Treatment

Treatment for intestinal obstruction depends on the cause of your condition, but generally requires hospitalization.

Hospitalization to stabilize your condition

When you arrive at the hospital, the doctors will first work to stabilize you so that you can undergo treatment. This process may include:

  • Placing an intravenous (IV) line into a vein in your arm so that fluids can be given
  • Putting a nasogastric tube through your nose and into your stomach to suck out air and fluid and relieve abdominal swelling
  • Placing a thin, flexible tube (catheter) into your bladder to drain urine and collect it for testing

Treating intussusception

A barium or air enema is used both as a diagnostic procedure and a treatment for children with intussusception. If an enema works, further treatment is usually not necessary.

Treatment for partial obstruction

If you have an obstruction in which some food and fluid can still get through (partial obstruction), you may not need further treatment after you've been stabilized. Your doctor may recommend a special low-fiber diet that is easier for your partially blocked intestine to process. If the obstruction does not clear on its own, you may need surgery to relieve the obstruction.

Treatment for complete obstruction

If nothing is able to pass through your intestine, you'll usually need surgery to relieve the blockage. The procedure you have will depend on what's causing the obstruction and which part of your intestine is affected. Surgery typically involves removing the obstruction, as well as any section of your intestine that has died or is damaged.

Alternatively, your doctor may recommend treating the obstruction with a self-expanding metal stent. The wire mesh tube is inserted into your colon via an endoscope passed through your mouth or colon. It forces open the colon so that the obstruction can clear.

Stents are generally used to treat people with colon cancer or to provide temporary relief in people for whom emergency surgery is too risky. You may still need surgery, once your condition is stable.

Treatment for pseudo-obstruction

If your doctor determines that your signs and symptoms are caused by pseudo-obstruction (paralytic ileus), he or she may monitor your condition for a day or two in the hospital, and treat the cause if it's known. Paralytic ileus can get better on its own. In the meantime, you'll likely be given food through a nasal tube or an IV to prevent malnutrition.

If paralytic ileus doesn't improve on its own, your doctor may prescribe medication that causes muscle contractions, which can help move food and fluids through your intestines. If paralytic ileus is caused by an illness or medication, the doctor will treat the underlying illness or stop the medication. Rarely, surgery may be needed to remove part of the intestine.

In cases where the colon is enlarged, a treatment called decompression may provide relief. Decompression can be done with colonoscopy, a procedure in which a thin tube is inserted into your anus and guided into the colon. Decompression can also be done through surgery.