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Symptoms and Signs of Early Signs of Bowel (Intestinal) Obstruction

Doctor's Notes on Bowel (Intestinal) Obstruction

Bowel obstruction (complete bowel obstruction) is a complete blockage of the small or large intestine that results in an inability to move food and/or fecal material through the intestines. A partial bowel obstruction is a hindered ability to move food or fecal material through the intestines. Signs and symptoms of partial bowel obstruction are similar to those of early bowel obstruction and include the following:

Some patients with partial obstruction may have painful bowel movements. Complete small bowel obstruction signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Cramps and pain in the middle or upper abdomen
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Rumbling bowel noises (borborygmus)
  • Abdominal tenderness/belly pain
  • Diarrhea (early sign)
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Feeling unwell (malaise)
  • Inability to have a complete bowel movement (early symptom)
  • Blood in the stool
  • Constipation
  • Fever
  • Rapid heartbeat

Signs and symptoms of large intestine bowel obstruction may include the following:

  • Cramps and pain in the lower abdomen especially on the left side
  • Lower abdominal distention
  • Inability to have a bowel movement
  • Inability to pass gas
  • Chronic constipation (early sign)
  • Narrow stools (early sign)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Rumbling bowel noises (borborygmus) or loud bowel noises
  • Diarrhea/liquid stool
  • Abdominal bloating and abdominal swelling

The underlying causes of bowel obstruction are many and include the following:

Bowel obstruction is a medical emergency that often needs immediate medical/surgical care that can, if not treated, lead to kidney failure, tears in the intestinal walls, abdominal infections, intestinal segments with tissue death, and death of the patient.

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/17/2020

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.