Ileus is a serious gastrointestinal condition in which there is a lack of intestinal movement. This lack of movement causes bowel obstruction. Without proper treatment, an ileus may lead to perforation of the intestine and infection of the surrounding organs.
Your intestines constantly perform wave-like muscle contractions called peristalsis. Peristalsis moves food, gas, and fecal matter forward until eliminated from the body. When an area of the intestines stops moving or slows down, this can cause the fecal matter to sit around, creating a buildup or blockage. Ileus is the lack of movement in the intestines which causes this buildup.
Ileus most commonly occurs after a person has had surgery. One reason for this is because post-operative patients are often prescribed medication which may slow intestinal movement. This condition is paralytic ileus. Abdominal surgery can result in intestinal adhesions—fibrous tissue in the abdominal cavity— which can also cause ileus. Other causes of ileus may include:
Ileus does not usually occur in healthy people with no previous medical conditions. Certain conditions increase the risk of developing ileus, and they include:
If you think you may have ileus, seek immediate medical attention. Most signs are related to abdominal discomfort. Symptoms include:
When you visit a doctor complaining of abdominal discomfort, you will most likely receive a brief physical examination to determine whether further tests are required. The doctor may listen to your belly with a stethoscope and will ask for your history. You will be asked questions about how you are feeling and about your bowel movements. According to the Mayo Clinic, your doctor may order the following tests or procedures as she deems necessary:
If it has been determined that you have ileus, you will be hospitalized. Based on your current situation, your doctor will determine whether to wait and monitor you closely, or whether to intervene with surgery. According to Bert Cagir, MD, FACS, Clinical Professor of Surgery at The Commonwealth Medical College, physiologic ileus after surgery usually resolves within 2-3 days.
Ileus can lead to a life-threatening medical condition if left untreated. These are some of the conditions that may arise: Necrosis is cell injury which results in the permanent death of cells in living tissue. This can happen if the obstruction cuts off blood supply to the intestine. It can lead to bowel perforation. Bowel perforation is when a hole or a tear occurs in the intestine. When this happens, fecal matter— which contains high levels of bacteria—can leak into the abdominal cavity. Peritonitis is inflammation and infection in the abdominal cavity caused by bacteria or fungus. This is a result of bowel perforation, as mentioned above. Peritonitis can turn into a life-threatening condition called sepsis, which can put a person into shock or multiple organ failure.
Their overall health largely determines the outlook for patients who experience ileus. If the patient has colon cancer, for example, he may be treated periodically with a self-expanding metal stent, and not with surgery. The global mortality rate of healthy patients who did not survive an ileus (due to complications which arose from this condition) is 3.8 out of every 100,000. If you are otherwise healthy and you seek treatment, you will most likely make a full recovery.
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