While listening to the abdomen with a stethoscope, your health care provider may hear high-pitched bowel sounds at the onset of mechanical obstruction. If the obstruction has persisted for too long or the bowel has been significantly damaged, bowel sounds decrease, eventually becoming silent.
Early paralytic ileus is marked by decreased or absent bowel sounds.
If the obstruction blocks the blood supply to the intestine, the tissue may die, causing infection and gangrene. Risk factors for tissue death include intestinal cancer, Crohn's disease, hernia, and previous abdominal surgery.
In the newborn, paralytic ileus that is associated with destruction of the bowel wall (necrotizing enterocolitis) is life-threatening and may lead to blood and lung infections.
Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if persistent abdominal distention develops and you are unable to pass stool or gas, or if other symptoms of intestinal obstruction develop.
Prevention depends on the cause. Treatment of conditions (such as tumors and hernias) that are related to obstruction may reduce your risk.
Some causes of obstruction cannot be prevented.
Evers BM. Small intestine. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 18th ed. St. Louis, Mo: WB Saunders; 2008:chap 48.
Fry RD, Mahmoud N, Maron DJ, Ross HM, Rombeau J. Colon and rectum. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 18th ed. St. Louis, Mo: WB Saunders; 2008:chap 50.
Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.