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Intussusception occurs when a portion of the intestine folds inside another part. This causes a blockage. Find out about causes and treatment.

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What is intussusception?

Intussusception occurs when a one part of the intestine folds into another part. This causes a blockage in the intestine. The blockage prevents food and waste from properly moving through. Intussusception can occur any place in the intestinal tract, but it’s most common where the small and large intestines meet.

Intussusception, also called bowel obstruction, is a potentially life-threatening condition. It affects blood supply to the intestine and can lead to tissue death. If you don’t get treatment for it, it can lead to:

  • an infection
  • internal bleeding
  • tearing
  • damage to the intestines
  • peritonitis

Intussusception is most common in children between 2 months and 2 years of age. It’s four times more prevalent in boys than in girls, according to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Older children, teenagers, and adults can also develop intussusception, but these cases are rare.

What are the symptoms of intussusception?

The primary symptoms of intussusception include:

  • acute abdominal pain
  • vomiting
  • nausea
  • lethargy
  • blood or mucus in the stools
  • an abdominal mass
  • constipation

The symptoms of intussusception may come and go. It’s easy to mistake intussusception for colic or other minor digestive issues. Watch for episodes of irritability, crying, and drawing up of the knees in babies or young children.

Seek medical attention if your child shows signs of abdominal pain, especially with vomiting and bloody stools.

What causes intussusception?

Often, doctors don’t find the cause of intussusception. However, the following are known causes:

  • a viral infection
  • intestinal surgery
  • polyps
  • tumors
  • inflammation

Causes of intussusception in older children and adults often occur due to tumors, inflammation, and other conditions.

How is intussusception diagnosed?

The doctor will first do a physical examination and look for a mass in the abdomen. An X-ray or ultrasound may help to confirm intussusception. The doctor may introduce fluid or air into the rectum via an enema. The fluid will show contrast for an X-ray, which will help them identify blockages in the intestines.

How is intussusception treated?

An enema is the first step in treatment. In fact, an enema for diagnosing intussusception may also help to treat it. Pressure from the air or fluid may cause the intestine to correct itself. The result of an enema treatment might not last, so people usually stay in the hospital overnight for observation.

Surgery is another treatment option. Intussusception surgery involves either a large incision or a small incision and a camera. This is called laparoscopic surgery. The type of surgery depends on the location and severity of the obstruction.

Surgery for intussusception may include removal of the affected section of intestine. The surgeon then reconnects the intestine with sutures.

What is the outlook?

Most people with intussusception recover normally if they seek treatment early enough. If left untreated, intussusception can be life-threatening.

Written by: Amber Erickson Gabbey
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by: [Ljava.lang.Object;@5bb34b38
Published: Dec 5, 2013
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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