Bowel obstruction or intestinal obstruction refers to functional or mechanical obstruction of the intestines preventing the movement of digestive products. Either the large or small intestines can be affected. Mechanical obstruction is seen in approximately 5 to 15 percent of obstruction cases necessitating hospital admission. Some of the causes of bowel obstruction includes hernias, adhesions, volvulus, inflammatory bowel disease, endometriosis, diverticulitis, appendicitis, tumors, intussusception, and more. The commonest causes of small bowel obstruction are hernias and adhesions. In the large intestines, the obstructions are most commonly caused by volvulus or tumors.
The diagnosis of a bowel obstruction can be made based on the patient’s history, physical examination, and medical imaging (X-ray, computed tomography scan, ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging). Treatment of bowel obstruction can be conservative or surgical. Intravenous fluids and pain medications can be given. About 25 percent of small bowel obstruction will require surgery. Complications of bowel obstruction include bowel ischemia, sepsis, and perforation. In 2015, approximately 3.2 million cases of bowel obstruction occurred resulting in 264,000 deaths.
Symptom #1: Abdominal Pain and Cramps
Abdominal pain or stomach ache is a symptom that can be seen in both serious and non-serious conditions such as gastroenteritis, irritable bowel syndrome, appendicitis, abdominal aortic aneurysm, ectopic pregnancy, diverticulitis, and more.
The abdomen can be divided into nine regions: right hypochondriac, epigastric, left hypochondriac, left lumbar, umbilical, right lumbar, right iliac, suprapubic, and left iliac regions. The pain felt in the different regions of the abdomen can provide clues to the underlying condition. In bowel obstruction, there is pain as the bowels are contracting (cramps) trying to push past the obstruction.