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Intestinal Motility Disorders Differential Diagnoses

  • Author: Nafisa K Kuwajerwala, MD; Chief Editor: Julian Katz, MD  more...
Updated: Dec 29, 2015

Diagnostic Considerations

Failure to make the correct diagnosis of an intestinal motility disorder is a medicolegal pitfall, especially in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), because several cancers of the digestive tract mimic this condition, even in late stages.

The criteria for diagnosis of intestinal pseudo-obstruction should include definite symptoms and signs of obstruction, with documentation of an ileus or air-fluid levels on plain radiographs of the abdomen or a dilated duodenum, small intestine, or colon on barium radiographs. Even though severe dysmotility may otherwise be present, the term pseudo-obstruction should not be used when these radiographic findings are absent.

In addition to the conditions listed in the differential diagnosis, other problems to be considered include the following:

  • Alcohol-related neuropathies
  • Electrolytic imbalance
  • Poisoning due to environmental agents
  • Maldigestion

Counseling with a neuropsychologist, evaluation by an endocrinologist, and research into toxins and drugs in the blood may be helpful for diagnosis.

Differential Diagnoses

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Nafisa K Kuwajerwala, MD Staff Surgeon, Breast Care Center, William Beaumont Hospital

Nafisa K Kuwajerwala, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Surgeons, American Society of Breast Surgeons, American Society of Breast Disease

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Vivek V Gumaste, MD Associate Professor of Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine of New York University; Adjunct Clinical Assistant, Mount Sinai Hospital; Director, Division of Gastroenterology, City Hospital Center at Elmhurst; Program Director of GI Fellowship (Independent Program); Regional Director of Gastroenterology, Queens Health Network

Vivek V Gumaste, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Gastroenterology, American Gastroenterological Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Luigi Santacroce, MD Assistant Professor, Medical School, State University at Bari, Italy

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Venkata Subramanian Kanthimathinathan, MD Fellow in Bariatric/Advanced Laparoscopic Surgery, University of Missouri Healthcare

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Julian Katz, MD Clinical Professor of Medicine, Drexel University College of Medicine

Julian Katz, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Gastroenterology, American College of Physicians, American Gastroenterological Association, American Geriatrics Society, American Medical Association, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics, American Trauma Society, Association of American Medical Colleges, Physicians for Social Responsibility

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Silvia Gagliardi, MD Consulting Staff, Department of Surgery, Medical Center Vita, Italy

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Douglas M Heuman, MD, FACP, FACG, AGAF Chief of GI, Hepatology, and Nutrition at North Shore University Hospital/Long Island Jewish Medical Center; Professor, Department of Medicine, Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine

Douglas M Heuman, MD, FACP, FACG, AGAF is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, American College of Physicians, and American Gastroenterological Association

Disclosure: Novartis Grant/research funds Other; Bayer Grant/research funds Other; Otsuka Grant/research funds None; Bristol Myers Squibb Grant/research funds Other; Scynexis None None; Salix Grant/research funds Other; MannKind Other

Sandeep Mukherjee, MB, BCh, MPH, FRCPC Associate Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Section of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, University of Nebraska Medical Center; Consulting Staff, Section of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Veteran Affairs Medical Center

Sandeep Mukherjee, MB, BCh, MPH, FRCPC is a member of the following medical societies: Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada

Disclosure: Merck Honoraria Speaking and teaching; Ikaria Pharmaceuticals Honoraria Board membership

Shivkumar Prabhu, MD Consulting Staff, Department of Internal Medicine, St John Detroit Riverview Hospital

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Daniel Schafer Department of Surgery, University of Nebraska Medical Center

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Medscape Salary Employment

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Dilated cecum (16 cm) and colon in patient with pseudocolonic obstruction.
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