The small bowel, also known as the small intestine, is 20-30 feet in length and helps to absorb vitamins, nutrients and water from partially digested food sources as they make their way through the body. Food typically passes along this corridor without an issue onto the large intestine, but if an obstruction partially or completely blocks the contents from passing through, a number of different health issues can arise. Below, we take a closer look at small bowel obstructions and how a gastroenterologist can help you treat these blockages.
Causes of Small Bowel Obstructions
Small intestine obstructions can develop in people of all ages for a number of different reasons. However, the most common causes of small bowel obstructions include:
- Adhesions – An adhesion is a collection of scar tissue that can develop as a result of a previous abdominal or pelvis injury. A previous abdominal surgery is the leading risk factor for the onset of small bowel obstruction in the United States.
- Hernias – A hernia occurs when part of the intestine breaks through a weakened area of the abdominal wall. This can create a small bulge or pocket that can obstruct the normal passage of food along the intestine. Hernias are the second more common cause of small intestine obstruction in the US.
- Tumor – A tumor can also cause a small bowel obstruction, although it’s extremely rare for a tumor to have a primary development in the small intestine. More often, they spread to the small intestine from other areas, like the colon, lung, skin or breast.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease – Inflammatory bowel disorders like Crohn’s or diverticulitis can damage parts of the small intestine and narrow the area through which partially digested foods can pass, leading to blockages.
Symptoms and Treatments For Small Bowel Blockages
Symptoms that suggest you may be dealing with a small bowel blockage include:
- Stomach cramps
- Severe Constipation
If you are suffering from any of the above conditions and believe you may be dealing with a small bowel obstruction, contact a gastrointestinal specialist or head to an emergency department sooner rather than later. Once you’re there, the physician will begin by listening to your symptoms, reviewing your medical chart and conducting a physical exam. The physical exam can help provide more information about a possible obstruction, but the doctor will likely order imaging tests to confirm their suspicions. Not only can imaging tests reveal if there is a blockage, but it can determine the location and cause of the obstruction.
Once the what, why and where have been pinpointed, it’s onto developing a treatment plan. Sometimes all that is needed to allow the obstruction to pass is hospitalization and management with fluids, medications or non-surgical nasogastric decompression. If there is a complete blockage that is unlikely to resolve with conservative care, a minimally invasive operation may be ordered.
During an operation, the surgeon will work to clear the blockage or remove/resection damaged areas of the small bowel. They may also need to strengthen the site of a previous operation if a hernia or scar tissue is contributing to the blockage. In most cases, surgery produces fantastic results, but further lifestyle adjustments may be needed to reduce your likelihood of another blockage in the future.
If you need help with a bowel blockage or another gastrointestinal issue, reach out to Dr. Bhatti and the team at Bhatti GI Consultants today.