Managing Gastrointestinal Health: Intestinal Obstructions

Many gastrointestinal health conditions do not require immediate intervention. Some can be alleviated through medications or even changing your eating habits. However, others are more serious, and they require more immediate care.

Such is the case with intestinal obstructions, which occur when a blockage prevents food from passing through the intestines for regular digestion. If left untreated, this can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening complications. Therefore, it is important to know the signs of an intestinal blockage so you can react appropriately to prevent further damage to your gastrointestinal tract.

What Is an Intestinal Obstruction?

An intestinal obstruction prevents food from being properly digested and passed through the bowels. This blockage leads to the build-up of undigested food and fluids and gas. In addition to interfering with regular digestion and restricting absorption of essential nutrients, this buildup can cause bloating which could lead to potential rupture if the obstruction is not relieved.

Since untreated cases of intestinal obstruction can be life-threatening, it’s especially important not to delay when seeking treatment.
This requires you to know what symptoms to be on the lookout for.


Intestinal obstructions primarily cause discomfort or pain in the abdominal region. More specifically, they can cause bloating, nausea, vomiting, swelling, reduced appetite, constipation.


The complication of rupture of the intestines will lead to peritonitis, which is inflammation and subsequent infection of the inner abdominal wall.  This has the characteristic signs of fever, severe abdominal pain, and rebound tenderness. Peritonitis is a surgical emergency.

Particularly severe blockages can completely cut off the flow of blood to your intestines. Without blood flow, the tissues in your intestines don’t get the oxygen they need for regular function, resulting in cell death, tissue damage, and an increased risk of tearing of the intestinal wall.


Intestinal blockages can result from health conditions. Many of these causes aren’t easily avoidable, but knowing your risk factors can help you be more prepared if an intestinal blockage does occur.


If your abdominal wall is weakened, often as a result of past surgery, there is a chance you may develop an intestinal hernia. This occurs when a portion of the intestine pushes through the wall. This part of the intestine then becomes blocked, preventing food and liquids from passing through your digestive tract.

Surgical Complications

When you’re recovering from surgery in your abdominal region, you may develop intestinal adhesions. These are small bands of scar tissue that cause the tissue lining your intestines to stick together, frequently forming blockages.

To avoid intestinal obstructions, it’s important to attend all follow-up appointments after a surgery and carry out the post surgical recovery instructions provided to you by your doctor.

Gastrointestinal Health Conditions

Some gastrointestinal conditions can increase your risk of developing an obstruction. These include inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), diverticulitis, and colon cancer. Any sort of inflammation in your digestive tract can be a risk factor.

Gastrointestinal Treatment Methods

Intestinal obstructions are generally short-term conditions that can be alleviated within a few days, but they require emergent care and should be managed by a physician. If you notice any of the aforementioned symptoms, especially if these symptoms become severe, seek treatment right away.

Surgical Intervention

People with severe symptoms that do not improve with conservative measures such as nasogastric tube decompression will often need to undergo surgery to remove the blockage. If there is dead tissue, this section of the intestine will be removed as well.

After surgery, you will need to rest your intestines for several days to allow them to recover. You will need to slowly advance your diet until your bowel function has returned.

Initially, after an intestinal obstruction, you’ll need to start your diet with only liquids.  As your intestines show that they are functioning properly, then the advancement to thicker liquids and then solid foods will be appropriate. If you don’t tolerate this, you may need to have IV fluids and advance much more slowly.

Once you improve, a diet low in fiber can help alleviate symptoms like bloating and gas.

Final Thoughts

The best way to avoid serious complications from an intestinal blockage is to know how to identify the symptoms. This enables you to seek emergency treatment as soon as possible.

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