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Bowel Obstruction & Small Bowel Obstruction

A bowel obstruction can be a serious condition, which can occur in the large or small bowel. A small bowel obstruction commonly occurs where loops of intestine can easily get blocked or twisted. A blockage can be partial or total, mechanical (caused by an object) or non-mechanical (caused by paralysis of movement to the bowel). A blockage can stop the passageway of all food, liquid and gas and cause considerable pain.

Small Obstruction Condition

There are many reasons why a small bowel obstruction may happen including:

  • Mechanical obstruction
  • Adhesions – fibrous tissues that develops usually after abdominal or pelvic surgery
  • Volvulus – otherwise known as a twisted bowel
  • Intussusception – ‘telescoping’ of the bowel, when a segment of bowel pushes into another segment causing it to collapse
  • Tumours – more likely in the large bowel. Small bowel cancer is still relatively rare
  • Hernias – which can cause strangulation of the bowel
  • Swallowed objects – Foreign objects swallowed by children can get stuck in the bowel
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease – diseases like Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis can cause strictures or narrowing in the bowel which can cause obstructions
  • Impacted stool
  • Infection
  • Diverticulitis

Non-mechanical obstruction

A non-mechanical obstruction is also referred to as ‘ileus’ or ‘paralytic ileus’, this is when the natural movement of the bowel called peristalsis fails to happen. Ileus is usually temporary. Some medical conditions can cause this to have a long term effect and this is called ‘Intestinal pseudo-obstruction. This can be caused by:

  • Abdominal or pelvic surgery
  • Infections such as gastroenteritis or appendicitis
  • Opioid pain medications such as morphine or codeine
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Diabetes Mellitus
  • Hirschsprung’s Disease
  • Hypothyroidism

Symptoms of a bowel obstruction or a small bowel obstruction

Bowel obstruction symptoms of a bowel obstruction can be painful and distressing. You may experience the following symptoms:

  • Severe abdominal pain, cramps and bloating
  • Decreased appetite or inability to eat
  • Nausea and/ or vomiting
  • Inability to pass gas or stool
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Abdominal swelling

A bowel obstruction becomes an emergency if your abdominal pain increases and you start to experience a fever. This could be a sign of intestinal rupture, which can become life threatening.

How is a bowel obstruction diagnosed?
Your doctor may feel around your stomach to feel for any obvious signs of swelling or a lump. You may be sent for x-rays or a CT Scan to see if there is anything causing an obstruction. You may also have a colonoscopy, which is a camera inserted via the rectum to view the inside of the colon to check for any abnormalities.

THE INFORMATION ON THIS PAGE IS A GUIDE ONLY. IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU SPEAK TO YOUR GP OR A QUALIFIED HEALTH PROFESSIONAL BEFORE UNDERTAKING ANY TREATMENTS.

To find out about treatments for a bowel obstruction and further resources, click the links above to navigate to the pages.