Bowel (intestinal) obstruction

What is bowel (intestinal) obstruction?
Intestinal obstruction

Bowel (intestinal) obstruction occurs when food and liquid stops moving through the digestive tract.

The small intestine digests nutrients from food and liquid. Remaining undigested food moves from the small intestine to the large intestine. It absorbs water from the waste and stores waste until the next bowel movement. It removes the waste as stool (feces) from the body.

How bad is my bowel (intestinal) obstruction?

Mild: You may experience belly pain, cramps, appetite loss, nausea and vomiting.

Moderate: You may have bloating, indigestion, appetite loss; It may limit your instrumental activities of daily life (medication management, housekeeping activities, ability to manage finances).

Severe: You may experience severe constipation; inability to pass stool or gas; and abdominal swelling. It may limit self-care activities of daily life (eating, dressing, getting into or out of a bed or chair, taking a bath or shower, and using the toilet). It may require immediate treatment under your doctor’s supervision.

How to manage mild bowel (intestinal) obstruction?

Keep track of your bowel movements using Ankr (myAnkr web portal or the Ankr app). It will help you describe the discomfort to your doctor or nurse.

  • IV fluid replacement: IV fluids and electrolytes (sodium, chloride and potassium) treat dehydration.
  • Medications: Anti-nausea medicine and pain relievers can keep you more comfortable.
  • Nasogastric tube: Your healthcare provider inserts a long, thin tube through your nose. The tube reaches into the stomach or intestine. It suctions out fluids backed up from the blockage.
  • Barium enema: It detects a blockage and treats some problems (twisted intestine).
How to manage moderate and severe bowel obstruction?

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience:

What causes bowel (intestinal) obstruction?
  • Hard stool which is difficult to pass
  • Twisting of the intestines
  • Scar tissue in the intestines
  • Inflammation of the intestines after radiation therapy
  • A tumor or tumors inside the GI tract or pressing on the outside of the GI tract

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