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Intestinal obstruction is a blockage of the digestive tract, often resulting in symptoms such as intermittent or severe abdominal cramps, vomiting, or constipation. There may be many different types of obstructions in the intestines, including blockage from a foreign object, intussusception, strangulation, and paralytic ileus. An obstruction can also be a symptom of other diseases.
When objects are swallowed that are not meant for human consumption and digestion, an intestinal obstruction may result. Abdominal tenderness and pain, as well as vomiting, are likely to occur. Constipation may be the most common symptom. If the object cannot be passed through the digestive tract naturally, it may need to be surgically removed.
Intussusception is a type of intestinal obstruction that can be broken down into three subcategories. The sub-acute type may last over a month. In acute intussusception, death can result within a week if no action is taken, and in ultra-acute, death typically results within 24 hours. This condition occurs when parts of the intestines fold into themselves. Symptoms can include violent pain that subsides and recurs, nausea, vomiting, and bloody mucus. The condition is treated with an enema; if it fails, surgery is required.
Intestinal strangulation may occur when the blood supply to the digestive tract is cut off. It can be another symptom of intussusception, or it is sometimes caused by a strangulated hernia, or a twist in the intestine called volvulus. This issue is likely to need surgical correction.
The type of intestinal obstruction called paralytic ileus results when the intestine becomes either fully or partially paralyzed. This can be a common cause of intestinal problems among children. When this condition occurs, food cannot be properly passed through, resulting in obstruction. This problem most commonly occurs after surgery, or can be caused by spinal injury, drugs, or inflammation. Symptoms may include abdominal distention, constipation, vomiting and nausea. IV fluids, electrolytes, and nasogastric suction are often administered to correct the issue.
When intestinal obstruction is suspected, a doctor may wish to perform several tests. Testing will often begin by listening to the intestines with a stethoscope. High-pitched sounds often accompany many types of obstruction, although silence may indicate the onset of paralytic ileus. Other tests may include a barium enema, CT scan, or X-ray.
In nearly all types of intestinal obstruction, if the blockage is not removed, additional complications may arise. Some of these can include jaundice, intestinal tearing, or tissue death. Tissue death can result in infection or gangrene.