Intussusception

Definition

Intussusception is a serious type of bowel obstruction. The intestine is shaped like a long tube. Intussusception occurs when one part of the intestine slides up into another part of the intestine. This part of the intestine becomes trapped and starts to swell. The swelling can block the flow of food. If severe, swelling can also cut off the blood supply to the area.

Intussusception
Nucleus factsheet image
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

In many cases, there is no known cause for intussusception. However, intussusception may sometimes occur as a complication of some medical conditions, including:

Risk Factors

Factors that increase the risk of intussusception include:

  • Age: it is the most common cause of obstruction in children 3 months to 6 years old, but the majority are younger than 24 months
  • Season: more common during respiratory and gastrointestinal virus seasons
  • Sex: male
  • Medical conditions in the list above

Symptoms

The initial symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain:
    • Usually severe
    • Colicky or cramping
    • Usually comes on suddenly
    • In children, this may be indicated by drawing knees to chest and crying
  • Vomiting—sometimes yellow or green tinged
  • Stools mixed with mucus and blood—often described as currant jelly
  • Lethargy

Additional symptoms include:

Intussusception cuts off the blood supply to the bowel. If this is not treated quickly, it can lead to bowel gangrene. Gangrene can cause tissue in the intestinal wall to die. This may lead to:

  • Perforation of the intestinal wall
  • Inflammation of the lining of the abdominal cavity and infection—peritonitis

If not treated quickly, peritonitis can lead to death.

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests

Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

Treatment

Air Enema

In many cases, giving an air enema will correct intussusception. Air enema is preferred over water-soluble contrast or barium enema. This is often the preferred treatment when intussusception occurs in infancy. However, the test may cause a perforation to occur in the bowel. An enema should not be done if the bowel is perforated.

Surgery

Surgery may be required to release the trapped portion of the bowel and to clear the obstruction. If any bowel tissue has died due to gangrene, that part of the bowel may need to be removed.

Prevention

There are no guidelines for preventing intussusception because the cause is unknown. Talk to your doctor about avoiding vaccines that may cause a recurrence.

Revisions

All EBSCO Publishing proprietary, consumer health and medical information found on this site is accredited by URAC. URAC's Health Web Site Accreditation Program requires compliance with 53 rigorous standards of quality and accountability, verified by independent audits. To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at HLEditorialTeam@ebscohost.com.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Editorial Policy | Privacy Policy | Terms and Conditions | Support
Copyright © 2008 EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.

The best chance of surviving a heart attack is to act quickly. Do not wait for symptoms to go away. Call 9-1-1 immediately, and chew an aspirin while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.