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Bowel Obstruction


Bowel obstruction, or intestinal obstruction, is a medical condition where the normal flow of digested food and liquids through the gastrointestinal tract is partially or wholly blocked. This blockage can occur at various points in the digestive system, and it can be a severe medical emergency requiring prompt treatment.

Bowel obstruction is a medical condition characterized by the partial or complete blockage of the digestive tract. It can result from various causes, including adhesions, hernias, and tumours. Symptoms may include abdominal pain, distention, nausea, vomiting, and changes in bowel movements. Prompt medical evaluation and treatment are crucial, as severe cases may require surgery.


Bowel obstructions can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Adhesions: Scar tissue from previous abdominal surgery or injury can lead to adhesions that constrict or twist the intestines.


  • Hernias: Certain types of hernias can trap a section of the intestine, leading to obstruction.


  • Tumors: Benign and malignant tumours can block the intestines as they grow.


  • Intussusception: This condition occurs when one section of the intestine slides into another, similar to how a telescope collapses.


  • Volvulus: Volvulus is a condition where the intestine twists upon itself, causing a blockage.


  • Impacted stool: Severe constipation or a large, hard stool mass can obstruct the bowel.


  • Inflammatory bowel disease: Conditions like Crohn’s disease can cause inflammation and scarring that leads to obstruction.


  • Strictures: Narrowing the intestine due to scarring or inflammation can result in a partial blockage.


The bowel obstruction symptoms can vary depending on the location and severity of the blockage. Common symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain: This is often a cramp and may come and go.


  • Abdominal distention: The abdomen can become swollen and firm.


  • Nausea and vomiting: As the blockage worsens, vomiting may occur.


  • Inability to pass gas or have a bowel movement: Constipation or complete absence of bowel movements.


  • Diarrhea: Sometimes, liquid stool may leak around the blockage.


  • Bowel sounds: Increased bowel sounds may be heard initially, but they may become quiet as the obstruction progresses.


To diagnose a bowel obstruction, a healthcare provider may use a combination of the following tests and assessments:

  • Physical Examination: The healthcare provider will examine your abdomen for tenderness, enlargement, and bowel sounds.


  • Imaging: X-rays, CT scans, or other imaging studies can help visualize the location and severity of the obstruction.


  • Blood Tests: Blood tests can reveal signs of infection, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalances.


  • Barium Enema: In some cases, a contrast material (barium) may be used to highlight the area of obstruction during an X-ray.


The bowel obstruction treatment depends on its cause and severity. In mild cases, treatment may be non-surgical and involve measures like fasting, intravenous fluids, and the use of a nasogastric tube to decompress the intestine. More severe issues, especially those caused by a complete blockage, often require surgical intervention. Surgery may involve the removal of the obstruction, repair of hernias, resection of damaged bowel, or removal of tumors.

When To See A Doctor

If you experience symptoms of bowel obstruction, it is essential to seek medical attention promptly, especially if you have severe abdominal pain, vomiting, or the inability to pass gas or stool. Bowel obstructions can lead to severe complications if not treated on time. Contact your primary care physician or go to the emergency room if you suspect a bowel obstruction.


This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. If you have concerns about bowel obstruction or any other medical condition, please see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment suggestions.