Symptoms of bowel blockage

Bowel blockage is also commonly known as an intestinal obstruction. Neither is pleasant to experience, and in some cases, can be deadly.

Any type of intestinal blockage in the small intestine or the colon can prevent wastes and fluids from passing, and can lead to literal backups that cause a multitude of other medical problems. Learning to understand the symptoms of bowel blockage will help individuals seek immediate treatment in order to avoid more serious complications.


A bowel blockage is defined as anything that obstructs movement of fluids or more solid matter through the intestine. Obstruction can be caused by many factors, including a mechanical obstruction (something physical like a tumour or diverticulae) that literally blocks the intestinal passage. Other causes may include malfunctions of the intestine which prevent passage of materials. In many cases, blockage is caused by physical factors such as a twisting of the intestine, narrowing of passages caused by diverticulitis, inflammation caused by irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn's disease, and other such factors.


Common symptoms of a bowel obstruction or blockage include cramps, occasional but sharp or stabbing abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Some people experience diarrhoea while others can't have a bowel movement or even pass gas, despite the fact that the lower abdomen "feels full". Some individuals experience extreme tenderness in the abdominal area, or even swelling, which is referred to as a distended belly.


Some individuals may be more at risk for a bowel obstruction than others. Some considerations include prior pelvic surgery, diagnosis of Crohn's disease or other inflammatory bowel conditions or an abdominal cancer diagnosis.


Left untreated, a blocked bowel may lead to more severe medical problems and issues, some of the most common of which are cut off blood supply, death of intestinal tissues due to this lack of blood flow, the body's severely limited ability to absorb foods and fluids, and severe abdominal pain. Some individuals develop peritonitis, which is an infection within the abdominal cavity that can lead to shock and even death.


Treatments for an obstructed bowel will depend on the type and location of the obstruction, as well as the severity. Most individuals diagnosed with a bowel obstruction must be hospitalised and treatments may include medications that encourage contractions in an effort to push contents through the intestine, an NG (nasal gastric) tube insertion, which helps remove air from stomach and intestines and gives the intestines a little more room in an effort to facilitate movement, and in severe cases, surgery to remove the blockage.