Large-Bowel Obstruction 

Updated: Dec 29, 2017
Author: Christy Hopkins, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Steven C Dronen, MD, FAAEM 

Overview

Practice Essentials

Large-bowel obstruction (LBO) is an emergency condition that requires early identification and intervention. It is important to distinguish colonic obstruction from ileus, as well as to distinguish true mechanical obstruction from pseudo-obstruction; treatment differs. See the image below. 

Contrast study demonstrates colonic obstruction at Contrast study demonstrates colonic obstruction at the level of the splenic flexure, in this case due to carcinoma. Radiograph courtesy of Charles J McCabe, MD†.

See Can't-Miss Gastrointestinal Diagnoses, a Critical Images slideshow, to help diagnose the potentially life-threatening conditions that present with gastrointestinal symptoms.

Signs and symptoms

A history of bowel movements, flatus, obstipation, and associated symptoms should be obtained. Complaints in patients with LBO may include the following:

  • Abdominal distention
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Crampy abdominal pain

Other symptoms that may be diagnostically significant include the following:

  • Abrupt onset of symptoms (suggestive of an acute obstructive event)
  • Chronic constipation, long-term cathartic use, and straining at stools (suggestive of diverticulitis or carcinoma)
  • Changes in stool caliber (strongly suggestive of carcinoma)
  • Recurrent left lower quadrant abdominal pain over several years (suggestive of diverticulitis, a diverticular stricture, or similar problems)

Assessment of symptoms should attempt to distinguish the following:

  • Complete obstruction vs partial obstruction vs ileus
  • Colonic lesion development history
  • Obstruction secondary to intussusception
  • Obstruction secondary to acute colonic pseudo-obstruction (ACPO), or Ogilvie syndrome

Although a complete physical examination is necessary, the examination should place special emphasis on the following key areas:

  • Abdomen (inspection, auscultation, percussion, and palpation) – Evaluate bowel sounds, tenderness, rigidity, guarding, and any mass or fullness
  • Inguinal and femoral regions – In particular, look for a possible incarcerated hernia
  • Rectum – Assess anal patency (in a neonate), contents of anal vault, and stool consistency; perform fecal occult blood testing as appropriate

See Presentation for more detail.

Diagnosis

The following laboratory studies may be helpful:

  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Hematocrit
  • Prothrombin time (PT)
  • Type and crossmatch
  • Serum chemistries
  • Serum lactate (if bowel ischemia is a consideration)
  • Urinalysis
  • Stool guaiac test

Imaging modalities that may be considered are as follows:

  • Plain radiography (flat and upright)
  • Contrast radiography with enema
  • Computed tomography (CT) – This is the imaging modality of choice if a colonic obstruction is clinically suspected; contrast-enhanced CT can help distinguish between partial and complete obstruction, ileus, and small-bowel obstruction

See Workup for more detail.

Management

Initial therapy in patients with suspected LBO includes the following:

  • Volume resuscitation
  • Appropriate preoperative broad-spectrum antibiotics
  • Timely surgical consultation
  • Consideration of a nasogastric tube for severe colonic distention and vomiting

The following are emergencies that call for surgical intervention:

  • Closed loop obstructions
  • Bowel ischemia
  • Volvulus

Ileus is treated as follows:

  • Correction of fluid and electrolyte imbalances
  • Treatment of the underlying disorder
  • If the patient is vomiting, nasogastric decompression
  • Cessation of medications that slow colonic motility, if possible

Acute colonic pseudo-obstruction is treated as follows:

  • In the absence of perforation, conservative management (bowel rest, hydration, and management of underlying disorders) for the first 24 hours
  • If conservative management fails, neostigmine or colonoscopic decompression
  • For refractory cases or in the presence of perforation, surgical intervention

Volvulus is treated as follows:

  • For a sigmoid volvulus, in the absence of peritoneal signs, endoscopic reduction and decompression
  • For recurrence after decompression, surgical resection
  • For cecal or transverse colon volvulus, surgical resection and anastomosis; for poor surgical candidates, endoscopic detorsion and decompression

Intussusception is treated as follows:

  • Contrast enema (barium or air; much more likely to succeed in children than in adults)
  • If signs suggest peritonitis or perforation or contrast enema is unsuccessful, surgery

Colonic masses and strictures are treated as follows:

  • Endoscopic dilation and stenting of colonic obstruction (either as palliation or as preparation for surgical resection)
  • Surgery (left colon) – Resection without primary anastomosis or resection with primary anastomosis and intraoperative lavage
  • Surgery (right colon) – Right colectomy and primary anastomosis between the ileum and the transverse colon

Diverticular disease is treated as follows:

  • For persistent obstruction despite appropriate medical management, surgery
  • For recurrent disease, elective colonic resection

See Treatment and Medication for more detail.

Background

Large-bowel obstruction (LBO) is an emergency condition that requires early identification and intervention. The etiology of this condition is age-dependent, and it can result either from mechanical interruption of the flow of intestinal contents (see the following image) or from dilation of the colon in the absence of an anatomic lesion (pseudo-obstruction). Causes include neoplasms, inflammatory processes (diverticulitis), strictures, fecal impaction or volvulus.

Abdominal (kidney-ureter-bladder [KUB]) film of a Abdominal (kidney-ureter-bladder [KUB]) film of a patient with obstipation. Dilatation of the colon is associated with large-bowel obstruction. Radiograph courtesy of Charles J McCabe, MD†.

It is important to distinguish colonic obstruction from ileus and to differentiate between true mechanical obstruction and pseudo-obstruction. Treatment differs.[1]

Colonic obstruction is more common in elderly individuals as a consequence of the higher incidence of neoplasms and other causative diseases in this population.[2] In neonates, colonic obstruction may be caused by an imperforate anus or other anatomic abnormalities. Obstruction may also be secondary to meconium ileus. In the pediatric population, Hirschsprung disease can resemble colonic obstruction.

For patient education information, see Digestive Disorders Center as well as Constipation in Adults and Abdominal Pain in Adults.

See also Ogilvie Syndrome, Ileus, Constipation, Small Bowel Obstruction, and Intussusception.

Pathophysiology

The prevalence of mechanical large-bowel obstruction (LBO) increases with age, as does that of its main causes, colon cancer and diverticulitis. Sigmoid volvulus and cecal volvulus are also potential causes of this disorder.[3]

Mechanical LBO causes bowel dilatation above the obstruction, which in turn, causes mucosal edema and impaired venous and arterial blood flow to the bowel. Bowel edema and ischemia increase the mucosal permeability of the bowel, which can lead to bacterial translocation, systemic toxicity, dehydration, and electrolyte abnormalities. Bowel ischemia can lead to perforation, fecal soilage of the peritoneal cavity, and dead bowel.

In cases of closed loop obstructions, such as colonic obstruction in the presence of a closed ileocecal valve or incarcerated hernia, this process may be accelerated.

The pathophysiology of acute colonic pseudo-obstruction (ACPO), or Ogilvie syndrome, is not clear, but it is thought to result from an autonomic imbalance, which results from decreased parasympathetic tone or excessive sympathetic output.[1, 4] This condition usually occurs in the setting of a wide range of medical or surgical illnesses. If it goes untreated, colonic ischemia or perforation can occur. ACPO is characterized by a loss of peristalsis and results in the accumulation of gas and fluid in the colon. The right colon and cecum are most commonly involved. The risk of perforation for ACPO ranges from 3% to 15%.[5]

Etiology

The most common causes of  large-bowel obstructions (LBO) are colon carcinoma and volvulus.[6] Approximately 60% of mechanical LBOs are caused by malignancies, 20% are caused by diverticular disease, and 5% are the result of colonic volvulus.[1, 7, 8] The most common causes of adult large-bowel obstruction are as follows:

  • Neoplasm (benign or malignant)
  • Stricture (diverticular or ischemic)
  • Volvulus (colonic, sigmoid, cecal)
  • Intussusception, usually with an identifiable anatomic abnormality in adults but not in children
  • Impaction or obstipation

Neoplasms and diverticular disease

Obstructions caused by tumors tend to have a gradual onset and result from tumor growth narrowing the colonic lumen.

Diverticulitis is associated with muscular hypertrophy of the colonic wall. Repetitive episodes of inflammation cause the colonic wall to become fibrotic and thickened, leading to luminal narrowing.

Volvulus

A colonic volvulus results when the colon twists on its mesentery, which impairs the venous drainage and arterial inflow. Symptoms of this condition are usually abrupt. The cecum and sigmoid colon are most commonly affected.

Volvulus typically occurs in elderly, debilitated individuals; patients living in an institutionalized setting; or patients with a history of chronic constipation.Volvulus may also be seen during pregnancy, most commonly occurring in the third trimester when the gravid uterus displaces the colon.[9]

Intussusception

Intussusception is primarily a pediatric disease; however, it is estimated that 5-16% of all intussusceptions in the Western world occur in adults. Two thirds of adult intussusception cases are caused by tumors. Two main types of intussusception affect the large bowel: enterocolic and colocolic.

Enterocolic intussusceptions involve both the small bowel and the large bowel. These are composed of either ileocolic intussusceptions or ileocecal intussusceptions, depending on where the lead point is located.

Colocolic intussusceptions involve only the colon. They are classified as either colocolic or sigmoidorectal intussusceptions.

Acute colonic pseudo-obstruction (Ogilvie syndrome)

ACPO (Ogilvie syndrome) has many etiologies. ACPO is a functional obstruction; it is typically seen in elderly or debilitated patients who are hospitalized with severe medical or traumatic illnesses. Medications that decrease intestinal motility are also associated with this disorder. In a retrospective review of more than 1400 cases of ACPO, the most common predisposing conditions were operative and nonoperative trauma (11%), infections (10%), and cardiac disease (10-18%).[10, 11]

Prognosis

Mortality is determined by the patient's overall medical condition and the presence of any comorbidities that may influence the patient's surgical risk. If large bowel obstruction is treated early, the outcome is generally good. Mortality is higher in patients who have developed bowel ischemia or perforation. After surgical decompression, the prognosis is determined by the underlying disease. In general, overall mortality for large-bowel obstruction ( is 20%, which increases to 40% if there is colonic perforation.

Mortality for acute colonic pseudo-obstruction (ACPO; Ogilvie syndrome) is 15% with early care; it increases to 36% if colonic ischemia or perforation develops.[5]

In a retrospective study, long-term outcomes of self-expandable metallic stenting for malignant colorectal obstruction in 42 elderly patients were excellent (97.6%), with shorter stents yielding longer event-free survival.[12]

 

Presentation

History

Obtain the patient's history of bowel movements, flatus, obstipation (ie, no gas or bowel movement), and associated symptoms. Attempt to distinguish complete bowel obstruction from partial obstruction, which is associated with passage of some gas or stool. Also inquire about the patient's current and past history in an attempt to determine the most likely cause.

Major complaints in patients with large-bowel obstruction (LBO) include abdominal distention, nausea, vomiting, and crampy abdominal pain. An abrupt onset of symptoms makes an acute obstructive event (eg, cecal or sigmoid volvulus) a more likely diagnosis. A history of chronic constipation, long-term cathartic use, and straining at stools implies diverticulitis or carcinoma.

Changes in the patient's caliber of stools strongly suggest carcinoma. When associated with weight loss, the likelihood of neoplastic obstruction increases.

When giving a history of obstipation, patients may state that pants or belts are not fitting properly.

A history of recurrent left-lower-quadrant abdominal pain over several years is more consistent with diverticulitis, a diverticular stricture, or similar problems.

A history of aortic surgery suggests the possibility of an ischemic stricture.

Complete obstruction vs partial obstruction vs ileus

Complete obstruction is characterized by the failure to pass either stool or flatus with an empty rectal vault (unless the obstruction is in the rectum). If the patient has a partial obstruction, the patient appears obstipated but continues to pass some gas or stools. Partial obstructions are a less urgent condition.

LBO from an anatomic abnormality leads to colonic distention, abdominal pain, anorexia, and, late in the course, feculent vomiting. Persistent vomiting may result in dehydration and electrolyte disturbances. Pneumaturia, mucinuria, or fecaluria may occur if fistulization of the sigmoid colon to the bladder occurs. This is most often seen in the setting of diverticulitis or cancer.

LBO is typically characterized by a slow onset of symptoms and may not cause vomiting despite a markedly distended bowel.

Paralytic ileus can be seen in the setting of peritonitis or traumatic injury. Bowel sounds are diminished, and abdominal cramping is less common.

Colonic lesion development history

Right-side colonic lesions can grow quite large before obstruction occurs because of the large capacity of the right colon and soft stool consistency. Sigmoid colon and rectal tumors cause colonic obstruction much earlier in their development, because the colon is narrower and the stool is harder in that area.

Obstruction secondary to intussusception

Patients may describe intermittent, crampy abdominal pain that is colicky and relieved by assuming fetal position. Weight loss and fatigue are common.

Obstruction secondary to ACPO

Symptoms of acute colonic pseudo-obstruction (ACPO;  Ogilvie syndrome) are similar to those of LBO and usually develop over 3-7 days or, less commonly, over 24-48 hours. Abdominal distention is the earliest sign. Late symptoms are similar to those seen with LBO. Nausea and vomiting are not predominant complaints, but fever may be present in the setting of colonic ischemia or perforation.

Physical Examination

Although a complete physical examination is necessary, key elements of the physical examination should focus on a thorough examination of the abdomen, groin, and rectum.

Abdominal examination

Perform the examination in standard fashion, that is, inspection, auscultation, percussion, and palpation.

Abdominal distention may be significant in patients with a large-bowel obstruction (LBO). The bowel sounds may be normal early on but usually become quiet, and the abdomen is hyperresonant to percussion.

Palpation of the abdomen may reveal tenderness. Fever, severe tenderness, and abdominal rigidity are ominous signs that suggest peritonitis secondary to perforation. The cecum is the area most likely to perforate (according to the Laplace law stating that in a long pliable tube, the site of largest diameter requires the least pressure to distend[13] ; thus, in a distal LBO, with a competent ileocecal valve, the cecum is the most common site of perforation).

The presence of true involuntary guarding or peritoneal signs may be indicative of another intra-abdominal process, such as an abscess. Rebound tenderness is best elicited by having the patient cough or by shaking the bed.

Sigmoid diverticulitis and a perforated sigmoid secondary to carcinoma are clinically difficult to differentiate. Guaiac-positive stool may be seen with carcinoma or diverticulitis.

A rectal or lower sigmoidal mass may be palpated on rectal examination. An abdominal mass or fullness may be palpated if a tumor is present in the cecum.

Examination of inguinal and femoral regions

Evaluation of the inguinal and femoral regions should be an integral part of the examination in a patient with suspected large-bowel obstruction.

Incarcerated hernias represent a frequently missed cause of bowel obstruction. In particular, colonic obstruction is often caused by a left-sided inguinal hernia with the sigmoid colon incarcerated in the hernia.[14]  Any old surgical scar should also be examined for the possibility of an incarcerated incisional hernia. 

Digital rectal examination

Perform a digital rectal examination (DRE) to verify the patency of the anus in a neonate. The examination focuses on identifying rectal pathology that may be causing the obstruction and determining the contents of the rectal vault.

Hard stools suggest impaction; soft stools suggest obstipation. An empty vault suggests obstruction proximal to the level that the examining finger can reach.

Fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) should be performed. A positive result may suggest the possibility of a more proximal neoplasm.

 

DDx

Diagnostic Considerations

Conditions that should be considered when evaluating a patient with large-bowel obstruction (LBO) include constipation, cecal or sigmoid volvulus, intussusception, intestinal perforation, acute colonic pseudo-obstruction (ACPO; Ogilvie syndrome), mesenteric and mesenteric artery ischemia. As noted earlier, incarcerated hernias are a frequently missed cause of bowel obstruction, particularly left-sided inguinal hernias in which colon obstruction occurs with the sigmoid colon incarcerated in the hernia.[14]

Suspect bowel perforation in patients with persistent unexplained tachycardia, fever, or abdominal pain. In addition, malignancy, such as colorectal carcinoma, should be considered for all patients who present with large-bowel obstruction.

Differential Diagnoses

 

Workup

Approach Considerations

Given the potential morbidity and mortality associated with large-bowel obstruction (LBO), the recommended diagnostic approach focuses on rapid evaluation and prompt surgical consultation. Relief of pain, control of vomiting, and correction of fluid and electrolyte abnormalities should occur simultaneously with diagnostic evaluation.

Laboratory studies are used to assess the degree of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance and to evaluate for infection, anemia, and ischemia. Radiographic studies are used to confirm obstruction, to identify its cause if present, and to idenitify other pathology that may be causing the patient's symptoms. 

Laboratory Studies

Laboratory studies are directed at evaluating the dehydration and electrolyte imbalance that may occur as a consequence of large-bowel obstruction (LBO), as well as at ruling out ileus as a diagnosis.

Routine complete blood cell (CBC) count, serum chemistries, and urinalysis should be evaluated. A serum lactate level should be ordered if bowel ischemia is a consideration. A decreased hematocrit level, particularly with evidence of chronic iron-deficiency anemia, may suggest chronic lower gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding, particularly due to colon cancer. A stool guaiac test should be performed.

Obtain a prothrombin time (PT) as well as a type and crossmatch.

Although bowel obstruction, or even constipation, may mildly elevate the white blood cell (WBC) count, substantial leukocytosis should prompt reconsideration of the diagnosis or increase the suspicion for perforation. Ileus secondary to an intra-abdominal or extra-abdominal infection should also be considered.

Imaging Studies

Plain radiography

Although at times helpful in the evaluation of suspected bowel obstruction, plain radiography has largely been supplanted by computed tomography (CT) scanning owing to the latter's abilily to provide far more accurate and detailed images of the relevant pathology.[15]

An upright chest radiograph is useful to screen for free air (see the image below), which would suggest perforation and ileus rather than obstruction. Flat and upright abdominal radiographs can help distinguish severe constipation from bowel obstruction. Plain films may also help localize the site of obstruction (large vs small bowel).

This chest radiograph demonstrates free air under This chest radiograph demonstrates free air under the diaphragm, indicating bowel perforation in a patient with large-bowel obstruction. Radiograph courtesy of Charles J McCabe, MD†.

Sigmoid or cecal volvulus may have a kidney-bean appearance on the abdominal films (see the images below). Intramural air is an ominous sign that suggests colonic ischemia. The absence of free air does not exclude perforation (this finding may be absent in half of all perforations).

Massive dilatation of the colon due to a sigmoid v Massive dilatation of the colon due to a sigmoid volvulus. Radiograph courtesy of Charles J McCabe, MD†.
Abdominal (kidney-ureter-bladder [KUB]) radiograph Abdominal (kidney-ureter-bladder [KUB]) radiograph depicting massive dilatation of the colon due to a cecal volvulus. Radiograph courtesy of Charles J McCabe, MD†.

Contrast studies include an enema with water-soluble contrast (eg, Gastrografin) (see the images below). Contrast studies that reveal a column of contrast ending in a "bird's beak" are suggestive of colonic volvulus.

Gastrografin study in a patient with obstipation r Gastrografin study in a patient with obstipation reveals colonic obstruction at the rectosigmoid level. Radiograph courtesy of Charles J McCabe, MD†.
Contrast study of patient with cecal volvulus. The Contrast study of patient with cecal volvulus. The column of contrast ends in a "bird's beak" at the level of the volvulus. Radiograph courtesy of Charles J McCabe, MD†.
Contrast study demonstrates colonic obstruction at Contrast study demonstrates colonic obstruction at the level of the splenic flexure, in this case due to carcinoma. Radiograph courtesy of Charles J McCabe, MD†.

Computed tomography

CT scanning is the imaging modality of choice if a colonic obstruction is clinically suspected; this imaging modality can confirm the diagnosis and identify the cause of large-bowel obstruction.[6, 15]  Contrast-enhanced CT (oral and intravenous) can help to delineate between partial and complete obstruction, ileus, and small-bowel obstruction, as well as exclude large-bowel obstruction. Gastrografin (water-soluble contrast) should be used preferentially if bowel perforation is suspected. Multidetector CT (MDCT) scanning is particularly useful in identifying the site and cause of obstruction as well as any related complications.[16]

Magnetic resonance imaging

Dynamic magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of gastrointestinal motility has evolved and shows promise for clinical assessment of gastric, small intestinal, and colonic motility in patients with inflammatory bowel disease, pseudo-obstruction, and functional bowel disorders.[17] Its advantages include it being a quick, noninvasive imaging modality; the absence of ionizing radiation; and its capability for visualizing the entire gastrointestinal tract.[17]  More investigation is needed.

 

Treatment

Approach Considerations

Initial therapy in patients with suspected large-bowel obstruction (LBO) includes volume resuscitation, appropriate preoperative broad-spectrum antibiotics, and timely surgical consultation.

A nasogastric tube should be considered for patients with severe colonic distention and vomiting. The patient's intravascular volume is usually depleted, and early intravenous fluid (IVF) resuscitation with isotonic saline or lactated Ringer solution is necessary.

Surgical intervention is frequently indicated, depending on the cause of the obstruction. Closed loop obstructions, bowel ischemia, and volvulus are surgical emergencies.

Transfer to another facility is indicated if adequate surgical management or backup is not available.

Ileus

Adynamic ileus is treated with conservative measures. This involves correction of fluid and electrolyte imbalances, and treatment of the underlying disorder. Nasogastric decompression may be helpful if the patient is vomiting. Medications that slow colonic motility should be stopped, if possible.

Acute Colonic Pseudo-Obstruction

If no perforation is present, acute colonic pseudo-obstruction (ACPO; Ogilvie syndrome) is treated with conservative management for the first 24 hours. This includes bowel rest, hydration, and management of underlying disorders.

Pharmacologic treatment of ACPO with neostigmine or colonoscopic decompression may be effective in cases that do not resolve with conservative management.[18] Colonoscopic decompression may be successful in as many as 80% of patients with ACPO.[10]

Surgical intervention for ACPO is associated with a high mortality and morbidity. This treatment is reserved for refractory cases or cases complicated by perforation.[10]

Volvulus

Endoscopic reduction and decompression of a sigmoid volvulus can be performed in the absence of peritoneal signs. This procedure is also contraindicated when evidence of mucosal ischemia is present on endoscopy. An experienced person should perform the procedure.

Recurrence after decompression is as high as 50%; thus, surgical resection is indicated. In healthy patients who have undergone successful decompression, an elective resection should follow. Emergency surgery is indicated in patients with evidence of perforated or ischemic bowel, or if attempts at endoscopic reduction and decompression are not successful.

The preferred treatment for cecal or transverse colon volvulus is surgical resection and anastomosis. Endoscopic detorsion and decompression is an option when the patient is a poor surgical candidate.

Intussusception

A contrast enema (barium or air) can successfully reduce 60-80% of intussusceptions. It is often successful in children in whom a pathologic leading point for the intussusception is unlikely. This procedure should be performed by an experienced radiologist, because the risk of perforation is significant.

In adults, a pathologic leading point for the intussusception is usually present. Reduction with a contrast enema is far less likely, and patients are more likely to require surgery.

Surgery is indicated if there are signs of peritonitis or bowel perforation, or if attempts at reduction by contrast enema are unsuccessful.

Intussusception may recur in approximately 3% of patients after contrast enema reduction and 1% of patients after operative repair.

Colonic Masses and Strictures

Endoscopic dilation and stenting of colonic obstruction is helpful in selected cases and may be an alternative to multistage surgery.[19] The procedure may be palliative in a high-risk patient with an unresectable malignancy, or it may be preparatory to surgical resection.[19, 20]

In cases where the stent is deployed before surgery, this procedure permits relief of the acute obstruction and resuscitation of the patient, and it allows for mechanical bowel preparation before colonic resection and reanastomosis, thus avoiding temporary or permanent colostomy.

In a retrospective study (2010-2013) that evaluated short-term results of self-expandable metal stents (SEMS) used as palliation (n = 127) and bridge to surgery (n = 112) for malignant large-bowel obstruction (MLBO), Kobborg et al reported an 82.8% success rate in the palliation group and a 80.4% success rate in the bridge to surgery group, with respective 30-day mortality rates of 11.8% and 5.4%.[21]  Stent-related complications were similar for both groups (20.4% vs 17.8%, respectively).

In a study aimed at determining long-term outcomes of colonic stent insertion followed by surgery for MLBO, Matsuda et al found that in analyses of all patients and patients who underwent curative resection, disease-free survival and recurrence did not differ significantly between bridge to surgery (BTS) and emergency surgery groups.[22] . After a comprehensive literature search to identify studies comparing long-term outcomes between BTS and emergency surgery for MLBO, their meta-analysis included 11 studies with a total of 1136 patients. 

Use of a decompression tube may be a feasible, safe, and effective BTS for acute malignant left-side colonic obstruction.[23] Surgical treatment of left colon carcinoma includes resection without primary anastomosis or resection with primary anastomosis and intraoperative lavage.[24, 25] Endoscopically placed SEMS can be used to relieve the large-bowel obstruction, thus allowing a primary colorectal anastomosis.[26]

In a randomized controlled trial designed to assess whether stent insertion improved quality of life and survival in comparison with surgical decompression in patients with malignant incurable LBO (N=52), Young et al found that stent use in patients with incurable LBO conferred a number of advantages, including faster return to diet, decreased stoma rates, reduced postprocedure stay, and some quality-of-life benefits.[27]

Right-side colonic obstructions are treated with a right colectomy and a primary anastomosis between the ileum and the transverse colon. Patients with high-risk features for surgery (advanced age, complete obstruction, or severe comorbidities) may benefit from stent placement until the patient can be optimized for a surgical procedure.[28, 29] Palliative colorectal stents are an option in patients who are poor surgical candidates or have advanced cancer.[30, 31]

Endoscopic dilation and stenting of colonic obstruction should be performed only by an endoscopist experienced in such procedures. Surgical consultation and backup should be available, as the risk of perforation is increased during attempts at such procedures, with a potentially catastrophic result. Studies in recent years have identified the following as predictive factors for outcomes after SEMS for LBO:

  • Good prognostic factors: Experienced operators (>10 procedures) using through-the-scope (TTS) endoscopy technique (90.3%) versus use of radiologic placement alone (74.8%) [20] ; the presence of short, malignant strictures with less angulation distal to the obstruction [32]
  • Poor prognostic factors: Older patients with American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) grade of 3 or higher for physical status (ie, more ill); the presence of extracolonic and benign strictures [20, 32] (which may have an increased risk of perforation [32]

In addition, SEMS appears to significantly improve histopathologic edema as compared with transanal drainage tube and emergency surgery after failure of decompression for malignant colorectal obstruction.[33]

Diverticulitis

Patients with persistent obstruction secondary to diverticular disease despite appropriate medical management are treated surgically. Surgical resection follows the same principles as the treatment of carcinomas. Elective colonic resection is offered to patients with recurrent disease.

Obstructed Defecation Syndrome

For obstructed defecation syndrome (ODS) with rectocele, surgery is a last resort.

In a study of 90 rectocele patients with functional constipation, 64 responded to treatment with fiber supplements and biofeedback training with significant improvements in ODS symptoms, including 15 of the 17 patients with rectocele and concomitant intussusception[34] ; the remaining 26 required surgical intervention. Median cumulative ODS scores improved significantly, from 15.0 before treatment to 10.5 after treatment in the medical management group and from 13.5 before surgery to 10.5 after surgery in the surgical intervention group.

Complications

The morbidity and mortality of large-bowel obstruction (LBO) are often related to the surgical procedure used to relieve the colonic obstruction and, in the long term, to the underlying disease that caused the obstruction. Thus, complications may include the following:

  • Perforation
  • Peritonitis from bowel perforation secondary to overstrenuous attempts at reduction of a volvulus or intussusception, or injudicious attempts to dilate or stent an unsuitable colonic obstruction
  • Sepsis – Seen more frequently in cases in which a delay in diagnosis or treatment occurred
  • Intra-abdominal abscess from anastomotic leakage
  • Pneumonia from aspiration during emesis
  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte disturbance
  • Death

Prevention

Aggressive screening for colorectal cancer in individuals who are older than 50 years or who have a strong family history of colorectal cancer, as indicated by current guidelines, should reduce the future incidence of malignant colonic obstruction.

Long-Term Monitoring

Care after discharge following surgical management of large-bowel obstruction (LBO) focuses on surgical convalescence and, if relevant, the need to care for the disease that caused the obstruction.

If the patient has received a colostomy or ileostomy, a decision regarding whether it is temporary or permanent may have been made at the time of discharge, depending on the patient's diagnosis, comorbidity, and postoperative convalescence.

In addition, the remaining colon, both proximally and distally, must be evaluated radiographically or endoscopically to rule out synchronous colonic lesions, such as neoplasms.

 

Medication

Medication Summary

Bowel obstruction frequently necessitates surgical intervention. However, antibiotics should be started in the emergency department. Coverage must include gram-negative aerobic and gram-negative anaerobic organisms. The following antibiotics do not represent an all-inclusive list.

Antibiotics

Class Summary

Antibiotic therapy must cover all likely pathogens in the context of this clinical setting.

Clindamycin (Cleocin)

Clindamycin is a lincosamide that is useful in treating serious skin and soft-tissue infections caused by most staphylococcal strains. This agent is also effective against aerobic and anaerobic streptococci, except enterococci.

Clindamycin acts by inhibiting bacterial protein synthesis via inhibition of the peptide chain initiation at the bacterial ribosome, where it preferentially binds to 50S ribosomal subunit, thereby inhibiting bacterial growth.

Metronidazole (Flagyl)

Metronidazole is an imidazole ring-based antibiotic active against various anaerobic bacteria and protozoa. This agent is used in combination with other antimicrobial agents (but used alone in Clostridium difficile enterocolitis).

Cefoxitin (Mefoxin)

Cefoxitin is a second-generation cephalosporin that is indicated for the management of infections caused by susceptible gram-positive cocci and gram-negative rods. This agent is effective against aerobic and anaerobic gram-negative organisms.

Cefotetan

Second-generation cephalosporin indicated for management of infections caused by susceptible gram-positive cocci and gram-negative rods.

Imipenem and cilastatin (Primaxin)

The combination of imipenem and cilastatin is effective against aerobic and anaerobic gram-negative organisms.

Meropenem (Merrem I.V.)

Meropenem is a bactericidal broad-spectrum carbapenem antibiotic that inhibits cell-wall synthesis. This agent is effective against most gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria

Piperacillin-tazobactam (Zosyn)

Piperacillin-tazobactam inhibits the biosynthesis of cell wall mucopeptide and is effective during the stage of active multiplication. It has antipseudomonal activity.

 

Questions & Answers

Overview

What is large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

Which history is characteristic of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What are the signs and symptoms of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What should be assessed in the evaluation of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What should be the focus of the physical exam for large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

Which lab studies are included in the evaluation of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

Which imaging modalities included in the evaluation of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What is the initial management of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

When is emergency surgical intervention indicated for large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

How is ileus treated in large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

How is acute colonic pseudo-obstruction treated?

How is volvulus in large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

How is intussusception treated in large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

How are colonic masses and strictures treated in large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

How is diverticular disease treated in large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What causes large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

Why is it important to distinguish colonic obstruction from ileus in large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

How does the etiology of large-bowel obstruction (LBO) vary by age?

What are the risk factors for large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What is the pathophysiology of mechanical large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What is the pathophysiology of acute colonic pseudo-obstruction (ACPO)?

What causes large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

How do neoplasms and diverticular disease cause large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

How does volvulus cause large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

Which patients are at highest risk for volvulus-related large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What is the prevalence and cause of intussusception in adults?

What is enterocolic intussusception?

What is colocolic intussusception?

What is acute colonic pseudo-obstruction (Ogilvie syndrome)?

What is the prognosis of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What is the mortality rate of acute colonic pseudo-obstruction (ACPO; Ogilvie syndrome)?

Presentation

What should be the focus of patient history in the evaluation of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

How are complete obstruction, partial obstruction and ileus differentiated in large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

How does the development of colonic lesions vary by location in large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What are symptoms of intussusception-related large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What are symptoms of acute colonic pseudo-obstruction (ACPO; Ogilvie syndrome)?

What is the focus of the physical exam for large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

How is an abdominal exam performed in patients with large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What are characteristic findings of abdominal distention in large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What characteristic findings of palpation of the abdomen in large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

How is abscess differentiated from large-bowel obstruction (LBO) on physical exam?

How are sigmoid diverticulitis and a perforated sigmoid due to carcinoma differentiated from large-bowel obstruction (LBO) on physical exam?

How are body masses differentiated from large-bowel obstruction (LBO) on physical exam?

How is an incarcerated hernia etiology of large-bowel obstruction (LBO) determined?

What is the role of a digital rectal exam in the evaluation of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What do the digital rectal exam findings reveal in the evaluation of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What is the role of fecal occult blood testing in the evaluation of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

DDX

Which conditions should be included in the differential diagnoses of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What are the differential diagnoses for Large-Bowel Obstruction?

Workup

What is the recommended diagnostic approach to large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What is the role of lab studies in the workup of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

Which routine lab tests are included in the workup of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What is the significance of a finding of leukocytosis in the workup of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What is the role of imaging studies in the workup of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What is the role of plain radiography in the evaluation of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

Which findings on radiography are significant in the evaluation of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What is the role of contrast studies in the evaluation of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What is the role of CT scanning in the workup of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What is the role of MRI in the workup of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

Treatment

What is included in the initial treatment of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

When is a nasogastric tube indicated in the treatment of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What is the role of surgery in the treatment of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

When is transfer indicated for the treatment of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What is included in the treatment of ileus in large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What is included in the treatment of acute colonic pseudo-obstruction (ACPO; Ogilvie syndrome) if no perforation is present?

What is the second-line treatment for acute colonic pseudo-obstruction (ACPO; Ogilvie syndrome) if conservative management fails?

What is the role of surgery in the treatment of acute colonic pseudo-obstruction (ACPO; Ogilvie syndrome)?

How is volvulus treated in large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What is the recurrence of volvulus in large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

How is cecal or transverse colon volvulus in large-bowel obstruction (LBO) treated?

What is the role of contrast enema in the treatment of large-bowel obstruction (LBO) in children?

What is the role of contrast enema in the treatment of large-bowel obstruction (LBO) in adults?

What are the indications for surgery in the treatment of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What is the recurrence of intussusception in large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What is the role of endoscopic dilation in the treatment of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What is the efficacy of colonic stent insertion in the treatment of malignant large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What are the treatment options for acute left-side malignant large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

How do the outcomes of stent insertion compare with surgical decompression in the treatment of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What are the treatment options for right-side malignant large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What are the predictive factors for outcomes after self-expandable metal stents (SEMS) for large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

How does self-expandable metal stents (SEMS) affect histopathologic edema in large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

How is large-bowel obstruction (LBO) due to diverticulitis treated?

What are the treatment options for obstructed defecation syndrome (ODS)?

What are possible complications of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

How is large-bowel obstruction (LBO) prevented?

What is included in follow-up care after surgery for large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

What decisions regarding colostomy or ileostomy for large-bowel obstruction (LBO) must be made prior to discharge?

How is the remaining colon monitored and evaluated after treatment for large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

Medications

What is the role of medications in the treatment of large-bowel obstruction (LBO)?

Which medications in the drug class Antibiotics are used in the treatment of Large-Bowel Obstruction?