What is bowel obstruction repair?

A bowel obstruction repair is surgery to remove or relieve a blockage in the bowel. The most common cause of a bowel obstruction is scarring from previous abdominal surgery.  The bowels can twist or kink under the scarring and this can lead to the blockage.  

The bowel is the part of the digestive tract that absorbs nutrients from food. A bowel obstruction stops the passage of stool and gas through your intestines. Symptoms include a distended abdomen, fullness, painful spasms, constipation, not passing gas, diarrhea, nausea with or without vomiting, and foul-smelling breath. It can be a serious, possibly life-threatening condition that may require prompt surgery. Bowel obstruction repair is also called intestinal obstruction repair.

Bowel obstruction repair is a major surgery with risks and potential complications. You may have less invasive treatment options. Options vary depending on the location, extent or type of bowel obstruction. Consider getting a second opinion about all your treatment choices before having bowel obstruction repair. 

Other surgical procedures that may be performed

A bowel obstruction can cut off the blood supply to part of the intestine. This can permanently damage the intestine. In this case, your surgeon may need to remove the damaged part of the intestine and reattach the healthy sections of the intestine.

It is not always possible to reconnect the healthy parts of intestine. If this occurs, your surgeon will bring the end of the intestine through the abdominal wall to the skin in this case. This creates an opening, called an ileostomy or a colostomy. 

Stool will leave the body through the opening into a collection bag. This may be temporary. Your surgeon will remove the stoma and put the bowels back together again after they heal.

Why is bowel obstruction repair performed? 

Your doctor may recommend a bowel obstruction repair to remove or relieve a blockage in the bowel. Your doctor may only consider surgical repair of the bowel if other treatment options that involve less risk of complications have been ineffective. Ask your doctor about all of your treatment options and consider getting a second opinion before deciding on a bowel obstruction repair.

A physical (mechanical) blockage in the intestine can cause a bowel obstruction. Causes of a mechanical blockage include:

  • Foreign bodies, which are more likely to be the cause of bowel obstruction in children than adults
  • Gallstones, which can wear away the gallbladder wall and travel into the small intestine
  • Hernia, which is when organ or other structure bulges through a weak part of tissue or muscle outside its normal place
  • Impacted stool, which can occur from chronic constipation
  • Scar tissue, which can occur from past abdominal surgeries. This is the most common reason for an intestinal blockage.
  • Tumors, which can block the passage of stool. A tumor can occur in any part of the intestine or other nearby structure.
  • Volvulus (twisting of the intestines), which is often due to a birth defect of the intestines 

An ileus is another type of bowel obstruction. An ileus occurs when the bowels stop moving and pushing digested food through your intestine. Causes of ileus include:

  • Appendicitis, which is an inflammation or infection of the appendix
  • Certain drugs and medications, such as opioids and sedatives, can slow down peristalsis. Peristalsis is the series of contractions that propel food through the digestive tract.
  • Electrolyte imbalances, which can be caused by chronic vomiting or diarrhea
  • Gastroenteritis, which is an inflammation or infection of the stomach and intestines
  • Obstruction of the mesenteric artery, which is the blood vessel that supplies blood to the abdomen
  • Pancreatitis, which is an inflammation or infection of the pancreas
  • Surgical complications, which include ileus, a complication of bowel surgery. Bowel obstruction is usually temporary, but it can persist.

Who performs bowel obstruction repair?

The following specialists repair bowel obstructions: