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How Do I Know if I Have a Bowel Obstruction?

What Is a Bowel Obstruction?

A bowel obstruction is a partial or complete blockage of the small or large intestine that prevents the contents of the intestine from passing through. The causes of bowel obstructions vary. It can be anything from impacted stool to tumors, with many other causes in between.

There are certain physical conditions that can cause a person to be more prone to bowel obstructions, like Crohn's Disease and other Inflammatory bowel diseases.

An aching belly.
An aching belly. | Source

Signs and Symptoms of an Obstructed Bowel

  • Stomach ache/pain/cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Gas
  • Inability to expel uncomfortable gas
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Tenderness in the stomach

The digestive system
The digestive system | Source
An obstruction of the large intestine.
An obstruction of the large intestine. | Source

How Is an Obstructed Bowel Diagnosed?

Knowing the cause of your obstructed bowels makes a big difference in your treatment. The doctor will first go by the symptoms you are displaying and describing. If you have been constipated, nauseous, gassy (but unable to expel it) and in pain, the doctor will probably test further.

There are several tests that can determine if you have an obstruction. X-rays of the stomach and intestines can be done, as well as a Computerized Tomography (CT) scan and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). If you are in an emergency situation, a CT scan is usually done immediately. If you are being treated at home, your doctor will probably recommend a Gastro Intestinal (GI) series of x-rays.

Pseudo-obstruction

A pseudo-obstruction (also called paralytic ileus) is when there is no physical or mechanical obstruction in the bowel. It simply slows down or stops the intestine from moving, therefore, having the same results as a blocked intestine.

What Causes an Obstructed Bowel?

There are several things that can cause an obstructed bowel. They include:

  • Adhesions (scar tissue)
  • Impacted stool
  • Swallowing an object that blocks the intestine
  • Twisting of the intestine
  • Gallstones
  • Hernias
  • Complications of Crohn's Disease or Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBS)

Have you ever had an obstructed or pseudo-obstructed bowel?

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What You Can Do at Home for a Bowel Obstruction

If you think you may have a bowel obstruction, there are a few things you can do at home before going to the hospital. Sometimes, they will resolve themselves at home and you won't need to go to the hospital at all. I want to emphasize here that if you are in extreme pain and are vomiting or dehydrated, go to the emergency room or call your doctor immediately. This article is only meant to tell you what signs to look for and how to cope with them. If you have an obstruction, you need medical help.

  • It is very important to stay hydrated. If you are not vomiting, drink plenty of water.
  • Keep moving. If you walk around and stay somewhat active, you will aid the movement in the intestine. You will also experience less pain.
  • Don't eat. If your bowel is obstructed, it can't accept any more solids. Don't eat.
  • Monitor yourself. If the pains/symptoms become more frequent or stronger, seek medical help.
  • If this is a chronic problem for you, do what normally works in this situation but be in contact with your doctor.
  • An obstructed bowel can be extremely serious. If you suspect that you are suffering from one, please contact a doctor right away.

In-Hospital Treatment for Obstructed Bowels

Many, but not all bowel obstructions result in surgery. The doctors will try other methods first. Once a bowel obstruction is confirmed, a nasal gastric tube will be inserted through your nose.This will take out excess gas from your stomach and intestines. You will also be given fluids intravenously. You may remain like this for several days, allowing the intestines to rest. In many cases, this will be enough. In the instances that this doesn't correct the situation, surgery will be performed to remove the obstruction and resectioning the surrounding healthy area.

Personal Experience

While I have done fairly extensive research in this area, it was not purely rhetorical. As a long-time sufferer of Crohn's Disease, I have, unfortunately, had quite a bit of experience with blockages. I was first diagnosed in 1974. By the time my eighteenth birthday rolled around in 1977, I had a good portion of both my small and large intestine removed. It bought me some time, but by the time I was twenty-five, just about all that I had left was removed, including my rectum. A bag was attached to the outside of my stomach for me to pass waste through. This is called an Ileostomy.

I did not experience my first blockage until 2009. In my case, scar tissue and adhesions are the most likely cause, as well as the simple fact that my intestines are considerably more delicate and have had to work harder than the typical intestine. I have been hospitalized numerous times in the past seven years to treat obstructions, including one surgical repair.

How I Have Learned to Control Bowel Obstructions

The surgery was only successful in treating the immediate danger and has left me a bit more compromised than I was before. The blockages came more frequently, leaving me weak, tired and susceptible to any germ in my vicinity. My diet became horrible because the only foods that didn't hurt my intestinal function were incredibly unhealthy. They mostly included pastas, sweets, breads, puddings and the list goes on. I gained weight, was tired all the time, couldn't concentrate and didn't feel very well. With the help of several doctors and a great nutritionist, I took the bull by the horn. We are now controlling my condition mostly through diet. It has been a little bit of trial and error—but for the most part, I am greatly improved.

Resources

These are three institutions that I trust and where can always find pertinent medical information. There are many more places that can help. Be sure to ask your doctor if he/she has any recommendations.

© 2013 Randi Benlulu

22 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

My grandmother went into the hospital for a bowel obstruction and never came out. This can be serious stuff and this information is very important. Well done, Randi!


btrbell profile image

btrbell 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ Author

Thank you, Bill! With Crohn's Disease, I have not been able to dodge the bullet but have been spared the knife several times!


Sharkye11 profile image

Sharkye11 3 years ago from Oklahoma

A very important article. Obstructions are bad news. I cared for a lot of patient's with ostomies from surgeries to remove obstructions that had been ignored too long. Will share this!


Docmo profile image

Docmo 3 years ago from UK

Good article here to raise awareness of this medical emergency: Just to reassure everyone bowel obstruction that happens suddenly is quite rare: it usually builds up over days and can be easily resolved. The preventable causes of obstruction are things like irregular bowel habits, severe constipation and dehydration. Vulnerable people are - like you have pointed out- those who have had previous surgery to bowel, extreme hunger/starvation followed by a meal, inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn's where adhesiosn may form and constrict the bowel.. thankfully the latter are rare and quite dramatic in presentation. Really useful article here, Randi.


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

Well, that title will bring one here fast : )

and for good reason, as it is so important to know about such things, although it is obvious when one has such, but so important to know how to prevent such in the future, especially surgery!

Voted up ++

Blessings, Faith Reaper


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 3 years ago from New York

You've broached a very necessary topic Randi. While surgery may not always be the answer, there are times when a bowel is obstructed and the uneducated may not realize what the issue is. One never knows from day to day what's going to occur.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.


Abby Campbell profile image

Abby Campbell 3 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

Ewww, Randi! I can't imagine having this, but I had a friend who was hospitalized several times with bowel obstruction and finally had to have surgery. I wouldn't wish that on anyone. But, it's definitely good to know the signs and symptoms. Thanks for sharing!


drbj profile image

drbj 3 years ago from south Florida

Important information to educate readers, Randi, who may not realize the dangers of bowel obstruction. You have performed a public service, m'dear.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

We should make cleansing foods a regular part of our diet and save much pain and sorrow. It can be hard for some people who are not use to it but adding them slowly will keep them from having a really rough adjustment. That cous-cous recipe of yours ( I made it, delicious) would be very good but raw of course is better. ^


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 3 years ago from Shelton

my goodness this hub is going to make me go to the doctors every time I can't go right... bit of a Hypo here LOL but very good useful hub nonetheless :)


btrbell profile image

btrbell 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ Author

Thank you, Sharkye11! Much appreciated!


CrisSp profile image

CrisSp 3 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

This is kind of scary and toxic! Hopefully none of us suffer from it. That's why I'm addicted to water and lots of fiber rich food-they absolutely help. Thank you for this very useful and informative hub. It's always good to know. Stay healthy now.

Voting up and passing along.


btrbell profile image

btrbell 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ Author

Thank you, Docmo! I appreciate the clarification!


btrbell profile image

btrbell 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ Author

Thank you, Faith! I decided to try a bit of a different direction. I do hope it helps if someone is looking for this!


rose-the planner profile image

rose-the planner 3 years ago from Toronto, Ontario-Canada

Yikes......now this is eye opening information. I guess everyone should drink more water and consume more fiber rich foods. Prunes are also very tasty and healthy as well. Great article! Thank you for sharing and scaring, lol. (Voted Up) -Rose


btrbell profile image

btrbell 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ Author

Abby, it's not pretty! Diet control is extremely important! Thank you for stopping by!


btrbell profile image

btrbell 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ Author

Thank you, Mary! It is one of the most common reasons to enter an emergency room and accounts for a high percentage of surgeries each year. It's important to practice preventive measures!


btrbell profile image

btrbell 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ Author

Thank you, drbj!


btrbell profile image

btrbell 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ Author

I agree, Jackie, with one exception. People who have chronic illnesses or adhesions need to work with their doctor or a nutritionist to eat the correct foods! Thank you!


btrbell profile image

btrbell 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ Author

Don't worry, Frank! I think you'll be ok;) Thank you for stopping by. Didn't mean to scare you!


btrbell profile image

btrbell 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ Author

You are right Cris, scary and toxic! As a 40 year sufferer of Crohn's and almost 30 nyears with an ostomy, the only time I have to go to the hospital is when this happens. Small price to pay compared to how sick I was 30 years ago!! Lots of water is always good. Fiber is great but too much can cause problems too! Thank you, Cris!


btrbell profile image

btrbell 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ Author

Thank you, Rose! I feel a little like I opened a can of worms with this hub.... Thank you so much for visiting my hub page and for your insightful comments!

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