Ileus is a rather common gut-related disorder wherein the movement of muscles in the intestines is impeded, leading to the hampered passage of foodstuffs and eventual accumulation of solid materials. The intestines in the human body are 28 feet long, comprising a tubular structure beginning at the stomach and extending up to the anus. Composed of the small intestine, large intestine and rectum, this vital organ in the digestive system is responsible for the assimilation of nutrients and water from ingested food and drink being passed on from the stomach. The intestines move in a wave-like pattern through muscle contractions – a process known as peristalsis, which aids in the passage of digested food along the gut. It also transports remnants from food, unwanted fluids and other toxins to the rectum, for the excretion of solid and liquid wastes.
Thus, when certain muscles or nerves in the intestines are damaged, this smooth motion of food is restricted, ultimately resulting in intestinal obstruction and complete gridlock of all solid foods, liquid matter and gases in the cylindrical pathways. Ileus, also termed as gastrointestinal atony, can be a very serious condition if not diagnosed promptly and treated in time. It can even result in life-threatening instances of severe abdominal infection or entirely restrict blood supply to the intestines. Hence, it is important to understand the exact causes and defining symptoms of ileus, to ensure accurate diagnosis and provide professional medical treatment to the affected individual, for a complete recovery.
Causes Of Ileus
The foremost reason ileus occurs is as a side-effect of surgical procedures. This is most likely because normal peristalsis in the intestinal muscles is hindered and takes some time to return to optimal functions, while sometimes, scarred tissues that are present in the gut post-surgery trigger ileus. Certain drugs prescribed by the doctor to be taken daily after a gastrointestinal surgery also cause ileus, such as opioid drugs that relieve pain, anticholinergics which resolve bladder problems and calcium channel blockers that treat heart ailments.
Ileus can also occur due to Parkinson’s disease, autoimmune inflammatory conditions such as Crohn’s disease, intestinal cancer, diverticulitis involving inflamed tissues in the digestive tract, hernia, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and scar tissues in the gut known as abdominal adhesions.
Ileus mostly affects adults but can sometimes happen in children too. The primary reason for ileus in children is intussusception, in which a portion of the intestine slides into itself, similar to shutting a telescope.
In most cases, ileus induces several discomforting symptoms such as:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Reduced appetite
- Abdominal cramps
- Difficulty in letting out gas from the body
- Inflammation in the stomach
- The uneasy feeling of fullness in the gut
If left unattended to, ileus can prompt dangerous health anomalies and even prove to be fatal. A grave consequence of ileus is necrosis, wherein tissues in the intestines decay, die and the walls break apart leaking all contents, due to total blockage of blood supply from clogged ducts. Ileus can also result in lethal gut infections such as peritonitis, where the components of the bowel, filled with bacteria overflow into the abdominal cavity.
The doctor questions the patient about the nature of the symptoms, the duration for which they have been experiencing gut discomfort, as well as any pre-existing health issues, recent surgeries and if they are taking any prescription medications. The physician also physically examines the abdomen for any swelling and listens to the sounds in the area with a stethoscope to gauge any problems.
Then, imaging analyses through X-rays, CT scans and Ultrasound procedures are done, to obtain visual depictions of the intestines, to observe in which region food, liquids and gases are being accumulated.
Depending on how severe the cases of ileus are in the patient, the medical expert provides the pertinent treatment. In case ileus is only minor, then the healthcare provider advises following a low-fiber diet, to make stools less bulky and allowing them to pass out of the intestines smoothly.
However, if the ileus causes serious digestive problems, then the doctor performs abdominal surgery, to remove the obstruction in the intestines. Moreover, the physician also recommends discontinuing prescription medications that trigger ileus, to restore optimal digestive functions in the intestines and assure full recovery of the patient.