Intestinal obstruction

Medical Specialties: Gastroenterology, Internal medicine, Surgery

Clinical Definition

An intestinal obstruction is an occlusion of the bowel, which prohibits normal movement of intestinal contents through the digestive track. It can be a partial or complete blockage. Intestinal obstructions are usually due to an ileus or a mechanical cause, such as a neoplasia or adhesion. Complications, such as infection and an electrolyte imbalance, are possible. 

In Our Own Words

An intestinal obstruction occurs when something blocks food or liquids from traveling through the large or small intestines. An obstruction may cause a complete blockage or just a partial blockage. If something is blocking or obstructing the flow of food and liquids through the intestines, it is considered a mechanical cause.


Common mechanical causes of an intestinal obstruction are scar tissue or a tumor. In addition to mechanical causes, an obstruction can also develop if the intestines are not working properly, such as in a paralytic ileus. An ileus is the lack of normal intestinal movement, rather than a physical blockage of the intestines.

Relevant Conditions
  • Complications of abdominal surgery
  • Ileus
Side Effects
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  • Drexel University College of Medicine. "Internal Obstruction Repair." Accessed October 2013.
  • Penn Medicine. "Intestinal Obstruction." Accessed October 2013.
  • Jackson, Patrick MD, Raui, Manish MD. “Evaluation and Management of Intestinal Obstruction.” American Family Physician. 2011 Jan 15;83(2):159-165. Accessed October 2013.
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