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Intestinal Blockage

Intestinal Blockage

Intestinal blockage is a condition, wherein there is a partial or complete obstruction in the passage of food, fluids, and gas through the intestines. The treatment differs with respect to the root cause and severity of the obstruction. The following article provides some information on the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of the condition.
Ningthoujam Sandhyarani
Intestinal blockage is a medical condition that affects the digestive health of a person. In this condition, the normal passage of intestinal contents is disturbed due to obstruction of the particular section of the intestine. It may affect both young children and adults. An obstruction in the small intestine is called small intestinal blockage; while colonic intestinal blockage refers to the condition present in the large intestine. Since the partly digested food particles, water, and other contents are not able to pass the intestine smoothly, intestinal obstruction results in varied symptoms.


The blockage condition could be attributed to structural defect (presence of something in the intestinal tract), and obstruction in the ileum (ileus), both of which require immediate therapeutic intervention. The former case is related to physical blockage of the intestinal tract, whereas, there is no clear reason for the latter problem, as to why the bowel is not functioning properly. The reason for this bowel problem is suspected to be muscle or nerve disorder in the affected section of the intestine. Intestinal obstruction in toddlers and children is mostly caused due to partial obstruction or paralytic ileus. The probable causes of the condition are listed below.

Causes for Mechanical Obstruction
  • Abnormal growth of tissue (adhesions)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Hernia in the intestinal tract
  • Intussusception (telescoping of intestine)
  • Gallstones
  • Trapped foreign bodies
  • Twisted bowel
  • Impacted feces in the colon
  • Inflammation and scarring of colon
  • Diverticular disease
  • Tumor in small intestine
  • Colon cancer
Causes for Paralytic Ileus
  • Intra-abdominal infections
  • Side effects of medicines
  • Intra-abdominal surgery complication
  • Surgery of the pelvic region
  • Electrolyte or mineral imbalance
  • Insufficient blood supply to abdomen
  • Organ disease (affecting lungs or kidney)

The symptoms of this condition may vary from one affected person to another, based on the exact location of the blockage and extent of obstruction (partial or full blockage). The general signs are related to mild digestive problems. Nevertheless, blockage symptoms may progress in some of the affected people, thus, requiring immediate medical attention. The following are notable signs of the condition.
  • Excess flatulence
  • Bloating
  • Inability to pass gas
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Tenderness in the abdomen
  • Less urination
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
Prompt treatment is necessary as there could be serious complications in the absence of treatment. An untreated intestinal obstruction may become a breeding ground for pathogens, which overtime will result in peritonitis or infection of the abdominal cavity. Also, in other cases, blood supply to the obstructed intestinal part may be cut off, which may result in tissue death of the affected intestinal wall.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The treatment begins with diagnosis of the affected region and identification of the underlying causes. Hence, those who have suspected symptoms should not delay in consulting the concerned doctor for correct detection. For diagnosis, the doctor may examine physical symptoms and check for the presence of bowel sounds with the help of a stethoscope. Other procedures conducted for confirmation are computed tomography (CT) scan, X-ray, and barium enema of the abdomen.

Partial blockage, a condition wherein some intestinal contents can pass through the lower digestive system, is treated with stabilization approaches. In this case, the doctor would make arrangements for alleviating stomach distension and draining bladder contents. A nasogastric (NG) tube that reaches the stomach is introduced through the nasal passage to remove air and fluid from the abdomen. If required, intravenous feeding is done during the treatment process.

The treatment for complete intestinal blockage involves stabilization to manage symptoms, and surgical procedure. Surgery is performed with an objective to clear the obstruction. In case, death tissues or nonfunctional parts are present in the intestinal wall, they are excised during surgery. For obstructed bowel caused due to ileus, the doctor may prescribe medications depending upon the causes and manifested symptoms of the affected person. In most of the people having paralytic ileus, the normal movement of intestinal contents is resumed with therapeutic drugs.

Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.