Partial or complete intestinal blockage may occur due to mechanical obstruction or functional impairments of the intestine. This causes abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, constipation, etc. The current article gives a brief description of the symptoms experienced due to such bowel obstruction.
Intestinal blockage is also known as ileus, paralytic ileus, bowel obstruction or volvulus (blockage due to intestinal twisting). It refers to partial or complete obstruction of the small or large intestine, and prevents the normal movement of fluids, solids or gas within the intestines. Blockage in the small intestine is called small bowel obstruction, and that in the large intestine is termed as large bowel obstruction or colonic obstruction.
Such blockage may occur due to mechanical obstruction caused by intestinal adhesions, bowel endometriosis, tumors, bowel twisting, inflammation, infection, etc. Malfunction of the peristaltic muscles due to injury and medications also leads to intestinal blockage. It can also be the result of post-surgery complications. However, the symptoms experienced are more or less similar in all the cases. The signs and symptoms associated with such intestinal blockage have been described below.
The following symptoms are commonly experienced during the onset of intestinal blockage. Symptoms given below may not necessarily indicate a blocked intestine, but may also arise due to reasons as simple as temporary indigestion. However, the prolonged persistence of these symptoms is indicative of intestinal obstruction.
► Abdominal pain and discomfort
Small bowel blockage generally causes abdominal cramps and pain around the belly button. Abdominal pain below the belly button would arise due to a blockage in the large intestine.
The accumulation of chyme and gas gives rise to a feeling of fullness and causes bloating. This may also give rise to high-pitched gurgling sounds from the abdomen.
► Diarrhea and constipation
Frequent episodes of passing loose, liquid stools may occur due to partial intestinal blockage. Recurrent diarrhea may even lead to dehydration. In contrast, infrequent bowel movements or constipation coupled with an inability to pass gas can also be attributed to intestinal blockage. Certain individuals experience alternating episodes of diarrhea and constipation.
Obstruction and the resulting digestive inability hampers the absorption of vitamins and other nutrients from food, leading to weakness, headache and dizziness. Even regular activities may make the individual feel exhausted and drowsy.
Prolonged bowel obstruction is manifested through the following symptoms which demand immediate medical attention.
Nausea followed by vomiting, especially a green colored vomit indicating the presence of bile, is an indication of bowel obstruction. In severe cases, fecal vomiting (brown or black colored vomit) may occur since the obstruction may force a backward flow of intestinal contents into the stomach. Vomiting is more common with blockage in the large intestine. Frequent vomiting may also cause halitosis.
► Abdominal distention
An inflammation in the intestinal lining occurs due to persistent blockage and infection, leading to abdominal swelling and distention. It is accompanied with abdominal tenderness, yellowing of the abdominal skin and breathing difficulty.
► Blood in stools
A damage in the intestinal lining may cause bleeding in the intestines which is indicated by the presence of blood in stools.
In case of infection and intestinal blockage due to cancers, fever accompanied with fatigue is a common symptom. In certain cases, obstruction may lead to inflammation of the intestinal lining or peritonitis characterized by fever, chills and tremors. Repetitive episodes of fever along with fatigue, weight loss, night sweats, and other symptoms of bowel obstruction may indicate a blockage due to malignant tumors in the intestine.
► Infrequent urination
Dehydration due to diarrhea and vomiting, results in the loss of body fluids and electrolytes. As a response to this, the body tries to retain water through lowered urine output.
► Intestinal strangulation
In severe cases, intestinal obstruction hampers blood supply to the intestines. Persistence of such ischemia leads to necrosis or gangrene of the intestinal tissue. This medical condition is called intestinal strangulation, and is manifested as continuous severe pain at a single point of the abdomen, along with other symptoms of intestinal obstruction. It occurs in 10-20% of people with small bowel obstruction.
Abdominal CT scans, barium enema and pathological investigations are essential to ascertain that the symptoms indeed point towards intestinal blockage. Symptoms and their severity as well as the precise etiology is used in deciding the appropriate surgical or non-surgical treatment option. Intestinal blockage may lead to severe complications, and hence demands an early diagnosis and prompt treatment.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.