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What Is a Partial Bowel Obstruction?

When contents of the intestines become partially obstructed, a partial bowel obstruction occurs.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 April 2014
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A partial bowel obstruction is a condition involving the intestinal tract, characterized by incomplete passage of stool through the bowels. Over time, it can develop into a total obstruction, in which case the contents of the intestines will not be able to move at all past the obstruction. Partial obstructions are a cause for concern and they should be treated as quickly as possible, before the patient develops complications such as bowel ischemia, in which part of the bowel can die as a result of oxygen deprivation.

Many things can cause a partial bowel obstruction, including tumors, swallowing a large foreign body, hernias, adhesions, impacted stool caused by constipation, a kink in the bowel, and intussusception, in which the bowel telescopes in on itself and the contents cannot move freely past. Sufferers can develop nausea, vomiting, cramps, abdominal pain, and tenderness in the abdomen. Some may note that they strain on the toilet and cannot defecate, and there can be a reduction in flatulence.

If a healthcare professional suspects that a patient has a bowel obstruction, a medical imaging study is usually performed to get a look at the intestine. This can include asking the patient to undergo a barium swallow so that the intestinal tract will be highlighted on an X-ray image. It is important to visualize the bowel to determine the location and nature of the obstruction, as this can impact the choice of treatment.

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Immediate treatment can include the insertion of a nasogastric (NG) tube to relieve buildups of fluid and gas in the stomach so that the patient will be more comfortable. Medications for pain management may also be provided, along with intravenous fluid to keep the patient hydrated. Depending on what is causing the obstruction, treatments such as enemas, digital extraction of impacted feces, and medications can be used to try and clear the bowel.

Around 15% of partial bowel obstructions require surgical intervention. It is important to be aware that an abdominal blockage will not usually resolve on its own, and if a partial obstruction is not treated, it can develop into a total bowel obstruction. This can be far more serious and is much more likely to require surgery. People who notice the signs of bowel obstruction should seek medical attention as quickly as possible.

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Discuss this Article

anon328495
Post 11

I've had also a partial bowel obstruction in the past. It's a very serious matter and needs to be taken very seriously.

I'm writing about hemorrhoids, and know the consequences of not treating this problem. It's not only very bad for your bowel, also for a lot of other things.

anon328307
Post 10

So my daughter had a CT scan because she had been having pain like an appendicitis (and had kidney stones). She was having pain before the CT. after the CT, she had diarrhea after the CT and we had to stop twice on the way home for her to throw up. She threw up several more times but by mid afternoon she was fine. The next afternoon, the radiologist called saying she had a partial bowel obstruction. Also said she had masses in her bowel. After colonoscopy and small bowel follow through, they said, nope, she's all good. Does a partial bowel obstruction clear itself?

wavy58
Post 8

I often suffered from constipation that led to painful obstruction. I would only be able to eliminate a small amount of feces, and the rest were so hard and big that I could not push them through. Trying led to the development of hemorrhoids. If I had only known then what I know now, I could have avoided all of that.

I noticed after eating several green apples off the tree in my yard, my dogs developed diarrhea. I didn’t want to eat unripe apples, so I thought of trying apple juice instead. I drank a full glass of pure apple juice with no sugar added, and by the end of the day, I was able to have a normal bowel movement.

Perdido
Post 7

@StarJo - Fleet certainly works, but you have to be careful with it. The high sodium content can be bad for people who have kidney disease or hypertension.

I have found that keeping myself well hydrated with water and fruit juice keeps me from developing the constipation that can lead to bowel obstructions. One of the best is crangrape juice.

It tastes so much better than pure cranberry juice, so I can drink enough of it to do some good. If I’ve been unable to go to the bathroom for a couple of days, I just drink a full glass of this, and it always helps.

shell4life
Post 6

I struggled with frequent partial bowel obstructions. I finally decided to introduce foods into my diet that would prevent this from happening. I learned that I should look for high fiber content in foods.

In fruits, I learned that apples with the skins on, raspberries, and oranges are good sources. Other high fiber sources include cooked black beans, bran cereal, brown rice, cooked kidney beans, rolled oats, avocado, and cooked peas and carrots.

These were easy to eat, and I came to love them and actually crave them. Probably part of it was mental, because they helped stave off bowel obstructions.

StarJo
Post 5

I had a partial bowel obstruction brought on by severe constipation. I had not had a bowel movement in five days, and it was getting very uncomfortable. I had a pain that went straight across my belly button and caused me to double over. I could not stand up totally straight.

I treated it by taking a dose of Fleet. This medicine is a high sodium, lemony flavored fluid designed to completely clear out your intestines. You have to drink a full glass of water afterward, and within a few hours, you will be cramping on the toilet because your feces are being removed so quickly after such a long period of stillness.

SkittisH
Post 4

@VivAnne - It's not always embarrassment that causes people to avoid going in for treatment, although you're right, that's a big one. Another reason that's more likely to make even a reasonable person put off going in for treatment is just plain treatment anxiety.

Let's face it, having a partial bowel obstruction is bad enough; for some people, the idea of what doctors might do as part of a partial small bowel obstruction treatment might seem too scary to face.

It's no secret that many, many people are creeped out by medical treatments -- especially surgery and dental work. Horror movie makers have known this for ages, and capitalized on that fear by making medical-related films, and now unfortunately medical things remind some people of the horror movies they've seen.

It might sound silly, but medical anxiety and dental anxiety are serious problems if they're bad enough to keep people from going to the doctor or dentist. In the case of bowel obstruction, putting off treatment can lead to serious consequences; if you have medical anxiety, explain this when you go to the doctor and they will work with you to make your visit the least-scary it can be.

VivAnne
Post 3

Wow -- I knew that a partial obstructed bowel was a bad thing, but it can actually end up killing part of your intestines? That's serious business!

Apparently, seeking treatment for conditions such as constipation, bowel obstruction and other "private parts" related issues is one of the things that many people put off the most. I guess some people are so mortified by the possibility of being examined below the waist by a stranger -- even a doctor -- that they would rather suffer with the symptoms.

As I learned here in this WiseGEEK article, putting off treatment of a smaller problem such as partial bowel obstruction can lead to much worse conditions, like killing off part of your intestines! If you're one of those people who can't even handle looking at yourself nude in the mirror, it's time for a wake up call -- your health is worth a little embarrassment!

nanny3
Post 2

My husband works at a prison, and often comes home with some of the strangest stories that you could possibly ever hear. Inmates are actually incredibly creative and smart about how they make their life behind bars more bearable on a day to day basis.

And, suffice it to say, that they have many restrictions about what they may and may not have. As a result, they are often trying to find ways to hide things from the guards who might search their cells and take their priced belongings.

Many inmates make tattoo guns out of electric shaving razors. This is considered contraband. And apparently this one guy thought really highly of his tattoo gun.

The guards didn’t find it when they checked his cell; mainly because he had hidden it incredibly well. However, the medical staff found it not very long after when he could not remove it himself and it was forming a far from small bowel obstruction.

I’ll let you fill in the blanks.

dimpley
Post 1

A partial bowel obstruction is not something to be taken lightly just because it is ‘partial.’ Actually, it is a very serious matter indeed.

When a person’s bowel is obstructed, even if it isn’t completely obstructed, there is a serious reason that that is so. The body needs to be able to release waste to stay healthy, and not being able to do so can create all kinds of trouble.

One thing to look for if you think that you could possibly have a bowel obstruction, partial or otherwise, is a brown colored, coffee ground looking substance in any bile you might vomit.

No matter what the obstruction is (even those people who might know precisely what foreign object is obstructing their bowel) it is important to seek medical help quickly.

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