Bowel Blockage (Intestinal Obstruction): Care Instructions

Skip to the navigation

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 call line 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 call 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 fruits and vegetables 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 products 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 at least 8 to 10 glasses of water each day. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor or 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 physical activity a week. Walking is a good choice.

When should you call for help?

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

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have severe pain or swelling in your belly.
  • You vomit blood or what looks like coffee grounds.
  • You pass maroon or very bloody stools.
  • You cannot pass any stools or gas.

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

  • You have a new or higher fever.
  • You cannot keep fluids or medicines down.
  • You have new pain that gets worse when you move or cough.
  • Your symptoms become much worse than usual.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.
  • You have steady diarrhea for more than 2 weeks.
  • You've been losing weight.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

Enter B082 in the search box to learn more about "Bowel Blockage (Intestinal Obstruction): Care Instructions."