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Bowel Obstruction: Care Instructions


A bowel blockage, also called an obstruction, can prevent gas, fluids, or food 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?

  • 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.
  • If you had surgery:
    • You may shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery, if your doctor says it is okay. Pat the cut (incision) dry. Do not take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.
    • If you have strips of tape on the cut (incision), leave the tape on until it falls off. Gently wash the area daily with warm, soapy water. Then rinse and pat it dry.
    • You may not have much of an appetite after the surgery. When you feel like eating, start with small amounts of food. Your doctor will tell you about any foods you should not eat.

What can you do to prevent a bowel obstruction?

Bowel blockage (obstruction) may be prevented by doing several things. Try eating smaller meals more often throughout the day. Chew your food very well. Try to chew each bite until it is liquid. Avoid high-fibre foods and raw fruits and vegetables. These may cause another blockage.

Drinking plenty of water may help. 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. Your doctor may ask that you drink high-calorie liquid formulas if your symptoms require them. You should check with your doctor before eating whole grain products or using a fibre supplement such as Benefibre or Metamucil.

Try to 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.