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Intestinal obstruction

  • Definition

    Intestinal obstruction is a partial or complete blockage of the bowel that results in the failure of the intestinal contents to pass through.

    Alternative Names

    Paralytic ileus; Intestinal volvulus; Bowel obstruction; Ileus; Pseudo-obstruction - intestinal; Colonic ileus

    Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    Obstruction of the bowel may due to:

    • A mechanical cause, which simply means something is in the way
    • Ileus, a condition in which the bowel doesn't work correctly but there is no structural problem

    Paralytic ileus, also called pseudo-obstruction, is one of the major causes of intestinal obstruction in infants and children. Causes of paralytic ileus may include:

    • Chemical, electrolyte, or mineral disturbances (such as decreased potassium levels)
    • Complications of intra-abdominal surgery
    • Decreased blood supply to the abdominal area (mesenteric artery ischemia)
    • Injury to the abdominal blood supply
    • Intra-abdominal infection
    • Kidney or lung disease
    • Use of certain medications, especially narcotics

    In older children, paralytic ileus may be due to bacterial, viral, or food poisoning (gastroenteritis), which is sometimes associated with secondary peritonitis and appendicitis.

    Mechanical causes of intestinal obstruction may include:

    • Abnormal tissue growth
    • Adhesions or scar tissue that form after surgery
    • Foreign bodies (ingested materials that obstruct the intestines)
    • Gallstones
    • Hernias
    • Impacted feces (stool)
    • Intussusception
    • Tumors blocking the intestines
    • Volvulus (twisted intestine)