Intestinal Pseudo-Obstruction

Intestinal pseudo-obstruction is a rare disorder which affects the passage of food through the digestive system. Most people with the condition experience problems in the small intestine and large bowel, but it is also possible for the oesophagus and stomach to be affected. The condition is called pseudo-obstruction because the symptoms will be similar to those that would be brought on by a blockage in the digestive system, despite the fact that there is no physical blockage. Intestinal pseudo-obstruction is sometimes known as ‘false blockage’.

Intestinal pseudo-obstruction is able to affect people of all ages but it is more common in kids and adults over the age of 50. In most cases involving children the condition is present when they are born.

What causes intestinal pseudo-obstruction?

There are many possible causes of intestinal pseudo-obstruction, which includes illnesses and health conditions, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland) and muscular dystrophy and neurological conditions, including Parkinson’s disease.

Some types of medication, including opiates and anti-depressants, can also cause intestinal pseudo-obstruction or make it worse if an individual already has the condition.

Intestinal pseudo-obstruction can also be caused by damage to the nerves or muscles, which makes it difficult for food to pass along the digestive tract. Conditions which affect the nerves and muscles, including lupus erythematosus and scleroderma, may also cause the condition.

Surgery on the pelvis or abdomen can also increase the risk of an individual developing intestinal pseudo-obstruction.

In rare cases there may be family history connected to intestinal pseudo-obstruction, although, in the vast majority of cases there is no history of the condition in the family.

Indications of intestinal pseudo-obstruction

Symptoms of intestinal pseudo-obstruction include:

  • Distension in the abdomen (when the tummy looks bloated).
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhoea.
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation.
  • Stomach cramps.

In some cases the condition can bring on issues with malnourishment, as the body is unable to absorb nutrients from food. People with the condition may also suffer from malnutrition and weight loss because they eat less to avoid experiencing unpleasant symptoms after eating.

In cases affecting older people, a condition known as acute colonic pseudo-obstruction can develop. This occurs due to the colon becoming inflamed as a result of surgery or infection. Acute colonic pseudo-obstruction, also known as Ogilvie syndrome, can be serious and potentially life-threatening and should be treated as quickly as possible.

How is the condition diagnosed?

If you are experiencing symptoms or you feel unwell, you should see your GP who will ask you questions about your symptoms and take down details of your medical history. If you have symptoms that suggest intestinal pseudo-obstruction, your doctor will examine you and advise you have an X-ray. Doctors will then analyse these X-ray images to check for evidence of widening of the intestine, which indicates an obstruction. Tests called ambulatory motility tests can also be carried out, which show the contraction of the muscles in the intestine and determine whether food is moving along the digestive system properly. A biopsy test may also be carried out, which involves taking a very small piece of tissue from the bowel to test for muscle degeneration.

Treatment for intestinal pseudo-obstruction

In most cases it is beneficial for individuals with intestinal pseudo-obstruction to take nutritional supplements, which ensure that they are getting all the nutrients they need and reduces the risk of malnutrition. In some cases patients may be fed nutritional supplements directly through their stomach.

Medication can be used in some cases to try and facilitate the movement of food through the digestive system. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to prevent infection from bacteria, which tend to become prevalent when the movement of the digestive tract is slow.

If one element of the gut is affected or one part is worse affected than others, surgery may be carried out to remove or bypass the affected area.

If you are suffering from pain as a result of intestinal pseudo-obstruction you may be advised to take pain relief.

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