Definition

Small bowel obstructions most frequently occur in patients due to adhesions or scarring following abdominal surgery. Other causes of obstruction include hernias, due to the bowel becoming caught in the hernia; and tumors which may grow within the lumen of the bowel or compress the bowel from the outside of the bowel wall, or inflammation of the colon wall causing a blockage.

Symptoms

Symptoms include abdominal cramping pain, bloating and nausea and vomiting. The abdomen becomes distended and the patient stops passing both gas and stool from the anus or ostomy.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Small bowel obstructions are usually diagnosed with a CT scan or abdominal x-ray.  This condition is treated by admission to the hospital; the patient is given IV hydration and bowel rest.  Many times insertion of a nasogastric tube is used to decompress the intestines. This tube is passed through the nostrils down into the stomach to suck out the excessive gastric and small intestine contents located upstream of the blockage.  In the overwhelming majority of cases where obstruction is due to adhesions, once the bowel is decompressed with the nasogastric tube or rest, the pain improves, the nausea resolves and the bowel may untwist on its own, thereby relieving the obstruction.  In this way, most patients with a bowel obstruction avoid an operation.  In cases in which the blockage does not resolve, an operation is needed to reopen the bowel.