Bowel obstruction or bowel blockage can occur when there is no open passageway for digested food waste to move through the bowel/intestine. Partial or complete blockage can occur in both the small or large intestines. The source of the bowel obstruction can be found either inside or outside of the intestine.
Bowel Obstruction Symptoms
Symptoms of bowel obstruction include:
- Cramping and abdominal pain usually coming in intense waves
- Nausea and vomiting
- Puffy and bloated stomach (stomach may feel large and hard)
- Difficulty passing gas
- Diarrhea as a result of liquid stool leaking past a bowel obstruction
Causes of Bowel Obstruction
There are a number of causes that can be associated with bowel obstruction. There are mechanical problems which means that there is something actually blocking the bowel. There is also a condition called ileus, when the gut has nothing structurally wrong, it just doesn’t function properly.
Causes of bowel obstruction include:
- Lack of potassium
- Severe constipation from hardened stool
- Complications from surgery
- A decrease in blood flow to the intestines
- Kidney disease
- Lung disease
- Drug abuse
Mechanical causes of bowel obstruction:
- Intussusception – where part of the intestines folds in on itself
- Volvulus – twisted intestine
- Tumors blocking the intestine
Complications of Bowel Obstructions
If symptoms persist or are left untreated, there are major complications that can occur from bowel obstructions. Complications include:
- Electrolyte (blood, chemical, and mineral) imbalances
- Perforations (holes) in the intestine
- Jaundice – yellowing of the skin and eyes
- Complete or major blockage are considered medical emergencies and you should seek medical attention.
Bowel Obstruction Treatment
Many partial obstructions will get better on their own over time. If you are suffering from persistent abdominal pain and other related symptoms you should seek medical care. The majority of bowel obstructions are treated in the hospital or in a medical facility. Placing a tube down the nose and into the stomach to remove excess fluid and gas may help to relieve abdominal swelling and pressure.
For patients with volvulus or twisted intestine, the answer may lie in a tube inserted through the rectum into the large bowel. Tubes and stints are commonly inserted to help open blocked passages.
Almost all complete blockages require surgery to fix. Depending on the location and type of obstruction will determine the type of surgical procedure(s) required.