Small bowel obstruction means the small intestine is partially or totally blocked. When this happens, the contents of the intestine cannot properly get out of the body. Stools, fluid, and gas build up inside the intestine. This is a potentially serious condition that requires urgent medical care.

Bowel obstruction may be caused by a mechanical problem. In this case, something inside the body blocks the movement of material through the intestine.

It can also be caused by an ileus, which is when the intestine itself does not work right. This nonmechanical type of obstruction is called paralytic ileus, or pseudo-obstruction. It is often the cause of obstruction in infants and children.

Mechanical small bowel obstruction may be caused by:

  • Adhesions—scar tissue left behind, in most cases by previous abdominal surgery
  • Intussusception —telescoping of the intestinal wall
  • Volvulus—the intestine twists on itself
  • Impacted foreign bodies—items that were swallowed and got stuck

Paralytic ileus may be caused by surgery on the intestine or certain medications, such as opioids.

Small Bowel Obstruction
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