Small Bowel Obstruction

Definition

Small bowel obstruction means the small intestine is partially or totally blocked. When this happens, the contents of the intestine cannot properly get out of the body. Stools, fluid, and gas build up inside the intestine. This is a potentially serious condition that requires urgent medical care.

Causes

Bowel obstruction may be caused by a mechanical problem. In this case, something inside the body blocks the movement of material through the intestine. It can also be caused by an ileus, which is when the intestine itself does not work right. This nonmechanical type of obstruction is called paralytic ileus, or pseudo-obstruction. It is often the cause of obstruction in infants and children. Mechanical small bowel obstruction may be caused by:
  • Adhesions—scar tissue left behind, in most cases by previous abdominal surgery
  • Intussusception—telescoping of the intestinal wall
  • Volvulus—the intestine twists on itself
  • Impacted foreign bodies—items that were swallowed and got stuck
Paralytic ileus may be caused by surgery on the intestine or certain medications, such as opioids.
Small Bowel Obstruction
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Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of having a small bowel obstruction include:
  • Hernias
  • Crohns disease—an inflammatory bowel condition
  • Abdominal, joint, or spine surgery
  • Swallowing a foreign body
  • Decreased blood supply to the small bowel
  • Abnormal growth of tissue in or next to the small intestine
  • Tumors in the small intestine
  • Cancer
  • Infection in the lining of the small intestine
  • Kidney disease
  • Long-standing diabetes
  • Rarely, gallstones

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