Intussusception (in-tuh-suh-SEP-shun) is a serious disorder in which part of the intestine slides into an adjacent part of the intestine. This “telescoping” often blocks food or fluid from passing through. Intussusception also cuts off the blood supply to the part of the intestine that’s affected. Intussusception can lead to a tear in the bowel (perforation), infection and death of bowel tissue.
Intussusception is the most common cause of intestinal obstruction in children younger than 3.
The first sign of intussusception in an otherwise healthy infant may be sudden, loud crying caused by abdominal pain. Infants who have abdominal pain may pull their knees to their chests when they cry. The pain of intussusception comes and goes, usually every 15 to 20 minutes at first. These painful episodes last longer and happen more often as time passes.
Other frequent signs and symptoms of intussusception include:
- Stool mixed with blood and mucus (sometimes referred to as
“currant jelly” stool because of its appearance)
- A lump in the abdomen
When your child arrives at the hospital, the doctors will first stabilize his or her medical condition. This includes:
- Giving your child fluids through an intravenous (IV) line
- Helping the intestines decompress by putting a tube through the child’s nose and into the stomach (nasogastric tube)
Correcting the intussusception
To treat the problem, your doctor may recommend:
- A barium or air enema. This is both a diagnostic procedure and a treatment. If an enema works, further treatment is usually not necessary. This treatment is highly effective in children, but rarely used in adults. Intussusception recurs as often as 15 to 20 percent of the time and the treatment will have to be repeated.
- Surgery. If the intestine is torn, if an enema is unsuccessful in correcting the problem or if a lead point is the cause, surgery is necessary. The surgeon will free the portion of the intestine that is trapped, clear the obstruction and, if necessary, remove any of the intestinal tissue that has died. Surgery is the main treatment for adults and for people who are acutely ill.