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Intestinal Obstruction


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Mar 2021| Content last modified Mar 2021
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What is an intestinal obstruction (blocked intestine)?

You have a small intestine and a large intestine. The small intestine is a long coiled tube that connects your stomach to your large intestine. The large intestine is shorter but wider and leads from the end of the small intestine to the rectum. Your intestines receive food and liquids from your stomach. They digest and absorb most of this material. What's left over leaves the body as stool (poop) through the rectum and anus.

The small and large intestines each can become blocked.

  • The most common causes of a blocked intestine in adults are scar tissue from surgery, hernias, and tumors

  • Food and fluids can't move through a blocked intestine

  • Your intestine swells as it fills with food, fluid, and gas

  • You get crampy belly pain, feel sick to your stomach, and may throw up

  • Doctors find the blockage with x-rays

  • You may need surgery to remove the blockage

  • If not treated, the intestine can break open and cause swelling and infection inside your belly

The Digestive System

The Digestive System

What causes a blocked intestine?

In babies, blocked intestines are caused by:

  • Certain birth defects

  • Hard meconium (the dark green stool that is made in a baby's intestines before birth)

  • Twisting of a loop of intestine

  • A narrow or missing piece of the intestines

  • Sliding of one part of intestine into another (called intussusception)

  • An object the baby swallows

In adults, blocked intestines are caused by:

  • Scar tissue from previous belly surgery

  • A hernia

  • Cancer

  • Hard lump of stool

What are the symptoms of a blocked intestine?

Symptoms of a blocked intestine usually include:

  • Cramping pain in your belly

  • Bloating

  • Not feeling hungry

  • Throwing up

  • Not passing stool and gas

Sometimes blood flow to part of the blocked intestine is cut off. If this happens, some of the intestine will die, and you may have:

  • Severe and steady pain

  • Fever due to infection

  • Low blood pressure and organs that stop working (sepsis)

How can doctors tell if I have a blocked intestine?

If doctors suspect a blocked intestine, they usually do:

How do doctors treat a blocked intestine?

Doctors will keep you in the hospital and:

  • Have you not eat or drink anything

  • Pass a tube through your nose into your intestine (NG tube) to suck out everything behind the blockage

  • Give you fluids directly into a vein (IV)

Sometimes the blockage goes away with the suction tube. If it doesn't go away, you may need surgery to fix the blockage.

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