What is Ileus

Ileus is a condition in which the intestines, also called the bowels, stop working and moving correctly. If the intestines stop working, food cannot pass through to get digested.

The intestines are hollow organs that digest food after the food leaves the stomach. These organs are long, muscular tubes that connect the stomach to the rectum.

When ileus occurs, the muscular contractions that cause food to move through the intestines stop happening as they normally would.

Ileus can occur for various reasons. This condition is a serious problem that usually requires hospitalization. It can cause symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain, and bloating. Ileus can last from a few hours to a few days. If the intestines stop working because of a blockage, that is a different condition that is called a bowel obstruction.

What are the causes?

This condition may be caused by:

  • Surgery on the abdomen.
  • An infection or inflammation in the abdomen. This includes inflammation of the lining of the abdomen (peritonitis).
  • Infection or inflammation in other parts of the body, such as pneumonia or pancreatitis.
  • Passage of gallstones or kidney stones.
  • Damage to the nerves or blood vessels that go to the intestines.
  • A collection of blood within the abdominal cavity.
  • Imbalance in the salts in the blood (electrolytes).
  • Injury to the brain or spinal cord.
  • Medicines. Many medicines, including strong pain medicines, can cause ileus or make it worse.

What are the signs or symptoms?

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Bloating of the abdomen.
  • Pain or discomfort in the abdomen.
  • Poor appetite.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Lack of normal bowel sounds, such as “growling” in the stomach.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition may be diagnosed with:

  • A physical exam and medical history.
  • X-rays or a CT scan of the abdomen.

You may also have other tests to help find the cause of the condition.

How is this treated?

Treatment for this condition may include:

  • Resting the intestines until they start to work again. This is often done by:
    • Stopping oral intake of food and drink. You will be given fluid through an IV tube to prevent dehydration.
    • Placing a small tube (nasogastric tube or NG tube) that is passed through your nose and into your stomach. The tube is attached to a suction device and keeps the stomach emptied out. This allows the bowels to rest and also helps to reduce nausea and vomiting.
  • Correcting any electrolyte imbalance by giving supplements in the IV fluid.
  • Stopping any medicines that might make ileus worse.
  • Treating any condition that may have caused ileus.

Follow these instructions at home:

  • Follow instructions from your health care provider about diet and fluid intake. Usually, you will be told to:
    • Drink plenty of clear fluids.
    • Avoid alcohol.
    • Avoid caffeine.
    • Eat a bland diet.
  • Get plenty of rest. Return to your normal activities as told by your health care provider.
  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • You have nausea, vomiting, or abdominal discomfort.
  • You have a fever.

Get help right away if:

  • You have severe abdominal pain or bloating.
  • You cannot eat or drink without vomiting.

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