After little to no stool to pass through

After completing this lesson, you will be able to describe what a bowel obstruction is, as well as the causes, symptoms and treatment of the condition.

A short quiz follows the lesson.

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Defining Bowel Obstruction

A bowel obstruction can be easily explained by examining a highway full of speeding cars. When an accident occurs, the road becomes blocked and very little or no cars are allowed to pass. In the same way, your intestines can get a ‘road block’ that allows little or no stool to pass through to your rectum (the final part of your digestive system).

This condition is known as a bowel obstruction.

Bowel Obstruction Causes

There are a number of things that can cause a bowel obstruction. If you have had previous bowel surgeries, scar tissue (adhesions) can form and restrict the passage of stool. An obstruction can also be the result of paralytic ileus, a condition in which the bowels become ‘paralyzed’ and stop working like they are supposed to. Ileus is one of the main causes of bowel obstruction in children and can be caused by various things, including bacteria, viruses, low potassium levels, decreased blood supply to the bowels and some medications.

Other conditions that can lead to a bowel obstruction include diverticulitis (inflamed or infected pouches in your intestines), tumors and hernias.

Symptoms of a Bowel Obstruction

Some common signs and symptoms of a bowel obstruction include:

  • Abdominal cramps that come and go
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal swelling (distention)
  • Abdominal fullness (gas)
  • Inability to pass stool or gas

Bowel Obstruction Treatment

A bowel obstruction can be very serious and requires immediate medical treatment. Imagine if you put a tight rubber band on your finger for too long; the area below the rubber band becomes blue and will eventually die unless you do something to relieve the pressure. The same thing can happen to your intestines if a bowel obstruction is not resolved. Luckily, with proper treatment most people make a full recovery.The treatment depends on the cause of the obstruction, but most of the time it requires hospitalization. Once you’re at the hospital, a doctor or nurse may insert a long, thin (nasogastric) tube into your nose and through your digestive system.

This may sound scary, but it’s actually very quick and mostly just uncomfortable. This tube will help to relieve discomfort from the accumulating gas by letting it escape through the tube, which should make you feel much better. Sometimes, a total bowel obstruction requires surgery to relieve the obstruction and remove any dead bowel tissue.If your bowel obstruction is caused by paralytic ileus, you may be hospitalized for a few days for observation. Ileus usually goes away on its own, but if the condition persists, the doctor may order some medications to help get your bowels moving again. These medications work by causing muscle contractions that are needed for your bowels to move food through your digestive tract.

Lesson Summary

A bowel obstruction is the narrowing or complete blockage of the bowels that allows little to no stool to pass through to the rectum.

This may be caused by a mechanical obstruction, such as intestinal adhesions, hernias or tumors. A condition known as paralytic ileus, which causes the bowels to become paralyzed, can also cause a bowel obstruction, especially in children.Signs and symptoms associated with this condition include: abdominal cramps, fullness, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, constipation, swelling and inability to pass stool. Treatment usually requires hospitalization, where doctors investigate and treat the underlying cause and relieve the obstruction.

Surgical intervention is sometimes required for serious cases. A bowel obstruction can be deadly, so it is imperative that you seek medical treatment immediately if you’re experiencing signs and symptoms of the condition.Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.


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