Intestinal obstruction and Ileus
Intestinal obstruction is a partial or complete blockage of the bowel. The contents of the intestine cannot pass through it.
Paralytic ileus; Intestinal volvulus; Bowel obstruction; Ileus; Pseudo-obstruction - intestinal; Colonic ileus; Small bowel obstruction
Obstruction of the bowel may be due to:
Paralytic ileus, also called pseudo-obstruction, is one of the major causes of intestinal obstruction in infants and children. Causes of paralytic ileus may include:
Mechanical causes of intestinal obstruction may include:
Symptoms may include:
Exams and Tests
During a physical exam, the health care provider may find bloating, tenderness, or hernias in the abdomen.
Tests that show obstruction include:
Treatment involves placing a tube through the nose into the stomach or intestine. This is to help relieve abdominal swelling (distention) and vomiting. Volvulus of the large bowel may be treated by passing a tube into the rectum.
Surgery may be needed to relieve the obstruction if the tube does not relieve the symptoms. It may also be needed if there are signs of tissue death.
The outcome depends on the cause of the blockage. Most of the time, the cause is successfully treated.
Complications may include or may lead to:
If the obstruction blocks the blood supply to the intestine, it may cause infection and tissue death (gangrene). Risks for tissue death are related to the cause of the blockage and how long it has been present. Hernias, volvulus, and intussusception carry a higher gangrene risk.
In a newborn, paralytic ileus that destroys the bowel wall (necrotizing enterocolitis) is a life-threatening condition. It may lead to blood and lung infections.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if you:
Prevention depends on the cause. Treating conditions, such as tumors and hernias that can lead to a blockage, may reduce your risk.
Some causes of obstruction cannot be prevented.
Harris JW, Evers BM. Small intestine. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 49.
Mahmoud NN, Bleier JIS, Aarons CB, Paulson EC, Shanmugan S, Fry RD. Colon and rectum. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 51.
Mustain WC, Turnage RH. Intestinal obstruction. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 123.
Review Date: 4/30/2020
Reviewed By: Bradley J. Winston, MD, board certified in gastroenterology and hepatology, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.