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Bowel Obstruction (Intestinal Obstruction)

A partial or complete block of the small or large intestine that keeps food, liquid, gas, and stool from moving through the intestines in a normal way.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Cancer Institute)

About Bowel Obstruction (Intestinal Obstruction)

Bowel obstructions may be caused by a twist in the intestines, hernias, inflammation, scar tissue from surgery, and certain types of cancer, such as cancers of the stomach, colon, and ovary. They may also be caused by conditions that affect the muscles of the intestine, such as paralysis.

Signs and symptoms may include pain and swelling in the abdomen, constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, and problems passing gas.

Most bowel obstructions occur in the small intestine.
NIH - National Cancer Institute

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Should laparoscopic adhesiolysis be used in patients with acute small bowel intestinal obstruction?

Abdominal laparoscopy is a minimally invasive surgical technique in which operations are achieved through incision (usually 2‐3 cm) using a laparoscope which is connected to a video camera. Small bowel obstruction is an event that may follow open surgery. According to several studies laparoscopic surgery is technically feasible and safe for the treatment of small bowel obstruction, however little is known about its efficacy in terms of mortality and morbidity.

Corticosteroids for the resolution of malignant bowel obstruction in advanced gynaecological and gastrointestinal cancer

Corticosteroids may reduce bowel obstruction for people with advanced gastrointestinal or ovarian cancer. Malignant bowel obstruction is fairly common in people with gastrointestinal (gut) cancer or ovarian cancer. It can lead to pain, vomiting, nausea, or complete constipation. Corticosteroids may lower inflammation and so help to reduce the obstruction especially if surgery is not considered to be suitable. The review found that corticosteroids may reduce bowel obstruction for people with these cancers, with a low rate of adverse effects. The treatment does not appear to affect survival rates compared to the placebo.

Surgery for resolving symptoms associated with malignant bowel obstruction in advanced gynaecological and gastrointestinal cancers

Advanced cancer causes a range of complex problems for patients. In gynaecological (for example ovarian and womb) and gastrointestinal (for example colon or bowel) cancers, the bowel can become blocked or obstructed by the original tumour, metastatic deposits or due to the side effects of previous treatments. The decision to operate on patients with bowel obstruction who are already very unwell because of their advanced cancer is difficult. Often, these people develop bowel obstruction as a sign that the cancer is progressing and they are in the process of dying. When the bowel obstructs in this situation, surgery might be useful for some patients, it might make no difference to how long the patient has to live, or it might make the situation worse due to the complications of surgery. When time is short, managing symptoms and maximising comfort for the patient is the priority. Different surgical teams adopt different approaches. We wanted to establish the evidence for the benefit and harm of surgery in these situations and therefore help patients and doctors make good decisions.

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Summaries for consumers

Should laparoscopic adhesiolysis be used in patients with acute small bowel intestinal obstruction?

Abdominal laparoscopy is a minimally invasive surgical technique in which operations are achieved through incision (usually 2‐3 cm) using a laparoscope which is connected to a video camera. Small bowel obstruction is an event that may follow open surgery. According to several studies laparoscopic surgery is technically feasible and safe for the treatment of small bowel obstruction, however little is known about its efficacy in terms of mortality and morbidity.

Corticosteroids for the resolution of malignant bowel obstruction in advanced gynaecological and gastrointestinal cancer

Corticosteroids may reduce bowel obstruction for people with advanced gastrointestinal or ovarian cancer. Malignant bowel obstruction is fairly common in people with gastrointestinal (gut) cancer or ovarian cancer. It can lead to pain, vomiting, nausea, or complete constipation. Corticosteroids may lower inflammation and so help to reduce the obstruction especially if surgery is not considered to be suitable. The review found that corticosteroids may reduce bowel obstruction for people with these cancers, with a low rate of adverse effects. The treatment does not appear to affect survival rates compared to the placebo.

Surgery for resolving symptoms associated with malignant bowel obstruction in advanced gynaecological and gastrointestinal cancers

Advanced cancer causes a range of complex problems for patients. In gynaecological (for example ovarian and womb) and gastrointestinal (for example colon or bowel) cancers, the bowel can become blocked or obstructed by the original tumour, metastatic deposits or due to the side effects of previous treatments. The decision to operate on patients with bowel obstruction who are already very unwell because of their advanced cancer is difficult. Often, these people develop bowel obstruction as a sign that the cancer is progressing and they are in the process of dying. When the bowel obstructs in this situation, surgery might be useful for some patients, it might make no difference to how long the patient has to live, or it might make the situation worse due to the complications of surgery. When time is short, managing symptoms and maximising comfort for the patient is the priority. Different surgical teams adopt different approaches. We wanted to establish the evidence for the benefit and harm of surgery in these situations and therefore help patients and doctors make good decisions.

See all (44)

Terms to know

Abdominal Adhesions (Intestinal Adhesions)
Bands of fibrous tissue that can connect the loops of the intestines to each other, to other abdominal organs, or to the abdominal wall. These bands can pull sections of the intestines out of place and may block the passage of food.
Cancer (Malignant Neoplasm)
A term for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade nearby tissues. Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body.
Constipation
A condition in which the stool becomes hard and dry. A person who is constipated usually has fewer than three bowel movements in a week. Bowel movements may be painful.
Diarrhea
Frequent, loose, and watery bowel movements. Common causes include gastrointestinal infections, irritable bowel syndrome, medicines, and malabsorption.
Digestion
The process of breaking down food into substances the body can use for energy, tissue growth, and repair.
Hernia
The bulging of an internal organ through a weak area or tear in the muscle or other tissue that holds it in place.
Intestines
Also called the gut. See large intestine and small intestine.
Large Intestine
The part of the intestine that includes the appendix, cecum, colon, and rectum. The large intestine absorbs water from stool and changes it from a liquid to a solid form. The large intestine is 5 feet long.
Small Intestine
The organ where most digestion occurs. It measures about 20 feet and includes the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum.

More about Bowel Obstruction

Photo of an adult

Also called: Intestinal occlusion, Obstruction of intestine, Ileus

Other terms to know: See all 9
Abdominal Adhesions (Intestinal Adhesions), Cancer (Malignant Neoplasm), Constipation

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