We all need to understand the basics of bowel obstruction, including what it is, its causes, symptoms, and treatments. Bowel obstruction occurs when there is a blockage that prevents the normal passage of digested food and other materials through the digestive tract. This blockage can occur anywhere in the small intestine, large intestine, or rectum and can be caused by numerous factors.
What is Bowel Obstruction?
Bowel obstruction is a medical condition where one’s normal pattern of digestion is blocked. It can be partial or complete, and can be caused by a variety of reasons, including scarring from surgery, a hernia, inflammation, or cancer. In some cases, bowel obstruction can develop without a known cause.
When a person has a partial bowel obstruction, the intestines can usually still pass some of the digestive contents, but a complete bowel obstruction can prevent anything from passing. This can cause severe pain and can have serious health implications if left untreated.
Causes of Bowel Obstruction
There are several causes of bowel obstruction, including:
- Scarring from surgery: Scarring from a prior abdominal or pelvic surgery can cause a partial or complete blockage.
- Hernia: A hernia can cause a mechanical blockage at the site of the hernia.
- Inflammation: Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can sometimes cause partial or complete blockage in the intestines.
- Cancer: Cancerous tumors in the abdomen or pelvic area can cause a blockage in the digestive tract, as can lymph node enlargement.
Symptoms of Bowel Obstruction
The most common symptoms of bowel obstruction include:
- Abdominal pain or cramping: Abdominal pain or cramping is usually the first symptom. Pain can be located in one area or may move to other areas.
- Vomiting: Vomiting can indicate an obstruction, especially if there is no improvement after one or two episodes.
- Nausea: Nausea can occur with or without vomiting, and is a common symptom of obstruction.
- Constipation: Constipation can also be a symptom of a blockage.
- Abdominal Swelling: Swelling or bloating can occur due to a buildup of gas and fluid in the intestines.
Treatment of Bowel Obstruction
Treatment for bowel obstruction depends on the severity and cause of the blockage. The most common treatment is to insert a nasogastric tube to remove the contents of the stomach and to provide fluids and electrolytes. If the obstruction is caused by an abnormal growth or inflammation, surgery may be needed to remove the blockage.
Health Implications of Bowel Obstruction
If a bowel obstruction is left untreated, serious health complications can occur. These include dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, peritonitis (inflammation of the abdominal lining), and sepsis (infection of the bloodstream). In some cases, the obstruction can cause the intestines to tear and leak contents into the abdominal cavity, leading to further infection.
If you are experiencing symptoms of a bowel obstruction, it is important to see a doctor immediately. With the proper treatment and follow-up care, most bowel obstructions can be resolved without further complications.