Ileus is a type of bowel obstruction. It results when peristalsis stops. Peristalsis is the wavelike contractions that help push stool through the colon and small bowel.
Ileus is a “nonmechanical” bowel obstruction. The other type of obstruction is called a “mechanical” obstruction. Mechanical obstruction occurs when there is a physical blockage of the intestine.
Ileus may be caused by:
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors for ileus include:
Symptoms of ileus may include:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam. Diagnosis of ileus is usually based on symptoms and testing. Tests may include:
If ileus was caused by surgery, it will usually resolve within 48 to 72 hours. In other cases, the disease that caused the ileus needs to be treated. This may involve adjusting the dose of a medication or replacing electrolytes.
Other treatments may be used to help ease symptoms. These may include:
Patients who suffer from ileus should not be fed until the ileus has resolved.
A tube is inserted through the nose and into the stomach to remove digestive fluids. This will help relieve pain and bloating.
Fluids are given by vein to avoid dehydration. Electrolytes are given by vein to help the ileus resolve.
There are medications that increase peristalsis (ie, neostigmine, tegaserod) that can be used in selected patients to help ileus resolve.
A flexible tube may be inserted into the colon to relieve pressure.
Rarely, surgery is required to remove the part of the bowels affected.
Since ileus is generally the result of injury, surgery, or a medical condition, there is little that can be done to prevent it.
The American College of Gastroenterology
American Gastroenterological Association
International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders
Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
The Canadian Association of Gastroenterology (CAG)
Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine . 14th ed. McGraw-Hill; 1998.
Textbook of Gastroenterology . 4th ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2003.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Last Updated: 09/12/2012