Intestinal Blockage

Intestinal Blockage – Causes, Picture, Symptoms, and Treatment

Intestinal blockage refers to the obstruction developing in your intestine. It can prevent the food or liquid from passing through the large intestine or small intestine. The block can occur due to issues caused after any surgery, diverticulitis, colon cancer, hernia or inflammation. The condition is serious and needs immediate medical attention. Without treatment, the blocked part of the intestine can damage or die, leading to severe complications. When you get treatment, you can clear obstruction successfully.

About Intestinal Blockage

Intestinal blockage In normal cases, the digestion takes place after the food particles travel through twenty-five feet or more of the intestines. The digested wastes normally stay constantly in motion. But, when you develop a block in the intestine (small or large), it puts a stop to the constant motion. The block is either partial or total. So, it prevents the passage of digested food and fluids.

When you develop obstruction, the food, liquid, acids, and gas tend to build up at the exact site of the block. It can lead to the rupture of the intestine. It can lead to serious complications as the intestinal contents leaks into the abdominal cavity. The harmful contents, as well as bacteria, can trigger severe complications, leading to life-threatening situations. You can develop the condition due to different factors. But, you can prevent the condition with ease. With early diagnosis and treatment, you can manage the condition effectively.

Symptoms Of Intestinal Blockage

When you experience obstruction of your intestine, you can see different signs. The symptoms associated with the condition are:

  • Abdominal pain or cramps that comes and goes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Inability to pass gas
  • Trouble having a bowel movement
  • Swelling of the abdomen

The symptoms associated with the condition depends on the location of the obstruction. It is also linked to the length of time you suffer from the obstruction. Like when you feel nauseous or vomit, then it is the early sign of obstruction in the small intestine. When you suffer ongoing obstruction in your large intestine, then you will suffer the same symptoms. While partial obstruction can lead to diarrhea or loose stools. Complete obstruction can cause difficulty to pass gas or stool.

The condition is serious and needs medical attention. Without treatment, you can face serious infection and inflammation when the affected portion of intestine ruptures. It occurs in your abdominal cavity. The condition known as peritonitis can cause life-threatening complications. You can suffer from fever and abdominal pain. To manage the serious condition, you have to undergo emergency surgery.

Causes Of Intestinal Blockage

Your intestine can experience partial or complete block. Partial blocks are easy to resolve and do not need surgical intervention.But, complete obstruction requires surgery to remove the block. Before going into the treatment option, you need to know what causes it. There different types of obstructions, leading to the condition. The types are:

Mechanical Obstructions

Mechanical Obstructions

It is the block formed due to physical elements in the intestine. When mechanical obstruction occurs in the small intestine, it is due to the following:


It is a type of scar that has tough tissues. The areas have fibrous connective tissue, which develops outside of your pelvic organs or injured intestine. It mostly occurs after an infection or surgery. When you undergo surgery involving the appendix (like appendicitis) or colon can result in adhesion. Women who undergo gynecological surgeries can also face risk.


It is the condition occurring when a loop of your intestine twists around itself and the mesentery (the contagious set of tissues) supporting it. So, it results in intestinal blockage.


It is a condition where a part of the intestine slides into another. So, it can result in blockage of the intestine.

Malformation Of Intestine

The malformation of the organ can cause a blockage. It mostly affects babies (newborns) or can affect children and teens.

Physical Block

When a tumor forms within the small intestine, it can result in the condition. The condition also occurs due to gallstones, but it is rare. In children, a swallowed object can lead to obstruction.


The condition causes a part of your intestine to protrude to another part of your body or outside your body.


Inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease can lead to obstruction.

In some less common cases, the mechanical obstruction occurs in your large intestine or colon. It occurs due to the following:


  • Colon Cancer
  • Impacted stool
  • Meconium plug (the first stool passed by babies)
  • Ovarian Cancer
  • Adhesions developing from surgeries or pelvic infections
  • Volvulus and intussusception
  • Stricture (Inflammation or scarring leading to narrowing in your colon)
  • Diverticulitis (It is the infection or infection affecting the bulging pouches of your intestine)

Non-mechanical Obstruction

In the normal digestive process, your large intestine and small intestine work in a coordinated movement. When something blocks the coordinated contractions, it results in a functional intestinal obstruction. It is normally known as non-mechanical obstruction. In some cases, the condition is temporary. So, it is referred to as an ileus. When it is long-term or chronic, then it is known as pseudo-obstruction.

Causes For Ileus

The cause for short term functional intestinal obstruction occurs due to the following:

  • Pelvic or abdominal surgery
  • Infections like appendicitis or gastroenteritis
  • Use of certain medication like opioid pain medication
  • Electrolyte imbalances

Causes Of Pseudo-Obstruction

The long-term functional obstruction occurs due to the following

  • Nerve and muscle disorders (multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease)
  • Disease-causing nerve injury (For example, diabetes)
  • The underactive or overactive thyroid gland
  • Lack of nerves in large intestine sections (Hirschsprung’s disease)

Causes Of Intestinal Blockage In Infants

Causes Of Intestinal Blockage In Infants

Babies or infants can also suffer from intestine obstruction. It arises due to organ diseases, infection, and reduced blood flow to the child’s intestine (also known as strangulation). Some kids experience the problem after suffering from stomach flu. Flu can trigger inflammation in the intestine, leading to the condition. Children who are two years old or younger suffer from the common type of obstruction known as intussusception. It occurs when the bowel slides of collapses into another part. So, it results in blockage of the intestine. It is difficult to diagnose the condition in infants as they cannot describe the symptoms. Therefore, parents need to observe their children for any changes or symptoms pointing towards a block. When parents observe the following, they need to take the child to a doctor immediately:

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Child appears drowsy
  • Drawing their knees to the chest level
  • Suffer from fever
  • Grunt in pain
  • Display signs of weakness
  • Currant Jelly stool (it is passing of stools with blood in them)
  • Vomit (having a bile-like or yellow-green appearance)
  • Very loud crying

You might not take the condition seriously. But, remember, it is a serious condition that needs immediate medical attention. So, when you see the symptoms associated with intestinal blockage or have undergone abdominal surgery recently, then make an appointment with the doctor.

Risk Factors Associated With Internal Blockage

Who can develop a intestinal blockage? All people are susceptible to the problem. But, some factors make you more prone to the condition compared to others. The conditions or diseases putting you at risk of obstruction of the intestine are:


When you undergo pelvic or abdominal surgery, it increases the risk of obstruction of your intestine. It is because the invasive procedure causes adhesions. Adhesion is a common obstruction.


When you suffer from medical conditions triggering the problem. So, the health conditions leading to the problem are:

  • Crohn’s disease, causing the thickening of your intestinal walls and narrowing the passageway.
  • Abdominal cancer resulting in surgical intervention to remove a tumor or undergo radiation therapy.

So, people who experience risk factors need to maintain caution.

Complications Due To Intestinal Blockage

When you fail to get treatment for intestinal blockage, it can lead to serious complications. You can face life-threatening issues like:

Tissue Death

When you suffer from the block in your intestine, it can cut off blood supply to that particular part of the intestine. The lack of blood in the intestinal region can lead to tissue death. So, your intestinal wall tears. The perforation formed in the intestinal wall leads to infection.


The infection triggered by bacteria of fungi due block of your intestine can lead to peritonitis. It is the infection affecting the abdominal cavity. The condition causes inflammation of the peritoneum. It is the inner wall covering and supporting abdominal organs. You need medical attention as early as possible to deal with the life-threatening condition. In most cases, you need surgical attention to deal with the issue.

Diagnosis Of Intestinal Blockage

When you experience abdominal pain and other symptoms associated with the block in your intestine, you need to seek your doctor’s help. The medical professional uses the following tests and procedures to diagnose obstruction in our intestine:

Physical Exam

Your doctor assesses your medical history as well as your symptoms in detail. The doctor performs a thorough physical check to detect the issue. Checking can reveal lump, swelling, or tenderness of your abdomen if you suffer from the block in the intestine. Your doctor also listens to bowel sounds using a stethoscope.

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests offer a comprehensive view of your internal organs. So, your doctor can detect any abnormality with ease.

X-ray Images

If your doctor suspects intestine obstruction, then an abdominal x-ray can offer a clear picture. But, some cases of obstruction are not easy to detect using x-ray images. You need more sophisticated imaging techniques to detect such complicated cases.

Computerized tomography (CT)

CT scan combines several x-ray images to get cross-sectional images of your abdomen. The x-ray images produced from different angles can reveal any obstruction in the intestine. The sophisticated imaging technique is more detailed than the normal x-ray images.


It is the imaging technique used to detect obstruction in children. Ultrasound uses sound waves to produce images in youngsters. The ultrasound of young people with an intussusception reveals a bull’s eye. It represents your intestine coiled within the intestine.

 Air/Barium Enema

 Air and Barium Enema

During the test, the doctor inserts liquid barium or air into the colon through your rectum. The test can provide an enhanced image of your colon. So, it aids the doctor in detecting certain causes of obstruction. For children who suffer from intussusception, the test alleviates the condition in the majority of the cases. They do not require further treatment.

Treatment For Intestinal Blockage

With prompt diagnosis and treatment, you can avoid the complications associated with obstructed intestine. The treatment depends on the root cause that leads to intestinal obstruction. For any of the treatment options, you need to stay in the hospital. You have the following treatment options for the condition:

Stabilize Your Condition

Stabilization is the first step your doctor takes when you arrive at the hospital. To undergo the treatment, you need to undergo the following processes:

  • Place an IV (intravenous line) into your vein. It is mostly placed in your arm. The IV line is important to provide you with medication and fluid as necessary.
  • Put a nasogastric tube. It is placed through the nose into the stomach. The main purpose of the tube is to suck out air as well as fluid. So, it relieves abdominal swelling.
  • Place a catheter (a thin, flexible tube) into the urinary bladder. It drains urine and used to test in the lab.

Treating Intussusception

When you face obstruction of the intestine due to a part of the organ telescoping inside the other segment, your doctor suggests barium or air enema. It is the diagnostic procedure, we have discussed above. It also works as a treatment option, especially for children. So, if the treatment option works, then no further treatment is required.

Treatment For Partial Obstruction

When you suffer from partial obstruction, then your doctor suggests stabilization in the hospital. Partial obstruction means some food and fluid can still get through. So, your doctor suggests some diet changes. The low-fiber diet is easy to process by the partially obstructed intestine. Your doctor suggests the following to make it easier for you to digest food:

  • Eat several small portions of food more often.
  • Chew the food well before swallowing.
  • Restrict a large amount of high-fiber food (like nuts or wholegrain cereals).
  • Avoid stringy or tough food (for example, dried meat or celery).
  • Consume food that is softened by cooking.
  • Drink more water to keep your body hydrated and make digestion easier.
  • Avoid stress as it can affect the working of your digestive organs.
  • Include physical activity (exercise) in your routine.
  • Avoid smoking and drink less alcohol as it affects your digestive health.

You need to follow the instructions suggested by the doctor. But, if your obstruction does not clear on its own, then you need surgery to relieve the obstruction.

Treatment For Complete Obstruction

If your intestine is completely blocked, then nothing passes through the intestine. So, you will need invasive surgery to relieve the block. The type of procedure you need to undergo depends on the root cause of the obstruction as well as the part of the intestine affected. The surgeon performs the surgery to remove the obstruction. During the procedure, the surgeon also removes the part of the intestine that has suffered damage or died.

You have another alternative to treat complete obstruction. It is suggested for people who are suffering from colon cancer or who cannot undergo emergency surgery due to their health condition. The alternative method involves using a self-expanding metal stent to treat the obstruction. During the procedures, your doctor inserts a wire mesh tube into the colon using an endoscope. The endoscope is passed through the colon or the mouth. It forces your colon to open. Therefore, it clears the obstruction.

Treatment For Pseudo-Obstruction

The intestinal pseudo-obstruction means the intestine suffers symptoms of blockage. But, bowels may not show any physical block. The disorder can cause problems with the function of your intestine. So, your body cannot push food, air or stool through the digestive tract. Your doctor suggests the treatment to avoid long-term or chronic problems. The condition is common among young and old people. So, when you suffer from pseudo-obstruction also referred to as paralytic ileus, the doctor monitors your condition in the hospital for one or two days. You need to stay in the hospital for the specified time to get treatment for the cause uncovered. The treatment option for paralytic ileus are:

  • Stay in the hospital for some time until it heals on its own. During the hospital visit, your doctor provides food through IV or nasal tube to prevent deficiency of nutrition (malnutrition).
  • If the condition does not improve, then the doctor prescribes medication. It causes muscle contraction. So, it helps in food and fluid movement through the intestines.
  • Your doctor treats the underlying cause when the condition occurs due to a health problem or as a side effect of taking medication. So, the doctor treats the medical condition or stop the medication to overcome the problem. Your doctor suggests surgery to remove the part of the intestine only in rare cases.
  • Decompression is suggested when the condition causes colon enlargement. The treatment offers relief. Colonoscopy is used for decompression where the doctor inserts a thin tube into the anus and guides it into your colon. Your doctor can also opt for surgery to provide decompression.

Need For Treatment

Since intestinal blockage can lead to tissue in the affected part of the intestine to die, you need treatment for the condition. Else, it can lead to severe complications like:

  • Development of a hole or perforation in the intestinal walls
  • Severe infection
  • The body goes into shock

The treatment success depends on the underlying cause of the condition. But, with proper treatment, you can deal with obstruction of your intestine effectively. But, when can or other conditions leading to the problem, you need long term treatment along with monitoring to manage the condition.


When your digestive system stops working, you can feel severe discomfort. The inability to make a bowel movement or simply pass gas can trigger pain. So, when you experience the signs associated with intestinal blockage, get assistance from your doctor. You need medical intervention to deal with the abdominal pain and other symptoms associated with the condition. Without proper treatment, you can face severe complications. It can also lead to death. Therefore, make an appointment with the doctor and detect the underlying cause of obstruction and get proper treatment.

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