Symptoms of a Bowel Obstruction

Your digestive system plays a vital role in your overall well-being, ensuring that nutrients are absorbed while waste is efficiently eliminated. However, like any system of the body, there are things that can go wrong. One of the most serious issues that can occur is a bowel obstruction.

Potentially requiring emergency surgery, a bowel obstruction requires immediate treatment. Being aware of the symptoms can help you to identify the issue as early as possible.

In this helpful guide, we’ll explore the symptoms of bowel obstruction and the key warning signs that you should never overlook.

What is a bowel obstruction?

A bowel obstruction occurs when there is a partial or complete blockage in the flow of digested products through the intestines.

It can occur anywhere along the length of the intestines, but is more common in the small intestines. Some of the most common causes include:

Adhesions: Scar tissue known as adhesions can develop after abdominal surgery or inflammation, causing the intestines to stick together. This can create blockages.

Hernias: Hernias can lead to bowel obstructions when a portion of the intestine protrudes through a weakened area in the abdominal wall and becomes trapped.

Tumours: Both benign and malignant tumours in or near the intestines can obstruct the normal flow of digestive material.

Inflammation: Conditions like Crohn’s disease or inflammatory bowel disease can cause inflammation and narrowing of the intestines, potentially leading to obstructions.

Volvulus: When a segment of the intestine twists around itself, resulting in an obstruction.

Foreign Bodies: Swallowed objects, like small toys or bones, can become lodged in the intestines, causing blockages.

Bowel Troubles: Severe constipation can obstruct the colon.

Understanding the nature of a bowel obstruction, including its potential causes, is vital for recognising the symptoms and seeking prompt medical attention.

What are the symptoms of a bowel obstruction?

If you want to catch a bowel obstruction early, here’s some of the symptoms to watch out for:

  • Abdominal Pain: Intense, crampy abdominal pain that comes and goes in waves.
  • Bloating: Persistent abdominal bloating or distention.
  • Constipation: Severe and prolonged constipation, sometimes with no bowel movements.
  • Vomiting: Frequent and forceful vomiting, sometimes with the presence of bile.
  • Inability to Pass Gas: Difficulty or inability to pass gas.
  • Lack of Appetite: Loss of appetite and a feeling of fullness even without eating much.
  • Diarrhoea: In some cases, diarrhoea may occur, especially if the obstruction is partial.

If you experience these symptoms, it’s essential to seek immediate medical attention. Bowel obstructions can quickly become serious and require prompt medical treatment.

Treating a bowel obstruction

The treatment approach for a bowel obstruction typically depends on the severity of the obstruction, its location, and most importantly underlying cause.

In severe cases, you will need surgery to relieve the obstruction. If you have a partial blockage, medications, fasting, and IV fluids may be used to manage the symptoms and eliminate the obstruction. When bowel obstruction is managed non-surgically, there is a higher risk of recurrence.

Mr Michael Stellakis is a leading laparoscopic abdominal surgeon with a vast experience of treating bowel obstruction. If you are concerned, get in touch for a consultation.