Bowel obstruction, also known as intestinal obstruction, occurs when there is a blockage somewhere in your small or large intestines that prevent the passage of food, fluids, and gas during the process of digestion.
Ordinarily, after leaving the stomach, food particles must pass through the whole span of the intestines as part of normal digestion. These particles are constantly moving through the intestines. However, a bowel obstruction stops this movement, leading to a build-up of food particles, digestive fluids, and gas behind the point of the blockage.
If this blockage persists, the increasing pressure can rupture the intestines, causing harmful intestinal contents and bacteria to leak into the abdominal cavity. The blockage can also prevent blood from reaching a segment of the affected intestine, leading to tissue death and infection. These complications are life-threatening.
Common causes of bowel obstruction include intestinal adhesions, hernias, fecal impaction, ingestion of a solid indigestible object, inflammatory bowel disease, twisting of the intestine (volvulus), diverticulitis, cancer, and others. In older adults, cancer as a cause becomes more likely.
Symptoms of Bowel Obstruction
Bowel obstruction causes a number of uncomfortable symptoms, which include:
- Severe bloating
- Abdominal pain (cramps, comes and goes)
- Inability to pass stool or gas
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal swelling
The presence or absence and the severity of each of these symptoms depend on a number of factors, such as the location, cause, and extent (partial or complete) of the obstruction.
Due to the serious complications that can result from bowel obstruction, contact your doctor when you notice any of the symptoms listed above.
Signs a Bowel Obstruction is Clearing
Most cases of bowel obstruction are treatable. However, do not ignore the symptoms or attempt to treat yourself at home. Rather, see a doctor who would decide on the best treatment option to adopt for you.
Whether your bowel obstruction is corrected surgically or treated through other options, it is expected that the blockage would clear — either gradually or at once, depending on the treatment option adopted.
Here are the signs that your bowel obstruction is clearing:
1. Feeling generally better
The symptoms of bowel obstructions are quite discomforting. So, with the blockage still intact, you will not feel well. However, once the blockage starts to clear or is removed, you start to feel much better again. And the overall discomfort caused by the symptoms starts to subside.
2. Passing gas
In cases of complete bowel obstruction, the resulting blockage makes it impossible to pass gas. This causes severe bloating and contributes to abdominal pain and swelling. However, once the obstruction starts to give way, you will be able to pass gas again, as there would be a passage for gas to pass to your anus.
3. Passing stool
Since the inability to pass stool is one of the major symptoms of bowel obstruction, it is quite expectable that reduction or removal of the blockage would allow for the passage of stools. So, once you are able to pass stools after a bowel obstruction, it is a sign that the obstruction is giving way or has been totally removed.
4. Relief from abdominal pain
The build-up of food particles, gas, and other digestive substances in your intestines during a bowel obstruction is the cause of abdominal pain. Once the blockage starts to give way or is surgically removed at once, the abdominal pain would subside as the intestine is able to expel its contents again.
5. Relief from other symptoms
As the bowel obstruction clears or is removed, you begin to observe relief from all other symptoms that resulted from the blockage in the first place. You would regain your appetite and would no longer feel like vomiting at the thought or sight of food. And you would no longer vomit after eating. If you have diarrhea, this would stop as well.
Note, however, that the signs discussed above are those that you can feel yourself. While they indicate a positive development, your doctor might want to run a number of tests to confirm that the blockage is truly giving way or totally removed from your bowel.
Bowel obstruction by whatever cause prevents forward the passage of food through the gastrointestinal tract. This leads to a build-up of food particles, gas, and other digestive substances in the intestines, and this, in turn, leads to a number of discomforting symptoms.
However, these symptoms begin to disappear as soon as the bowel obstruction is treated by your doctor. We have mentioned some of the things you would feel when bowel obstruction is clearing.
WARNING: Once you observe the symptoms of bowel obstruction, seek medical help immediately. Do not wait to see if it would “clear” or attempt to treat it on your own, as these might lead to serious complications.
Image credit: American Nurse