What Causes Bowel Obstructions, And How Do You Treat Them?

bowel obstruction

A bowel obstruction, also known as intestinal obstruction, occurs when there is a blockage that prevents the normal flow of digested food and liquids through the intestines. A bowel obstruction is a serious medical condition that requires prompt attention and treatment. 

Causes of Bowel Obstructions

  1. Mechanical Obstruction

The most common cause of bowel obstructions is a mechanical blockage in the intestines. This can be caused by factors such as adhesions (scar tissue that forms after surgery), hernias, tumors, or impacted feces. Adhesions are particularly common and can occur after abdominal surgeries, binding loops of the intestine together.

  1. Intussusception

This occurs when one segment of the intestine folds like a telescope into another, causing a blockage. It is more common in children but can also affect adults.

  1. Volvulus

This occurs when a segment of the intestine twists around itself, leading to a blockage. This blockage can be partial or complete and is more common in the elderly.

  1. Strictures

Narrowed areas of the intestine, often due to inflammation from conditions like Crohn’s disease, can lead to bowel obstructions.

  1. Tumors

Both benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous) tumors can grow in the intestines, causing a blockage. Tumors can be primary, meaning they originated in the intestines, or secondary, resulting from metastasis from another site.

  1. Foreign Objects

In some cases, ingesting foreign objects can lead to a bowel obstruction, especially in children.

Treatment Approaches

Bowel obstructions are a serious medical condition that requires timely intervention and treatment. Early recognition and appropriate management are key to ensuring the best possible outcome for the patient. 

Treatment approaches range from non-surgical measures to surgical interventions, depending on the severity and underlying cause of the obstruction. It is important for individuals to be aware of the signs and symptoms of bowel obstructions, such as severe abdominal pain, bloating, vomiting, and constipation, and to seek medical attention promptly if these symptoms arise.

  1. Non-Surgical Management

If the obstruction is partial and not severe, non-surgical approaches may be tried initially. These can include fasting, intravenous fluids, and the use of a nasogastric tube to relieve pressure and decompress the intestines. This approach can sometimes help resolve the obstruction without the need for surgery.

  1. Surgical Intervention

In cases where the obstruction is severe, worsening, or failing to improve with conservative measures, surgical intervention may be necessary. The type of surgery will depend on the underlying cause of the obstruction. For instance, if adhesions are causing the blockage, a surgeon may perform an adhesion removal procedure. In cases of tumors or strictures, the affected segment of the intestine may need to be removed.

  1. Medication 

If inflammation is contributing to the obstruction, medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs or immunosuppressants (for conditions like Crohn’s disease) may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and alleviate the blockage.

  1. Intussusception Reduction

In cases of intussusception, a doctor may attempt to manually guide the telescoped segment of the intestine back into its proper position.

  1. Volvulus Untwisting

For volvulus, the twisted segment of the intestine must be untwisted surgically to restore proper blood flow and relieve the obstruction.

Bowel obstructions bring to light the importance of proactive healthcare and the critical role that medical professionals play in restoring intestinal function and overall well-being. The team at Birmingham Gastroenterology has decades of experience treating diseases and disorders in all parts of the digestive system, including those dealing with bowel obstructions. To make an appointment to discuss your symptoms and treatment options, call us at (205) 271-8000.

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