Understanding Bowel Obstruction

Bowel obstruction, also known as intestinal obstruction, is a functional or mechanical blockage of the intestines. A partial or complete blockage can be dangerous as it disrupts the normal flow of the solids, fluids, and gas, fluids in the intestine. An obstruction may occur in the small intestine or in the large intestine. Bowel obstruction is a medical emergency.

Causes of bowel obstruction

There are many underlying conditions that could possibly cause bowel obstruction. These include abdominal tumor, scar tissue, hernia, bowel cancer, adhesions, impacted feces, foreign object (swallowed objects, gallstones), twisted bowel, intussusception, gallstone ileus, diverticulitis, intestinal volvulus, Crohn’s disease, and tuberculosis. It can also be caused by superior mesenteric artery syndrome, intestinal atresia, colon atresia, and endometriosis.

Symptoms of bowel obstruction

Bowel obstruction systems largely depend on whether the obstruction occurs in the small intestine or the large intestine. One of the symptoms of small-bowel obstruction is a wave of cramping abdominal pain, often around the periumbilical area (belly button).

It also usually causes vomiting (brown vomit if the blockage happens in the lower small intestine and green if it’s in the upper small intestine). Other symptoms are inability to pass gas, constipation, and bloating in the lower abdomen.

Abdominal pain below the belly button is also one of the symptoms of large-bowel obstruction. Patients who have this type of bowel obstruction also experience generalized abdominal bloating that often occurs in the pelvic area and around the belly button. Other symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting.

How bowel obstruction is diagnosed?

The primary diagnostic tools for bowel obstruction are abdomen X-rays, blood tests, ultrasound and/or CT scanning. In case doctors identify a mass, biopsy is used to determine and examine the nature of the mass.

Radiological signs of the disorder include bowel distension as well as the presence of multiple gas-fluid levels on erect and supine abdominal radiographs. Other diagnostic options include laparoscopy and colonoscopy.

How to treat bowel obstruction?

Some cases of bowel obstruction may be resolved spontaneously, while others may require operative treatment. Bowel obstruction in adults usually requires causative lesion treatment and surgical intervention.

Doctors use self-expanding metal stents (endoscopically placed) in malignant large bowel obstruction to temporarily relieve the blockage as a palliation or as bridge to surgery.

How to prevent bowel obstruction?

Prevention of bowel obstruction depends on what causes the blockage. If conditions such as tumors and hernias cause the blockage, treatment of this condition significantly reduces your risk of developing intestinal obstruction. However, it’s not preventable if it’s caused by volvulus and intussusception.


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