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Bowel Obstruction is becoming more common in the modern era because of the food that we consume. Though rare, complete bowel obstruction can even take a person's life. This article will cover possible causes of bowel obstruction and its prevention.

Bowel or Intestinal Obstruction is a serious medical condition. It is brought upon by the partial or complete blockage of either the small or large intestine (colon). This obstruction blocks the otherwise smooth movement of digested food and fluids through the intestine.

small-intestine-anatomy.png

As a result, a phenomenon known as ‘fecal vomiting’ may also occur, since the fecal matter has to be expelled from the body somehow. In prolonged or severe cases, the affected intestinal areas may become necrosed (dead) as well.

Symptoms of Bowel Obstruction

Symptoms are highly dependent on the type of the obstruction.

In total or absolute intestinal obstruction, neither feces nor flatus is passed. On the other hand, in case of partial obstruction, flatus is passed easily.

Common symptoms of an intestinal blockage include:

  • Constipation
  • Lack of gas
  • Stiffness or hardness of belly
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal distention (swelling) and bloating
  • Abdominal discomfort and cramping
  • Loss of appetite

Causes of Bowel Obstruction

There are two main causes of intestinal obstruction: mechanical blockage and nervous or muscular loss of coordination.

1. Mechanical Blockage

This form of obstruction initiates due to some physical blockage. This may be in the small intestine or in the colon, and the causes differ accordingly.

Causes of Mechanical Obstruction of the Small Intestine include:

  • Intestinal Adhesions – Bands of fibrous tissue that form in the abdominal cavity. These adhesions are often post-op (after operation) complication of abdominal surgery
  • Hernia – A weakening of the intestinal muscle which causes it to extend out into other parts of the body
  • Volvulus – Actual twisting and knotting of the intestine resulting in complete intestinal obstruction. Immediate surgery is required in most of the cases
  • Intussusception – Telescoping of one portion of the intestine into the other; usually seen in the children
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) – This includes crohn’s disease only, not ulcerative colitis.
  • Tumor obstructing the intestinal wall

Causes of Mechanical Obstruction of the Large Intestine (Colon) include:

  • Diverticulitis – formation of divertcula (inflamed bulging pouches) in the digestive tract
  • Volvulus – twisting and knotting of the intestine
  • Scarring or inflammation – narrowing of colon
  • Colon cancer
  • Impacted feces

2. Nervous or Muscular loss of coordination

This form of obstruction has no physical cause.
It is also termed as a pseudo-obstruction or paralytic ileus.

 Causes of such a blockage may include:

  • Muscular disorder
  • Nervous disorder
  • Infection
  • Abdominal surgery
  • Pelvic Surgery
  • Certain pain-relievers and anti-depressants

Diagnosing a Possible Bowel Obstruction

  • Taking Medical History: This includes questions regarding previous digestive problems, any abdominal surgeries or procedures and any allergies or other medical conditions that you or your family may have. The doctor will ask you questions regarding your signs and symptoms as well.
  • Physical Examination: This can include listening for an obstruction by placing a stethoscope to the abdominal area, and feeling the belly for any tenderness or hardness.
  • CT-Scan: This can help the doctor locate the exact site and cause of the obstruction. It also helps in assessing whether the blockage is partial or complete. 
  • Colonoscopy: This procedure may be performed to visually see the inside of the colon.
  • X-rays: This test will reveal a clearer picture of the colon and the obstruction as well.

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