What causes bowel obstruction?

A bowel obstruction occurs when there is a blockage that prevents the passage of intestinal contents that should be excreted. Blockages can be mechanical or caused by ileus.

Mechanical causes of bowel obstruction

Mechanical obstructions are physical blockages due to various causes including:

  • Adhesions (scar tissue from previous surgery or infections)
  • Diverticulitis (inflammation of small pouches of the bowel)
  • Foreign bodies
  • Gallstones
  • Hernias
  • Impacted feces
  • Intussusception (sliding of part of the intestine into an adjacent part)
  • Tumors
  • Volvulus (twisting of the intestines)

Causes of ileus

Ileus, a malfunctioning of the movement of the bowel, is another type of obstruction. Causes of ileus include:

  • Appendicitis
  • Certain drugs and medications, such as opioids and sedatives, which slow down peristalsis, the contractions that propel food through the digestive tract
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Gastroenteritis (inflammation or infection of the stomach and intestines)
  • General anesthesia
  • Obstruction of the mesenteric artery, which supplies blood to the abdomen
  • Recent abdominal surgery

What are the risk factors for bowel obstruction?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing bowel obstruction. Diseases and tumors of the gastrointestinal tract are risk factors associated with bowel obstruction including:

  • Abdominal cancers
  • Hernia
  • Opioid drug use
  • Prior surgeries or radiation therapy that created scar tissue or adhesions
  • Recent general anesthesia

What is bowel obstruction?

The bowel, or intestine, is the part of the digestive tract that absorbs nutrients and fluid from foods we eat. The residue of digested food passes through the bowel and is excreted during elimination, the final stage of digestion. This process can be interrupted or halted by the presence of a bowel obstruction, which is a blockage that prevents the passage of intestinal contents. The caus... Read more about bowel obstructionintroduction


What are the symptoms of bowel obstruction?

Symptoms of bowel obstruction primarily affect the gastrointestinal system and include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal fullness and distension (bloating), stomach pain and spasms, and constipation.

Common symptoms of bowel obstruction

Symptoms of bowel obstruction primarily affect the gastrointestina... Read more about bowel obstructionsymptoms


How is bowel obstruction treated?

Treatment of bowel obstruction begins with seeking medical care from your health care provider, who will likely admit you to the hospital for treatment. Treatment usually involves placing a tube through the nose or stomach to alleviate the symptoms. In some cases, surgery is needed to clear the obstruction or treat the underlying cause.

Treatment to relieve the swelling or dis... Read more about bowel obstructiontreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 23, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Digestive System

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