Bowel obstruction, also known as intestinal obstruction, is a mechanical or functional obstruction of the intestines which prevents the normal movement of the products of digestion. Either the small bowel or large bowel may be affected. Signs and symptoms include abdominal pain, vomiting, bloating and not passing gas. Mechanical obstruction is the cause of about 5 to 15% of cases of severe abdominal pain of sudden onset requiring admission to hospital.
Causes of bowel obstruction include adhesions, hernias, volvulus, endometriosis, inflammatory bowel disease, appendicitis, tumors, diverticulitis, ischemic bowel, tuberculosis and intussusception. Small bowel obstructions are most often due to adhesions and hernias while large bowel obstructions are most often due to tumors and volvulus. The diagnosis may be made on plain X-rays; however, CT scan is more accurate. Ultrasound or MRI may help in the diagnosis of children or pregnant women.
The condition may be treated conservatively or with surgery. Typically intravenous fluids are given, a tube is placed through the nose into the stomach to decompress the intestines, and pain medications are given. Antibiotics are often given. In small bowel obstruction about 25% require surgery. Complications may include sepsis, bowel ischemia and bowel perforation.
About 3.2 million cases of bowel obstruction occurred in 2015 which resulted in 264,000 deaths. Both sexes are equally affected and the condition can occur at any age. Bowel obstruction has been documented throughout history, with cases detailed in the Ebers Papyrus of 1550 BC and by Hippocrates.