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Learning About Ileus

What is ileus?

Ileus (say "ILL-ee-us") is a blockage of the bowel (intestines) that happens when the intestines don't work as they should. Normally, muscles in the intestines squeeze to push food and waste along. When this process stops, the intestines stop digesting food and moving waste out of the body. This may also be called paralytic ileus.

Ileus is not the same as a mechanical bowel obstruction. In a mechanical bowel obstruction, something is actually blocking the intestine, like scar tissue or a tumour. That is not true in ileus.

Ileus sometimes happens after surgery to the belly. But it can also be caused by some medicines, such as opioids, antihistamines, and muscle relaxants. Certain diseases or infections, nerve problems, and other things also can cause ileus.

The doctor may do a number of tests. These tests may include X-rays, blood tests, and a CT scan. Testing can help the doctor be sure that nothing is blocking the intestines.

Most people who have ileus need to be treated in the hospital.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Cramping belly pain.
  • Bloating.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Not passing stool or gas.

How is ileus treated?

You will need to avoid eating solid food until you are better. Instead, you will get fluids and nutrition through a vein (I.V.). This also lets your bowel rest.

You may have a tube that goes through your nose and into your stomach. This can help ease pain and bloating.

You may get other treatments, depending on what caused ileus. For example, a medicine might be stopped if it is affecting your bowel.

The intestines will often start working again in a few days. Signs of this include being able to pass gas or have a bowel movement. As your intestines start working, you will switch slowly from a liquid diet back to solid foods.

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.

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