A bowel blockage or obstruction refers to a partial or complete blockage of your intestine that prevents solids, fluids and gas from moving through as they normally would. A bowel blockage can happen in either the small or large intestine. In severe cases, the bowel’s blood supply can be choked off, requiring emergency treatment.
Cause and Symptoms
A bowel obstruction may be caused by several different factors, including a tumor, twisting or narrowing of your intestine and scar tissue. These are known as mechanical obstructions. Non-mechanical obstructions include inflammation, medication side effects or infection. When you have an obstruction, you will likely suffer from cramping, abdominal pain, vomiting and bloating. Visit your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.
When a bowel blockage is suspected and you are waiting for it to clear at home, following a low fiber diet, below 10g of fiber per day is usually recommended, says the Cedars Sinai website. High fiber foods may cause narrowing in your bowel and can make the problem worse. Foods such as pulp-free liquids, meats, eggs, smooth spreads, cooked vegetables and white flour products are all sufficiently low in fiber, explains Hamilton Health Sciences. Penn Medicine recommends eating smaller, more frequent meals and avoiding fatty and gas-producing foods, which can increase your discomfort. Your doctor may order you to follow a liquid-only diet while waiting for the blockage to clear.
If your doctor feels the blockage is serious enough to be monitored in the hospital, you likely won’t be allowed any food or drink at all. An IV will be inserted to help keep you hydrated and possibly a nasogastric tube in your nose to empty fluids from your stomach. Surgery will almost always be performed if you have a complete bowel blockage.
To prevent bowel obstructions from happening in the first place, it is wise to follow an overall healthy eating plan, and avoid constipation. A diet that is high in fiber and water content will help prevent constipation and keep matter moving freely through your intestines. Remember to chew your food well and don’t rush through meals.
Once your bowel blockage has been fixed, add fiber back into your diet slowly. Your intestines need to adapt to the added bulk and resume regular bowel movements. Obstructions can reappear in the future if the underlying cause is not addressed the first time.