The Signs of an Obstructed Bowel in a Toddler

Toddlers are no strangers to minor health issues such as colds and flu, as their immune system continues to grow and develop. Stomach pain also is a common toddler complaint, and while the majority of the time it is nothing serious, a more ominous problem such as a bowel obstruction is possible. A blockage in the intestine or a condition known as paralytic ileus, where the bowel isn't functioning but has no structural damage, can cause bowel obstruction in toddlers. Watch out for telltale signs of these issues.

Abdominal Distention

Abdominal distention occurs when the child's stomach protrudes outward and is quite tender to the touch. With a bowel obstruction, pain and cramping, gas and a full feeling also may accompany the distention. Most toddlers should be able to communicate how they feel regarding any additional abdominal symptoms beyond what you can see. If your child is at an age where his vocabulary is still developing, ask many questions in a way that he can understand.

Nausea and Vomiting

A blockage in your child's intestines often will result in him feeling nauseous to the point of vomiting. Most children vomit from time to time when they have stomach flu, but it can be a dangerous situation if it happens too frequently, leading to dehydration. Give your child water or other clear fluids to replace any lost liquid.

Constipation or Diarrhea

Constipation and diarrhea are on opposite ends of the bowel movement spectrum. Constipation refers to the inability to have a bowel movement, while diarrhea refers to frequent, loose and watery stool. Either condition may result when a bowel obstruction is present in your child. According to the MedLinePlus website, constipation is having less than three bowel movements per week. Diarrhea poses the risk of dehydration from fluid loss.


As soon as your toddler exhibits any signs of a bowel obstruction, call your doctor to be on the safe side. In most cases, vomiting, diarrhea or a sore stomach are the result of a virus that will go away with time. However, due to the serious nature of a bowel obstruction, it is wise to err on the side of caution, especially if more than one sign is present.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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