Understanding Bowel Obstructions

A bowel obstruction is a blockage that prevents liquids, food and gas from passing through the intestines.  The causes of a bowel obstruction can usually be a result of a tumor, scar tissue or twisting/narrowing of the intestine.  If the obstruction goes untreated, the blocked portions of the intestine can die.  If the obstruction is treated promptly and properly it can be successful treated preventing more serious problems.

The most common symptoms of a bowel obstruction are: abdominal pain and cramping that comes and goes, vomiting, bloating, nausea, constipation, inability to have a bowel movement or pass gas, diarrhea, and swelling of the belly.  It is important to call your physician right away or go to the emergency room if your pain is severe and constant.  This could be an indicator that the blood supply to your intestines has been cut off or you may have a hole in your intestine.

To diagnose the bowel obstruction your physician will order an abdominal ultrasound or CT scan to look for blockages in the small or large intestine.  If you are diagnosed with a bowel obstruction you will most likely be admitted to the hospital to be treated.  You will be given IV fluids.  Your physician may also place a NG tube through your nose and down into your stomach.  This tube removes fluid and gas which helps to relieve pain and pressure.  You will not be allowed to eat or drink anything.  Most bowel obstructions are partial bowel obstructions and are able to resolve on their own.  In some cases further treatment may be needed such as the use of enemas or placement of a stent to open up the blockage.  If the intestine is completely blocked or the tissue in the intestine has died, surgery will almost always be recommended.

1. “Bowel Obstruction.”  WebMD.  WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise.  April 27, 2011.  Web 4 Nov 2013.
2. “Intestinal Obstruction.” Mayo Clinic.  Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER).  December 18, 2012.  Web 4 Nov 2013.