A bowel obstruction is a condition that creates a blockage in your small or large intestine. Several reasons might be the cause of this potentially dangerous condition. People having a full obstruction can find difficulty in passing stool or gas, if not impossible.
It can be total or partial, depending on whether any contents are able to pass through the obstructed area. A partial obstruction can also cause diarrhea.
An obstruction can lead to a buildup of food, gas, gastric acids, and fluids, as these continue to build up, the pressure increases. This can result in a rupture or a split. Whatever was behind the blockage might enter the abdominal cavity, and spread bacteria, which might even be fatal.
Generally, the symptoms of bowel obstructions are quite distressing and painful. Some of the symptoms include:
- inability to pass stools or gas
- severe pain
- decreased appetite
- swollen belly
The early signs are usually vomiting and diarrhea. If you recognize these symptoms, this means that you will be able to seek treatment before the condition progresses any further.
If you experience fever, after any of these symptoms, then you should speak to a doctor, as it can be a sign of a split in the bowel.
There might be several causes that might lead to your bowels getting blocked. Some of these include the following:
- Part of your bowel might get twisted, due to which it can get closed off and thus, keep anything from passing through.
- It can get inflamed sometimes and even swell up.
- A tumor or other such type of growth inside your bowel might also cause the blockage
- Part of the intestine can also slide into a different part like a telescope
- Scar tissue or hernia may also make the bowel too narrow for anything to pass through it
- Damaged blood vessels leading to the bowel might also cause some bowel tissue to die
In order to diagnose bowel obstruction, your doctor will need to ask you about your medical history, including if you have experienced constipation, or if you have had cancer, as well as what new symptoms you have experienced. He/she might also need to:
Do a physical exam in order to see if you have any pain in your belly, or if they can feel a lump in your belly, or if you’re able to pass gas
Order urine tests
Order blood tests
They’ll put a special liquid that contains barium, i.e. a whitish-silver metal into your rectum. This liquid is going to spread into your bowels and show on an X-ray as a bright area. If there’s a blockage, the barium is going to show it.
Treatment for this condition depends on the cause and how severe your blockage is. Generally, total mechanical obstruction requires surgery. Most cases of bowel obstruction also need some type of medical intervention.
For bowel obstruction, treatment options can include:
Opioids can cause constipation. If this occurs, laxatives and stool softeners are able to help.
Ileus can need a few days of monitoring, and often resolves with time. During this time, people need to limit their intake of food and drink in order to stop further buildup. Doctors can also provide fluid intravenously for keeping people hydrated.
Surgeons are able to remove blocked or damaged sections of the bowel. In cases of IBDs, a strictureplasty might be required, where a surgeon is going to widen a narrowed section of the bowel by cutting and then sewing.
Medication can also help ease discomfort caused by a bowel obstruction. This might include:
- Antinausea medicines for the prevention of vomiting
- Pain relief medication
- Antibiotics for fighting against bacterial infection
A bowel obstruction may lead to several other issues, including:
- electrolyte imbalance
- kidney failure
- a hole in the bowel, which might cause infection
- tissue death in the bowels
- abscess within the abdomen
- sepsis, a potentially fatal blood infection
- pulmonary aspiration, wherein a person inhales solids such as vomit
If you have had surgery in the past for obstructions, you are also at risk of a few complications, which includes:
- Short bowel syndrome, a condition in which part of the bowel is lost or does not work in a proper way
- Wound reopening
- Bowel paralysis
- Nerve damage
A bowel obstruction might also interrupt blood flow in the area. This can also cause some of the complications which are listed above.
It can also cause multiple organ failure, and at worst, death. Therefore, it is quite important to treat bowel obstruction as early as possible.