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Your intestine is shaped like a long tube. In intussusception, one part of your intestine — usually the small intestine — slides inside an adjacent part. This is sometimes called telescoping because it's similar to the way a collapsible telescope folds together.

In some cases, the telescoping is caused by an abnormal growth in the intestine, such as a polyp or a tumor (called a lead point). The normal wave-like contractions of the intestine grab this lead point and pull it and the lining of the intestine into the bowel ahead of it. In most cases, however, no cause can be identified for intussusception.

Children

In the vast majority of cases of intussusception in children, the cause is unknown. Because intussusception seems to occur more often in the fall and winter and because many children with the problem also have flu-like symptoms, some suspect a virus may play a role in the condition. In a few instances, a lead point is identified as the cause of the condition — most frequently Meckel's diverticulum (a pouch in the lining of the small intestine).

Adults

In adults, intussusception is usually the result of a medical condition, such as:

  • A tumor
  • Scar-like tissue in the intestine (adhesions)
  • Surgical scars in the small intestine or colon
  • Hematoma
  • Inflammation, such as from Crohn's disease
Dec. 14, 2012

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