Bowel Obstruction FAQs

Blockages can occur in the small or large intestines, creating painful and serious symptoms. Learn more about bowel obstructions and how Mercy gastroenterologists treat them.

What's bowel obstruction?

A bowel obstruction is a blockage in the intestines that keeps food and fluid from passing through normally. The blockages can be full or partial. And if enough food, fluid and gas build up behind the obstruction, your intestine can rupture, causing a life-threatening situation.

What causes bowel obstruction?

Your intestines can get blocked by tumors, scar tissue, hernias, inflammation, infected pouches (diverticulitis) and constipation. Colon cancer or cancers spreading from other areas (like ovarian cancer) can block the intestines. Twists in the bowel and impacted feces may also create blockages. 

What does a bowel obstruction feel like?

With a bowel obstruction, you may have severe cramping, low appetite, vomiting, bloating, constipation (full blockage) or diarrhea (partial blockage). Seek help right away if you’re experiencing bowel distress with constant or severe pain.

How do you treat a bowel obstruction?

Mercy providers treat bowel obstructions in several ways, depending on the severity. IV fluids and medication can help balance liquids, restore electrolytes and ease pain or nausea. A thin nasogastric (NG) tube running from the nose into the stomach can also be used to remove fluid and gas, alleviating pressure. And blockages can be cleared using enemas or small mesh tubes called stents. If the intestine becomes completely blocked, doesn’t respond to treatments or is cutting off blood supply, surgery is usually needed.

How do you prevent a bowel obstruction?

Your eating habits can help you avoid a bowel obstruction. Eat smaller portions more often, and chew your food well. Limit high-fiber foods and nuts in your meals. And avoid foods and beverages that can irritate the bowel, such as caffeinated drinks, tough or stringy foods, and fruit and vegetable peels. Cook your food until it’s soft, and include moist foods in your diet.

Lifestyle changes can also help. Try exercising regularly, staying hydrated, reducing stress levels, avoiding or quitting smoking and limiting alcohol. Stool softeners may help ― but talk with your Mercy provider about the right way to take them to avoid damaging your digestive tract.

How do you relieve bowel obstruction pain?

If you’re having pain due to bowel obstruction, contact your Mercy provider. He or she will discuss pain management options based on your symptoms, current health and medical history.

Find a Gastroenterologist

Mercy has bowel obstruction specialists across most our communities. 

Find a gastroenterologist near you.