Ileus is a type of non-mechanical bowel obstruction. It results when peristalsis stops. Peristalsis is the wavelike contractions that push contents through the digestive system.
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Ileus is caused by damage to the nerves controlling the intestines from surgery, infection, low blood flow, trauma, medications or changes in the body chemistry.
Factors that increase your chance of ileus include:
- Abdominal, joint, or spine surgery
- Intestinal injury or trauma
- Severe generalized trauma
- Abdominal bleeding.
Infections, such as:
- Imbalance of electrolytes, especially potassium and calcium
- Disorders that affect muscle function
- Use of certain drugs, such as narcotic pain drugs, high blood pressure medication, or chemotherapy
- A previous history of ileus
Symptoms of ileus may include:
- Abdominal swelling
- Inability to pass stool or gas
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam and blood tests will be done. A diagnosis of ileus is usually based on symptoms and results of imaging studies.
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
The lining of your colon may need to be examined. This can be done with
If ileus was caused by surgery, stress or trauma it will usually resolve within 48 to 72 hours. In other cases, the disease or abnormality that caused the ileus needs to be treated. This may involve adjusting the dose of
a medication, treating an infection,
or replacing electrolytes.
Other treatments may be used to help ease symptoms. These may include:
People who have ileus should not be fed until the ileus has resolved.
Nasogastric Suction (NG Tube)
A tube is inserted through the nose and into the stomach to remove digestive fluids. This will help relieve pain and bloating.
Intravenous Fluids and Electrolytes
IV fluids and electrolytes are given to avoid dehydration.
There are medications that increase peristalsis, such as neostigmine and tegaserod, that can be used in some to help ileus resolve.
A flexible tube may be inserted into the colon to relieve pressure.
Rarely, surgery is required if there is a perforation or other abnormality causing the ileus.
Since ileus is generally the result of injury, surgery, or a medical condition, there is little that can be done to prevent it.
American Gastroenterological Association
International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders
Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
The Canadian Association of Gastroenterology
Acute intestinal pseud-obstruction. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated March 5, 2013. Accessed July 25, 2013.
Intestinal obstruction and ileus. Patient UK website. Available at:
http://patient.info/doctor/intestinal-obstruction-and-ileus. Updated April 20, 2010. Accessed July 25, 2013.