Written by Amber Erickson Gabbey | Published on December 5, 2013
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on December 5, 2013

What Is Intussusception?

Intussusception occurs when a one part of the intestine folds into another part. This causes a blockage in the intestine. The blockage prevents food and waste from properly moving through. Intussusception can occur any place in the intestinal tract, but it is most common where the small and large intestines meet.

Intussusception, also called bowel obstruction, is a potentially life-threatening condition. It affects blood supply to the intestine and can lead to tissue death. If left untreated, it can lead to infection, internal bleeding, tearing, damage to the intestines, and peritonitis.

Intussusception is most common in children between two months and two years of age. It is four times more prevalent in boys than in girls, according to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Older children, teenagers and adults can also get intussusception, though these cases are rare.

What Causes Intussusception?

 Often, the cause of intussusception is never found. However, viral infection, intestinal surgery, polyps, and tumors can call cause it. Tumors, inflammation, or other conditions may cause intussusception in older children and adults.

What Are the Symptoms of Intussusception?

Primary signs and symptoms of intussusception include:

  • acute abdominal pain
  • vomiting
  • nausea
  • lethargy
  • stools with blood or mucus
  • abdominal mass
  • constipation

Symptoms of intussusception may come and go. It is easy to mistake intussusception for colic or other minor digestive issues. Watch for episodes of irritability, crying, and drawing up of the knees in babies or young children.

Seek medical attention if your child shows signs of abdominal pain, especially with vomiting and bloody stools.

How Is Intussusception Diagnosed?

A doctor will first do a physical examination and look for a mass in the abdomen. An X-ray or ultrasound may help to confirm intussusception. The doctor may introduce fluid or air into the rectum (via an enema). The fluid will show contrast for an X-ray, which will help to identify blockages in the intestines.

How Is Intussusception Treated?

An enema is the first step in treatment. In fact, an enema that is used to diagnose intussusception may also help to treat it. Pressure from the air or fluid may cause the intestine to correct itself. The result of an enema treatment might not last, so patients usually stay in the hospital overnight for observation.

Surgery is another treatment option. Intussusception surgery involves either a large incision or a small incision and a camera. This is called laparoscopic surgery. The type of surgery depends on the location and severity of the obstruction.

Intussusception surgery may include removal of the affected section of intestine. The intestine is then reconnected with sutures.

What Is the Outlook for Intussusception?

 Most people with intussusception recover normally if they seek treatment early enough. If left untreated, intussusception can be life threatening.

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