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Bowel obstruction

Dr Lancashire also manages acute intestinal obstructions.

A partial or complete blockage of the intestine prevents the passage of food, fluids and gas through the gastrointestinal tract. You can think of the gastrointestinal tract as a single tube from the mouth to the anus - if there is a blockage anywhere along that tube, the contents will tend to back up like a blocked pipe.

Symptoms of a complete or partial bowel obstruction include:

  • pain (which may be crampy or sharp in nature)
  • bloating
  • distension and swelling of the abdomen
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • excessive belching
  • constipation
  • a lack of passing wind
  • occasionally diarrhoea

There are many reasons that someone may develop a small or large bowel obstruction. These include, but are not limited to:

  • adhesions (scar tissue from previous operations)
  • hernias
  • inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease)
  • volvulus (twisting of the bowel)
  • intussusception (telescoping of the bowel)
  • tumours

Diagnosis of a bowel obstruction is made based on a history and examination, x-rays or a CT scan, and blood tests.

The management of a bowel obstruction depends on a wide variety of factors including the cause of the blockage, the severity of symptoms, whether it starts to (or is likely to) improve on its own, if there is a risk of perforation (rupture of the bowel) and if you have medical conditions that make surgery a high risk.

Currently, the most common cause of a bowel obstruction is a partial blockage due to adhesions (scar tissue). The majority of these obstructions improve on their own without the need for an operation, but do need careful and close observation in hospital. The bowel needs to be rested, so you may be required to fast (nothing to eat or drink). IV fluids are given so that you do not become dehydrated. Sometimes a nasogastric tube (NGT) is placed down into the stomach to drain the fluid that is backing up, taking pressure off the blocked bowel aiding the blockage to resolve.

If your obstruction is due to a hernia, tumour, or Dr Lancashire is concerned that your bowel is at risk of rupture, you may need an urgent or planned operation while in hospital to fix the cause. The operation you need depends on the cause of your obstruction.

Dr Lancashire performs both open and keyhole (laparoscopic) surgery for bowel obstructions and will be able to inform you which method is safest and most appropriate for you, should you require surgery.