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Bowel Blockage (Intestinal Obstruction): Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

A bowel blockage, also called an intestinal obstruction, can prevent gas, fluids, or solids from moving through the intestines normally. It can cause constipation and, rarely, diarrhea. You may have pain, nausea, vomiting, and cramping.

Most of the time, complete blockages require a stay in the hospital and possibly surgery. But if your bowel is only partly blocked, your doctor may tell you to wait until it clears on its own and you are able to pass gas and stool. If so, there are things you can do at home to help make you feel better.

If you have had surgery for a bowel blockage, there are things you can do at home to make sure you heal well. You can also make some changes to keep your bowel from becoming blocked again.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

If your doctor has told you to wait at home for a blockage to clear on its own:

  • Follow your doctor's instructions. These may include eating a liquid diet to avoid complete blockage.
  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Put a heating pad set on low on your belly to relieve mild cramps and pain.

To prevent another blockage

  • Try to eat smaller amounts of food more often. For example, have 5 or 6 small meals throughout the day instead of 2 or 3 large meals.
  • Chew your food very well. Try to chew each bite about 20 times or until it is liquid.
  • Avoid high-fibre foods and raw vegetables and fruits with skins, husks, strings, or seeds. These can form a ball of undigested material that can cause a blockage if a part of your bowel is scarred or narrowed.
  • Check with your doctor before you eat whole grain foods or use a fibre supplement such as Benefibre or Metamucil.
  • To help you have regular bowel movements, eat at regular times, do not strain during a bowel movement, and drink plenty of water. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Drink high-calorie liquid formulas if your doctor says to. Severe symptoms may make it hard for your body to take in vitamins and minerals.
  • Get regular exercise. It helps you digest your food better. Get at least 2½ hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week. Walking is a good choice.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a fever.
  • You are vomiting.
  • You have new or worse belly pain.
  • You cannot pass stools or gas.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.