands of fibrous tissue in the abdominal cavity that can form after abdominal or pelvic surgery
  • Colon cancer

In children, the most common cause of intestinal obstruction is telescoping of the intestine (intussusception).

Other possible causes of intestinal obstruction include:

  • Hernias — portions of intestine that protrude into another part of your body
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease
  • Diverticulitis — a condition in which small, bulging pouches (diverticula) in the digestive tract become inflamed or infected
  • Twisting of the colon (volvulus)
  • Impacted feces

Risk factors

What increases my risk for intestinal obstruction?

There are many risk factors for intestinal 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 intestinal obstruction diagnosed?

First, a doctor may push on your abdomen to examine it. They then listen with a stethoscope to any sounds being made. The presence of a hard lump or particular kinds of sounds, especially in a child, may help determine whether an obstruction exists.

Other tests include:

  • Blood tests for blood counts, liver and kidney function, and levels of electrolytes
  • X-rays
  • CT scan
  • Colonoscopy, a flexible lighted tube that your doctor uses to look at your large intestine
  • Enema with contrast

How is intestinal obstruction treated?

Treatment depends on the location and severity of the obstruction. Don’t attempt to treat the problem at home. The appropriate treatment depends on the type of intestinal obstruction.

For partial obstructions or an ileus, it may be possible to treat by simply resting the bowels and giving intravenous (IV) fluids. Bowel rest means you’ll be given nothing to eat, or clear liquids only, during that time. If the cause of the obstruction is known, your doctor treats that as well.

Treating dehydration is important. A doctor may give you IV fluids to correct electrolyte imbalance. A catheter may be inserted into your bladder to drain urine.

A tube may need to be passed through your nose and down into your throat, stomach, and intestines to relieve:

  • Pressure
  • Swelling
  • Vomiting

If your problem is due to the use of narcotic pain medications, your doctor can prescribe medication that reduces the effect of the narcotics on your bowels.

Surgery will be required if these measures fail or if your symptoms become worse. Treatment in this case typically requires a hospital stay. You’ll be given IV fluids, because in addition to relieving dehydration, they help prevent shock during surgery.

A severe complication of a bowel obstruction can be permanent damage to your intestine. If this occurs, a surgeon will perform an operation to remove the section of dead tissue and rejoin the two healthy ends of your intestine.

While prescription medications can’t treat the obstruction itself, they can help reduce your nausea until further interventions are performed. Examples of medications your doctor may prescribe include:

  • Antibiotics to reduce infection
  • Antinausea medicines to keep you from vomiting
  • Pain relievers

You shouldn’t ignore the symptoms of an intestinal obstruction or attempt to treat an intestinal obstruction at home.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

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

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.

msBahasa Malaysia

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Review Date: October 18, 2017 | Last Modified: December 8, 2019

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