Skip to Content
Home > Wellness > Health Library > Bowel Obstruction
A bowel obstruction
happens when either your
large intestine is partly or completely blocked. The blockage prevents food,
fluids, and gas from moving through the intestines in the normal way. The
blockage may cause severe pain that comes and goes.
covers a blockage caused by tumors, scar tissue, or twisting or narrowing of
the intestines. It does not cover
ileus, which most commonly happens after surgery on
the belly (abdominal surgery).
tissue (adhesions), or twisting or narrowing of the intestines
can cause a bowel obstruction. These are called
In the small intestine, scar tissue is most
often the cause. Other causes include
Crohn's disease, which can twist or narrow the
intestine, and tumors, which can block the intestine. A blockage also can happen if
one part of the
intestine folds like a telescope into another part, which is called
In the large intestine,
cancer is most often the cause. Other causes are severe constipation from a
hard mass of stool, and narrowing of the intestine caused by
inflammatory bowel disease.
Call your doctor right away if
your belly pain is severe and constant. This may mean that your intestine's
blood supply has been cut off or that you have a hole in your intestine. This
is an emergency.
will ask you questions about your symptoms, other digestive problems you've
had, and any surgeries or procedures you've had in that area. He or she will check your belly for tenderness and bloating.
Your doctor may do:
Most bowel obstructions are
treated in the hospital.
In the hospital, your doctor will give you medicine and fluids through a vein (IV).
To help you stay comfortable, your doctor may place a tiny
tube called a
nasogastric (NG) tube through your nose and
down into your stomach. The tube removes fluids and gas and helps relieve pain and
pressure. You will not be given anything to eat or drink.
Most bowel obstructions are partial blockages that get better on their own. Some people may need more treatment. These treatments include using liquids or air (enemas) or small mesh tubes (stents) to open up the blockage.
Surgery is almost always needed
when the intestine is completely blocked or when the blood supply is cut off. You may need a
colostomy or an
ileostomy after surgery. The diseased part of the intestine is removed, and the remaining part is sewn to an opening in the skin. Stool passes out of the body through the opening and collects in a disposable
ostomy bag. In some cases, the colostomy or ileostomy is temporary until you have recovered. When you are better, the ends of the intestine are reattached and the ostomy is repaired.
If your blockage was caused by another health problem,
such as diverticulitis, the blockage may come back if you don't treat that
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Learning about a bowel obstruction:
Other Works Consulted
Parangi S, Hodin R (2006). Intestinal obstruction. In MM Wolfe et al., eds., Therapy of Digestive Disorders, 2nd. ed., pp. 819–833. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerJerome B. Simon, MD, FRCPC, FACP - Gastroenterology
Current as ofNovember 14, 2014
Current as of:
November 14, 2014
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Jerome B. Simon, MD, FRCPC, FACP - Gastroenterology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2015 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.