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Mechanical obstruction of the small intestine

Common causes of mechanical obstruction, in which something physically blocks the small intestine, include:

  • Intestinal adhesions — bands of fibrous tissue in the abdominal cavity that can form after abdominal or pelvic surgery
  • Hernias — portions of intestine that protrude into another part of your body
  • Tumors in the small intestine
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn's disease
  • Twisting of the intestine (volvulus)
  • Telescoping of the intestine (intussusception)

Mechanical obstruction of the colon

Mechanical obstruction is much less common in the colon. Potential causes include:

  • Colon cancer
  • Diverticulitis — a condition in which small, bulging pouches (diverticula) in the digestive tract become inflamed or infected
  • Twisting of the colon (volvulus)
  • Impacted feces
  • Narrowing of the colon caused by inflammation and scarring (stricture)

Paralytic ileus

Paralytic ileus can cause signs and symptoms of intestinal obstruction, but doesn't involve a physical blockage. In paralytic ileus, muscle or nerve problems disrupt the normal coordinated muscle contractions of the intestines, slowing or stopping the movement of food and fluid through the digestive system.

Paralytic ileus can affect any part of the intestine. Causes can include:

  • Abdominal surgery
  • Pelvic surgery
  • Infection
  • Certain medications, including antidepressants and pain medications that affect muscles and nerves
  • Muscle and nerve disorders, such as Parkinson's disease
Dec. 18, 2012