Intestinal obstruction: causes, symptoms and treatment

intestinal obstruction symptoms

An intestinal obstruction occurs when your small or large intestine is mechanically or functionally obstructed which prevents the normal movement of the products of digestion. The blockage can be partial or total, and it prevents passage of fluids and digested food. This causes waste matter and gases to build up in the portion above the blockage. It could also disrupt absorption of nutrients and fluids.

The small bowel, also called the small intestine, ranges from 20-30 feet long and is about 1 inch in diameter. It has many folds that allow it to fit into the abdominal cavity. One end of the small bowel is connected to the stomach and the other to the large intestine. The small intestine consists of 3 parts: the duodenum, the jejunum, and the ileum.

Causes of intestinal obstruction

There are many potential causes of intestinal obstruction. Often, this condition cannot be prevented however it can be managed effectively. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial. An untreated intestinal obstruction can be fatal.

  • Crohn’s disease
  • Impacted stool
  • Diverticulitis
  • Hernia
  • Colon cancer
  • Tumours of the intestine
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Scar tissue from surgery
  • Radiation to the abdominal area
  • Gallstones
  • Swallowed objects mostly in children
  • Intussusception
  • Malformations of the intestine
  • Twisting of the intestines
  • Adhesion’s
  • Stricture, a narrowing in the colon

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of intestinal obstruction include:

  • Abdominal cramping and bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Inability to pass gas or stool
  • Constipation
  • Diarrheoa
  • Abdominal distension
  • Malaise

Intestinal obstruction in infants in most cases arises from infections, organ diseases, and decreased blood flow to the intestines. It is difficult to diagnose in infants because they can’t describe their symptoms. Instead, parents must observe their children for changes and symptoms that could indicate a blockage such as:

  • Drawing knees up to their chest
  • Drowsiness
  • High body temperature
  • Moaning in pain
  • Passing stools that appear to have blood in them, known as a currant jelly stool
  • Irritability and crying
  • Vomiting yellow-green fluid
  • Weakness


Your doctor will do a physical exam to see if you have pain in your abdomen. Examine whether you are able to pass gas or if there’s a lump in your abdomen.

Other tests include:

  • Blood tests for blood counts, liver and kidney function, and levels of electrolytes
  • X-rays
  • CT scan
  • Colonoscopy to look at your large intestine
  • Barium enema


Firstly, some causes of intestinal obstruction may resolve spontaneously; many require operative treatment. If you have a complete blockage of your bowel, you will likely have to be hospitalized for treatment, which typically includes surgery or a procedure to open up the blockage.

Secondly, surgery. If you are healthy enough for surgery, you may need to have the area causing the blockage removed. The surgeon also will remove any tissue in your bowel that has died due to lack of blood flow.

Thirdly, a small flexible tube may be inserted through the nose into the stomach to help decompress the dilated bowel.

Fourthly, opiod pain relievers may be used for patients with severe pain.

Additionally, antibiotics to reduce infection.

Also, treating dehydration is important. A doctor may give you IV fluids to correct electrolyte imbalance. Also, a catheter passed into your bladder to drain urine.

Furthermore, antiemetics may be administered if the patient is vomiting.

Moreover, for partial obstructions or an ileus, it may be possible to treat by simply resting the bowel. Bowel rest means you will not be given anything during that time.

About felclinic 593 Articles
Felix Ntifo is a Registered General Nurse who has so much passion to improve health care delivery. He founded FelClinic with the hope of making health information accessible to everyone who may not come in contact with him personally. "At we are very passionate about health and well-being of everyone. Our team is made up of professional doctors, nurses, midwives and lab technicians."

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