What is Intussusception?

Intussusception is a condition of the intestines. This condition is caused by a portion of the intestine sliding into another part of the intestine. This collision has the capability to block food, and even liquid from passing into other portions of the intestine. The condition also has the ability to block blood supply and lead to a perforation in the bowel.

An infection in the bowel can lead to necrosis, or death of tissue in the bowel.

Intussusception is the most frequent cause of intestine obstruction in toddlers under the age of three years old. The cause is usually unknown and cannot be determined, at least in children. This condition is extremely rare in adults. Intussusception in adults are usually the result of another medical condition. Frequently, this condition is a tumor.

What are the Symptoms of Intussusception?

The symptoms experienced in children and adults are different. The symptoms can also vary from person to person. They can also vary due to the location of the intussusception.

Children symptoms

Usually, the first signs of intussusception in a healthy infant is noticed by the parents. This symptom is noticed by the parents. The infant begins to cry loudly, as if they are suffering from severe abdominal cramps. They may pull their knees up to their chest as they cry, just as a baby with severe gas pains would.

Many parents are convinced that their baby is suffering from gas pains because the pain subsides after 15 to 20 minutes. As the pain from this condition becomes worse, the crying episodes become longer. Other symptoms experienced are:

  • Stool that is mixed with blood and mucus.
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • A lump in the abdomen that can be felt from the outside
  • Diarrhea
  • Increase in temperature and possibly a high fever.

Keep in mind that not every person experiences the same symptoms. Many infants do not show that they are in pain. Other infants do not seem as though they are in obvious pain, and a lump in the abdomen may not be present. Children who are older may complain of pain the abdomen, but do not have any other symptoms.

Adult symptoms

Because intussusception is not common in adult patients, their symptoms may be combined with others, making it more difficult to identify. The most common symptom that adults complain about is abdominal pain, which comes and goes. Patients may also complain of nausea and vomiting, but since the symptom comes and goes, it can be difficult to contribute it to anything in particular. After a few weeks, the patient realizes that something isn’t right and they seek medical treatment.

Intussusception Causes

Intussusception is caused when a section of the intestine slides into an adjacent piece of intestines. It is often compared to a telescope because the intestines folds into itself. This condition is normally seen in the small intestines but can also present in the large intestines. In other cases, normal wave-like contractions in the intestines causes the intestinal lining to be pulled into the intestinal tract ahead of it. In small children, especially children under the age of three, intussusception symptoms often occur during the colder weather months of fall and winter and is accompanied with flu-like symptoms. This has led many physicians to believe that it is caused by a virus. Intussusception is very common in children, especially boys. But it is also caused by abnormal intestinal formations at birth, as well as a family history of the condition.

In adults, intussusception tends to appear as symptoms caused by a medical procedure or a pre-existing condition. For example, the removal of polyps, or a patient experiencing inflammation from Crohn’s Disease can lead to intussusception.

How is Intussusception Treated?

Treatment for intussusception usually occurs under emergency situations. This is because when the parents, or the patient realize that something is wrong, the condition has usually advanced to the point of a medical emergency.

Usually, emergency medical care is required to correct the intestinal overlap and prevent infection if blood flow is blocked.

Children treatments

When you and your child arrive at the hospital, doctors will stabilize them medically. This includes giving them IV fluids. The doctor will then help to remove the infection causing material by placing a tube into the intestines through their nose.

Doctors usually recommend a barium enema, or an air enema. This allows them to locate the blockage, and aids in repairing the intestine.

While this treatment is extremely effective in children, it rarely works in adults.

Surgery may  be required if a portion of the intestine is torn, or if the enema is not successful in treating the condition. Surgery is typically used for children who do not respond to the enema treatment. It is usually the only option for treating adults with this condition.

Intussusception Preventions

Intussusception is considered a life threatening condition if left untreated. It is usually treated after the patient experiences symptoms through emergency medical attention to prevent severe hydration, shock or death. Treatment methods will depend on the severity of the patient’s case as well as their current health. Patients are initially diagnosed using either abdominal imaging such as an x-ray, ultrasound, or an upper GI series. Specifically in children, a barium enema is used for diagnostics and treatment. The enema is also considered a very effective method in treating intussusception in children. In other cases, surgery is needed to clear the obstruction, remove any dead tissue or to free the trapped intestine.

Last Reviewed:
October 06, 2016
Last Updated:
March 09, 2018