Abdominal surgery and drugs that interfere with the intestine’s movements are a common cause.
Bloating, vomiting, constipation, cramps, and loss of appetite occur.
The diagnosis is made by x-ray.
People are given nothing to eat or drink, and sometimes a thin suction tube is passed through the nose into the stomach.
(See also Overview of Gastrointestinal Emergencies Overview of Gastrointestinal Emergencies Certain gastrointestinal disorders can be life threatening and require emergency treatment. For many people, emergency treatment involves surgery. Abdominal pain, often severe, usually accompanies... read more .)
Like intestinal obstruction Intestinal Obstruction An obstruction of the intestine is a blockage that completely stops or seriously impairs the passage of food, fluid, digestive secretions, and gas through the intestines. The most common causes... read more (blockage), ileus prevents the passage of food, fluid, digestive secretions, and gas through the intestines. However, unlike intestinal obstruction, ileus is not caused by a physical blockage (such as a tumor or scar tissue) and rarely leads to rupture.
The most common cause of ileus is
Ileus commonly occurs for 24 to 72 hours after abdominal surgery, particularly when the intestines have been manipulated.
Other causes include drugs, especially opioid analgesics and anticholinergic drugs (see Anticholinergic: What Does It Mean? Anticholinergic: What Does It Mean? Drugs, the most common medical intervention, are an important part of medical care for older people. Without drugs, many older people would function less well or die at an earlier age. Older... read more ). Ileus may also be caused by an infection inside the abdomen, such as appendicitis Appendicitis Appendicitis is inflammation and infection of the appendix. Often a blockage inside the appendix causes the appendix to become inflamed and infected. Abdominal pain, nausea, and fever are common... read more or diverticulitis Diverticulitis Diverticulitis is inflammation of one or more balloon-like sacs (diverticula). Infection may or may not develop. Diverticulitis usually affects the large intestine (colon). Left lower abdominal... read more . Disorders outside the intestine, such as kidney failure Overview of Kidney Failure This chapter includes a new section on COVID-19 and acute kidney injury (AKI). Kidney failure is the inability of the kidneys to adequately filter metabolic waste products from the blood. Kidney... read more , an underactive thyroid gland Hypothyroidism Hypothyroidism is underactivity of the thyroid gland that leads to inadequate production of thyroid hormones and a slowing of vital body functions. Facial expressions become dull, the voice... read more , heart attack Acute Coronary Syndromes (Heart Attack; Myocardial Infarction; Unstable Angina) Acute coronary syndromes result from a sudden blockage in a coronary artery. This blockage causes unstable angina or heart attack (myocardial infarction), depending on the location and amount... read more , or abnormal levels of blood electrolytes (low potassium levels Hypokalemia (Low Level of Potassium in the Blood) In hypokalemia, the level of potassium in blood is too low. A low potassium level has many causes but usually results from vomiting, diarrhea, adrenal gland disorders, or use of diuretics. A... read more or high calcium levels Hypercalcemia (High Level of Calcium in the Blood) In hypercalcemia, the level of calcium in blood is too high. A high calcium level may result from a problem with the parathyroid glands, as well as from diet, cancer, or disorders affecting... read more , for example), may cause ileus.
A doctor hears few of the sounds normally made by a functioning intestine (bowel sounds) or none at all through a stethoscope.
An x-ray X-Ray Studies of the Digestive Tract X-rays often are used to evaluate digestive problems. Standard x-rays (plain x-rays) do not require any special preparation (see Plain X-Rays). These x-rays usually can show a blockage or paralysis... read more of the abdomen shows bulging loops of intestine.
With restriction of food and fluids by mouth, ileus usually resolves on its own after 1 to 3 days. During this time, fluids and electrolytes Overview of Electrolytes Well over half of the body's weight is made up of water. Doctors think about the body's water as being restricted to various spaces, called fluid compartments. The three main compartments are... read more (such as sodium, chloride, and potassium) are given by vein (intravenously). Whenever possible, powerful pain relievers called opioid analgesics Opioid Analgesics In some cases, treating the underlying disorder eliminates or minimizes the pain. For example, setting a broken bone in a cast or giving antibiotics for an infected joint helps reduce pain.... read more are stopped or reduced.
Severe vomiting is rare, but if it occurs, the buildup of gas and liquid caused by ileus must be relieved. Usually, a tube is passed through the nose into the stomach or small intestine (nasogastric tube), and suction is applied to relieve pressure and expansion (distention). The person is not allowed to eat or drink anything until normal intestinal function returns. Sometimes, if the problem involves mainly the large intestine, a tube is passed through the anus into the large intestine to relieve the pressure.