Intestinal obstruction

author/s: Dr Mª Carmen Peña Cala

What does intestinal obstruction mean?

Intestinal obstruction is when the passage of liquids and food through the intestine is impeded.


How does it manifest?

If the obstruction is total or nearly complete, the liquid and food accumulate behind the obstruction.

A common characteristic of the clinical picture is vomiting that normally occurs fiercely and effortlessly, depending on the type of obstruction.

In a high obstruction, vomiting usually contains sour food and the presence of green bile, and when the obstruction is low, it commonly looks like faeces.

The abdomen is tense, showing distension of the intestine, being especially prominent in obstruction of the colon. No air or faeces are expelled.

Once the abdomen is distended, absorption of nutrients is virtually stopped and the released secretions in the intestine are not absorbed. The patient can become dehydrated very quickly.


What causes an intestinal obstruction?

At the level of the thin intestine, it can be caused by:

    1. Bands of fibrous tissue called adhesions, that compress the intestine from the outside. This is also known as extrinsic obstruction.

    2. Because part of the intestine can collapse through any of the natural openings of the abdominal wall, becoming obstructed as a result. Such protrusion constitutes the so called “hernia”.

    3. Tumoral pathology.

At the level of the large intestine or colon, the most common cause for the obstruction is carcinoma, that could be housed at any point throughout its trajectory.