Intestinal Obstruction

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Overview

Intestinal obstruction is a disorder in which there is a blockage of the passage of food or liquid through the small or large intestine. The blocked part usually has decreased blood supply and can be fatal if left untreated, which may, in turn, lead to further complications.

Causes

Most common causes of intestinal obstruction are:

  • Intestinal adhesions (fibrous bands that can form after surgery)
  • Colon cancer
  • Intussusception
  • A hernia
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Diverticulitis
  • Volvulus (twisting of the intestine)
  • Fecal impaction

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of intestinal obstruction include:

  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps that come and goes
  • Inability to pass gas
  • Decreased bowel movement
  • Swelling of the abdomen

Tissue death due to decreased blood supply can lead to an intestinal tear (perforation) which may lead to infection of the abdominal cavity (peritonitis) which can be fatal if not attended promptly.

Diagnosis

Patient history and clinical examination of the abdomen can usually hint at the diagnosis. X-ray, CT, Ultrasounds and air/barium enema can confirm clinical suspicion.

Treatment

Treatment for intestinal obstruction usually requires immediate hospitalization. Different surgical options are available for various underlying factors causing the presenting obstruction.

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