What is intussusception?

Intussusception in children: Overview

Intussusception means that one part of the intestine has folded into itself, like a telescope. This can happen anywhere along the intestinal tract. It usually happens between the lower part of the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine.

The part of the intestine that folds inward may lose some or all of its blood supply. This section of the intestine becomes swollen and painful.

Intussusception often can be treated with an enema. This unfolds the intestine.

Intussusception needs to be treated right away. If not treated, it can cause life-threatening problems, such as an infection (peritonitis) or a hole or opening (perforation) in the intestine. The tissue may also die.

Intussusception that has been treated with an enema can come back.

Intussusception

Intussusception is a condition in which part of the intestine folds inward and into itself (like a telescope), usually causing swelling, pain, and a complete or partial loss of blood supply to the affected area. Left untreated, the affected intestine may burst or die, causing a serious, life-threatening condition.

Intussusception can occur anywhere along the intestinal tract, but it usually develops between the lower part of the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine. Intussusception is most common in children; it rarely affects adults. In children, the cause is usually not known. In adults, it is usually related to another intestinal problem.

Symptoms of intussusception in children usually appear suddenly and include:

  • Severe abdominal pain that may be continuous or may come and go.
  • Decrease in activity (lethargy).
  • Passing stools that contain blood or mucus.
  • Vomiting. Sometimes vomit appears as a green fluid.

In adults, the symptoms are less severe and less obvious.

Treatment for intussusception varies depending on age and the extent of the problem. Most children can be treated in the hospital with enemas. Sometimes surgery is needed. Most adults are treated with surgery.

What are the symptoms of intussusception?

Symptoms of intussusception usually begin suddenly. Your child may:

  • Act fussy.
  • Vomit often.
  • Have severe belly pain and cramping that last from 1 to 5 minutes. Afterward, your child may seem normal, but another period of pain may start 5 to 30 minutes later.
  • Have diarrhea or stools that contain blood or mucus.
  • Have a swollen, painful belly. Your child may have a lump in the upper right side of the belly.

Your child may be getting worse if they have breathing problems or a fever or are dehydrated.

If your child has symptoms of intussusception, call your doctor right away.

How is intussusception treated?

Intussusception needs to be treated in the hospital. Treatment works best if it begins within 24 hours after the start of symptoms. Most of the time, intussusception is treated with an enema. In some cases, surgery may be needed.

Enema.

During an enema, air, saline, or barium (a milky-white liquid) is flushed through a child's rectum into the intestines. The enema increases the pressure in the child's intestine. This can cause the affected area to return to its normal position. It helps in most cases.

Surgery.

This may be needed if enemas haven't fixed the problem or if the intestine has been damaged. During surgery, the intestine is stretched out and returned to its normal position. Any damaged part of the intestine is removed.

Talk with your doctor about how to care for your child at home. If your child had an enema to treat intussusception, watch for signs that the problem has come back. The symptoms are likely to be the same as the first time.

After surgery, watch for problems such as stomach upset, diarrhea, and fever. Take care of your child's incision. It may need to be cleaned or checked for infection.

How is intussusception diagnosed?

The doctor will ask about your child's health history and symptoms and will do an exam. Intussusception can be hard to diagnose, because symptoms may come and go.

Your child may need an X-ray, an ultrasound, an enema, or other tests to confirm whether they have intussusception.

How can you care for your child after treatment for intussusception?

  • Have your child rest until your child feels better.
  • Give your child lots of fluids. This is very important if your child is vomiting or has diarrhea. Give your child sips of water or drinks such as Pedialyte or Infalyte. These drinks contain a mix of salt, sugar, and minerals. You can buy them at drugstores or grocery stores. Give these drinks as long as your child is throwing up or has diarrhea. Do not use them as the only source of liquids or food for more than 12 to 24 hours.
  • Give your child medicines exactly as directed. Call your doctor if you think your child is having a problem with a medicine.

What causes intussusception?

The cause of intussusception in children isn't known in most cases. Sometimes it happens after a child has a cold or has inflammation in the stomach and intestines.

What is intussusception?

Intussusception means that one part of the intestine has folded into itself, like a telescope. This can happen anywhere along the intestinal tract. It usually happens between the lower part of the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine.

The part of the intestine that folds inward may lose some or all of its blood supply. This section of the intestine becomes swollen and painful. Intussusception needs to be treated right away. If not treated, it can cause life-threatening problems, such as an infection (peritonitis) or a hole or opening (perforation) in the intestine.

The problem usually happens in young children.

Intussusception in children: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).
  • Your child vomits blood or what looks like coffee grounds.
  • Your child's stools are maroon or very bloody.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has new belly pain, or the pain gets worse.
  • Your child's pain becomes focused in one area of the belly.
  • Your child has new or worse vomiting.
  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child's stools are black and look like tar, or they have streaks of blood.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if your child does not get better as expected.

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