Munson Health
Mechanical Bowel Obstruction

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by Mahnke D


Most small bowel blockages are due to adhesions. An adhesion is a band of scar tissue that causes the bowel to attach to the abdominal wall or other organs. Most large bowel obstructions are caused by tumors.
Specific causes of bowel obstructions include:
  • Hernia
  • Tumors
  • Bowel inflammation or swelling
  • Foreign matter in the intestines
  • Gallstones
  • Impacted feces
  • Volvulus—twisting of the intestine
  • Intussusception—when the intestine pulls inward into itself
  • Scar tissue from a previous abdominal or pelvic surgery, particularly gynecologic or gastrointestinal operations


Symptoms of a bowel obstruction include:
Complications from an untreated obstruction can include strangulation, which is cutting off the blood supply to part of the intestine.


Bowel obstructions can be serious, even fatal. If your doctor thinks you have a bowel obstruction, you will be hospitalized and treated. Your treatment will depend on what part of your bowel is blocked and what is causing the blockage.
Possible treatments include the following:
During surgery, the blocked part of the bowel may be removed. The remaining sections will then be joined together. You will probably need a nasogastric tube temporarily after surgery. In addition, you may need antibiotics and pain medication during recovery.
If you are diagnosed with a mechanical bowel obstruction, follow your doctor's instructions.


American College of Gastroenterology

National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Disorders



The College of Family Physicians of Canada

Health Canada



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Beers MH, Berkow R. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. 17th ed. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Simon and Schuster; 1999.

Colonic ileus. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated March 5, 2013. Accessed March 21, 2013.

Essential surgical care manual: intestinal obstruction. World Health Organization website. Available at: . Accessed March 21, 2013.

Jackson P, Raiji M. Evaluation and management of intestinal obstruction. Am Fam Physician. 2011 Jan 15;83(2):159-165.


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