Intestinal Obstruction

ExitCare ImageAn intestinal obstruction is a blockage of the intestine. It can be caused by a physical blockage or by a problem of abnormal function of the intestine.


  • Adhesions from previous surgeries.

  • Cancer or tumor.

  • A hernia, which is a condition in which a portion of the bowel bulges out through an opening or weakness in the abdomen. This sometimes squeezes the bowel.

  • A swallowed object.

  • Blockage (impaction) with worms is common in third world countries.

  • A twisting of the bowel or telescoping of a portion of the bowel into another portion (intussusceptions).

  • Anything that stops food from going through from the stomach to the anus.


Symptoms of bowel obstruction may include abdominal bloating, nausea, vomiting, explosive diarrhea, or explosive stool. You may not be able to hear your normal bowel sounds (such as "growling in your stomach"). You may also stop having bowel movements or passing gas.


Usually this condition is diagnosed with a history and an examination. Often, lab studies (blood work) and X-rays may be used to find the cause.


The main treatment for this condition is to rest the intestine. Often, the obstruction may relieve itself and allow the intestine to start working again. Think of the intestine like a balloon that is blown up (filled with trapped food and water that has squeezed into a hole or area that it cannot get through).

  • If the obstruction is complete, a nasogastric (NG) tube is passed through the nose and into the stomach. It is then connected to suction to keep the stomach emptied out. This also helps treat the nausea and vomiting.

  • If there is an imbalance in the electrolytes, they are corrected with intravenous fluids. These fluids have the proper chemicals in them to correct the problem.

  • If the reason for the blockage does not get better with conservative (nonsurgical) treatment, surgery may be necessary. Sometimes, surgery is done immediately if your surgeon knows that the problem is not going to get better with conservative treatment.


Depending on what the problem is, most of these problems can be treated by your caregivers with good results. Your caregiver will discuss with you the best course of action to take.


Seek immediate medical attention if you have:

  • Increasing abdominal pain, repeated vomiting, dehydration, or fainting.

  • Severe weakness, chest pain, or back pain.

  • Blood in your vomit or stool.

  • Tarry stool.