Intussusception 

Updated: Dec 20, 2018
Author: A Alfred Chahine, MD; Chief Editor: Carmen Cuffari, MD 

Overview

Practice Essentials

Intussusception (see the image below) is a process in which a segment of intestine invaginates into the adjoining intestinal lumen, causing bowel obstruction. With early diagnosis, appropriate fluid resuscitation, and therapy, the mortality rate from intussusception in children is less than 1%. If left untreated, however, this condition is uniformly fatal in 2-5 days.

Air contrast enema shows intussusception in the ce Air contrast enema shows intussusception in the cecum.

History

The patient with intussusception is usually an infant, often one who has had an upper respiratory infection, who presents with the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting: Initially, vomiting is nonbilious and reflexive, but when the intestinal obstruction occurs, vomiting becomes bilious

  • Abdominal pain: Pain in intussusception is colicky, severe, and intermittent

  • Passage of blood and mucus: Parents report the passage of stools, by affected children, that look like currant jelly; this is a mixture of mucus, sloughed mucosa, and shed blood; diarrhea can also be an early sign of intussusception

  • Lethargy: This can be the sole presenting symptom of intussusception, which makes the condition’s diagnosis challenging

  • Palpable abdominal mass

Physical examination

The hallmark physical findings in intussusception are a right hypochondrium sausage-shaped mass and emptiness in the right lower quadrant (Dance sign). This mass is hard to detect and is best palpated between spasms of colic, when the infant is quiet. Abdominal distention frequently is found if the obstruction is complete.

See Clinical Presentation for more detail.

Diagnosis

Imaging studies used in the diagnosis of intussusception include the following:

  • Radiography: Plain abdominal radiography reveals signs that suggest intussusception in only 60% of cases

  • Ultrasonography: Hallmarks of ultrasonography include the target and pseudokidney signs

  • Contrast enema: This is the traditional and most reliable way to make the diagnosis of intussusception in children

See Workup for more detail.

Management

Nonoperative reduction

Therapeutic enemas include the following:

  • Hydrostatic: With barium or water-soluble contrast

  • Pneumatic: With air insufflation; this is the treatment of choice in many institutions, and the risk of major complications with this technique is small

Surgical reduction

Traditional entry into the abdomen is through a right paraumbilical incision. The intussusception is delivered into the wound, and manual reduction is attempted. It is important that the intussusception be milked out of the intussuscipiens.

If manual reduction is not possible or perforation is present, a segmental resection with an end-to-end anastomosis is performed.

Laparoscopy has been added to the surgical armamentarium for intussusception[1, 2] and can be performed in all cases of intussusception.

See Treatment and Medication for more detail.

Background

Intussusception is a process in which a segment of intestine invaginates into the adjoining intestinal lumen, causing bowel obstruction. A common cause of abdominal pain in children, intussusception is suggested readily in pediatric practice based on a classic triad of signs and symptoms: vomiting, abdominal pain, and passage of blood per rectum. (See History and Physical Examination.)

Intussusception presents in 2 variants: idiopathic intussusception, which usually starts at the ileocolic junction and affects infants and toddlers, and enteroenteral intussusception (jejunojejunal, jejunoileal, ileoileal), which occurs in older children. The latter is associated with special medical situations (eg, Henoch-Schönlein purpura [HSP], cystic fibrosis, hematologic dyscrasias) or may be secondary to a lead point and occasionally occur in the postoperative period. Intussusception is demonstrated in the images below. (See Etiology and Pathophysiology.)

Abdominal radiograph shows small bowel dilatation Abdominal radiograph shows small bowel dilatation and paucity of gas in the right lower and upper quadrants.
Air contrast enema shows intussusception in the ce Air contrast enema shows intussusception in the cecum.
Barium enema shows intussusception in the descendi Barium enema shows intussusception in the descending colon.
CT scan reveals the classic ying-yang sign of an i CT scan reveals the classic ying-yang sign of an intussusceptum inside an intussuscipiens.
Abdominal ultrasonography reveals the classic targ Abdominal ultrasonography reveals the classic target sign of an intussusceptum inside an intussuscipiens.
Laparoscopic view of a jejuno-jejunal intussuscept Laparoscopic view of a jejuno-jejunal intussusception.

Go to Pediatric Intussusception Surgery for complete information on this topic.

Patient education

Educate parents and caregivers of a patient treated with nonoperative reduction with regard to the risks and signs and symptoms of recurrence so that the initiation of care is not delayed.

For patient education information, see the Digestive Disorders Center, as well as Abdominal Pain in Children, Colic, Rectal Bleeding, and Barium Enema.

Etiology and Pathophysiology

The pathogenesis of idiopathic intussusception is not well established. It is believed to be secondary to an imbalance in the longitudinal forces along the intestinal wall. In enteroenteral intussusception, this imbalance can be caused by a mass acting as a lead point or by a disorganized pattern of peristalsis (eg, an ileus in the postoperative period).

As a result of imbalance in the forces of the intestinal wall, an area of the intestine invaginates into the lumen of adjacent bowel. The invaginating portion of the intestine (ie, the intussusceptum) completely “telescopes” into the receiving portion of the intestine (ie, the intussuscipiens). This process continues and more proximal areas follow, allowing the intussusceptum to proceed along the lumen of the intussuscipiens.

If the mesentery of the intussusceptum is lax and the progression is rapid, the intussusceptum can proceed to the distal colon or sigmoid and even prolapse out the anus. The mesentery of the intussusceptum is invaginated with the intestine, leading to the classic pathophysiologic process of any bowel obstruction.

Early in this process, lymphatic return is impeded; then, with increased pressure within the wall of the intussusceptum, venous drainage is impaired. If the obstructive process continues, the pressure reaches a point at which arterial inflow is inhibited, and infarction ensues. The intestinal mucosa is extremely sensitive to ischemia because it is farthest away from the arterial supply. Ischemic mucosa sloughs off, leading to the heme-positive stools and subsequently to the classic "currant jelly stool" (a mixture of sloughed mucosa, blood, and mucus). If untreated, transmural gangrene and perforation of the leading edge of the intussusceptum occur.

Lead points

In approximately 2-12% of children with intussusception, a surgical lead point is found. Occurrence of surgical lead points increases with age and indicates that the probability of nonoperative reduction is highly unlikely. Examples of lead points are as follows:

  • Meckel diverticulum[3]

  • Enlarged mesenteric lymph node

  • Benign or malignant tumors of the mesentery or of the intestine, including lymphoma, polyps, ganglioneuroma,[4] and hamartomas associated with Peutz-Jeghers syndrome

  • Mesenteric or duplication cysts

  • Submucosal hematomas, which can occur in patients with HSP and coagulation dyscrasias

  • Ectopic pancreatic and gastric rests

  • Inverted appendiceal stumps

  • Sutures and staples along an anastomosis

  • Intestinal hematomas secondary to abdominal trauma

  • Foreign body

  • Hemangioma

  • Kaposi sarcoma[5]

  • Post-transplantation lymphoproliferative disorder (PTLD)[6]

Henoch-Schönlein purpura

Children with HSP often present with abdominal pain secondary to vasculitis in the mesenteric, pancreatic, and intestinal circulation. If pain precedes cutaneous manifestations, differentiating HSP from appendicitis, gastroenteritis, intussusception, or other causes of abdominal pain is difficult.

Occasionally, children with HSP develop submucosal hematomas, which can act as lead points and cause small bowel intussusception. Elucidating the cause of the pain is essential in any child in whom HSP is suspected.

Since the intussusception associated with HSP is usually enteroenteral (small bowel to small bowel), these patients require surgery rather than an enema.

During the initial investigation, obtain supine and upright plain radiographs of the abdomen to identify the small bowel obstruction associated with intussusception. If radiographic findings are normal, assume the patient with HSP has mesenteric vasculitis and treat with steroids.

Hemophilia and other coagulation disorders

Patients with hemophilia and other bleeding disorders may develop intestinal submucosal hematomas, leading to intussusception. Differential diagnosis includes retroperitoneal hemorrhage in addition to other usual causes of abdominal pain. Radiographs of the abdomen should reveal a pattern of small bowel obstruction if intussusception is present. In the absence of intussusception, treatment is supportive with correction of coagulopathy.

Postoperative intussusceptions

Intussusception is a rare postoperative complication, occurring in 0.08-0.5% of laparotomies. It can take place independently of the site of the operation. The likely mechanism is due to a difference in activity between segments of the intestine recovering from an ileus, which produces the intussusception.[7] Intussusception is suggested in any postoperative patient who has a sudden onset of a small bowel obstruction after a period of ileus, usually within the first 2 weeks after surgery. Intestinal obstruction secondary to adhesions usually occurs more than 2 weeks after the operation. The treatment is prompt operative reduction.

Indwelling catheters

Very rarely, indwelling jejunal catheters can lead to intussusception by acting as a lead point, which is especially true if the tip of the catheter has been manipulated or cut so that its surface is not smooth. The clinical picture is that of a small bowel obstruction. Diagnosis can be facilitated by injecting contrast proximal to the catheter and then through the tip of the catheter. Surgery is required to remove the tip of the catheter and to reduce the intussusception.

Cystic fibrosis

Intussusception occurs in approximately 1% of patients with cystic fibrosis. Intussusception is assumed to be precipitated by the thick, inspissated stool material that adheres to the mucosa and acts as a lead point. Often, the course is indolent and chronic. Differential diagnosis includes distal intestinal obstruction syndrome and appendicitis. The majority of these patients require operative reduction.

Other causes

Electrolyte derangements associated with various medical conditions can produce aberrant intestinal motility, leading to enteroenteral intussusception.

Experimental studies in animals showed that abnormal intestinal release of nitric oxide, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, caused relaxation of the ileocecal valve, predisposing to ileocecal intussusception.[8] Other studies have demonstrated that certain antibiotics cause ileal lymphoid hyperplasia and intestinal dysmotility, with resultant intussusception.

A viral etiology has also been implicated. A seasonal variation in the incidence of intussusception that corresponds to the peaks in frequency of gastroenteritis (spring and summer) and respiratory illnesses (midwinter) has been described. Lappalainen et al have studied prospectively the role of viral infections in the pathogenesis of intussusception. They concluded that the simultaneous presence of human herpesvirus-6 and adenovirus infections appeared to correlate with risk for intussusception.[9]

An association was found between the administration of a rotavirus vaccine (RotaShield) and the development of intussusception.[10] RotaShield has since been removed from the market. These patients were younger than usual for idiopathic intussusception and were more likely to require operative reduction. It was hypothesized that the vaccine caused reactive lymphoid hyperplasia, which acted as a lead point.

In February 2006, a new rotavirus vaccine [RotaTeq] was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration [FDA]. RotaTeq did not show an increased risk for intussusception compared with placebo in clinical trials.[11] A study that involved more than 63,000 patients who received Rotarix or placebo at ages 2 and 4 months reported a decreased risk for intussusception in those patients receiving Rotarix.[12]  However, a 2015 study reported that there was a small increase in the risk of intussusception hospitalizations in infants in California since the introduction of rotavirus vaccines, RotaTeq (2006) and Rotarix (2008).[13, 14]   

A study by Tate et al that analyzed the intussusception hospitalization rates before (2000–2005) and after (2007–2013) rotavirus vaccine introduction reported that when compared to the prevaccine baseline (11.7 per 100,000), the intussusception hospitalization rate significantly increased by 46% to 101% (16.7-22.9 per 100,000) in children 8-11 weeks of age in the years after the rotavirus vaccine was introduced. No significant change in hospitalization rates were seen in children < 12 months of age and in children 15-24 weeks and 25-34 weeks of age.[33]

 

Analysis of data from the Kid’s Inpatient Database in the United States has shown a lower than expected rate of hospital discharges for intussusception in infants since the reintroduction of the rotavirus vaccine in 2006.[16]

Familial occurrence of intussusception has been reported in a few cases. Intussusception in dizygotic twins has also been described; however, these reports are extremely rare.

Idiopathic

In most infants and toddlers with intussusception, the etiology is unclear. This group is believed to have idiopathic intussusception. One theory to explain the possible etiology of idiopathic intussusception is that it occurs because of an enlarged Peyer patch; this hypothesis is derived from 3 observations: (1) often, the illness is preceded by an upper respiratory infection, (2) the ileocolic region has the highest concentration of lymph nodes in the mesentery, and (3) enlarged lymph nodes are often observed in patients who require surgery. Whether the enlarged Peyer patch is a reaction to the intussusception or a cause of it is unclear.

Epidemiology

A wide geographic variation in incidence of intussusception among countries and cities within countries makes determining a true prevalence of the disease difficult. Studies on the absolute prevalence of intussusception in the United States are not available. Its estimated incidence is approximately 1 case per 2000 live births. In Great Britain, incidence varies from 1.6-4 cases per 1000 live births.

Overall, the male-to-female ratio is approximately 3:1. With advancing age, gender difference becomes marked; in patients older than 4 years, the male-to-female ratio is 8:1.

Two thirds of children with intussusception are younger than 1 year; most commonly, intussusception occurs in infants aged 5-10 months. Intussusception is the most common cause of intestinal obstruction in patients aged 5 months to 3 years.

Intussusception can account for as many as 25% of abdominal surgical emergencies in children younger than 5 years, exceeding the incidence of appendicitis. Although extremely rare, intussusception has been reported in the neonatal period.

Prognosis

The prognosis in patients with intussusception is excellent if the condition is diagnosed and treated early; otherwise, severe complications and death may occur.

The recurrence rate of intussusception after nonoperative reduction is usually less than 10% but has been reported to be as high as 15%.[17] Most intussusceptions recur within 72 hours of the initial event; however, recurrences have been reported as long as 36 months later. More than 1 recurrence suggests the presence of a lead point. A recurrence is usually heralded by the onset of the same symptoms as appeared during the initial event.[32] Provide similar treatment for a recurrence unless the suggestion of a lead point is very strong (in which case, surgical exploration should be contemplated).

The recurrence rates after air enema and barium enema are 4% and 10%, respectively. Recurrences respond to nonoperative reduction in almost 95% of cases.

Complications associated with intussusception, which rarely occur when the diagnosis is prompt, include the following:

  • Perforation during nonoperative reduction

  • Wound infection

  • Internal hernias and adhesions causing intestinal obstruction

  • Sepsis from undetected peritonitis (major complication from a missed diagnosis)

  • Intestinal hemorrhage

  • Necrosis and bowel perforation

  • Recurrence

With early diagnosis, appropriate fluid resuscitation, and therapy, the mortality rate from intussusception in children is less than 1%. If left untreated, this condition is uniformly fatal in 2-5 days.

 

Presentation

History

The constellation of signs and symptoms of intussusception represents one of the most classic presentations of any pediatric illness; however, the classic triad of vomiting, abdominal pain, and passage of blood per rectum occurs in only one third of patients. The patient is usually an infant who presents with vomiting, abdominal pain, passage of blood and mucus, lethargy, and a palpable abdominal mass. These symptoms are often preceded by an upper respiratory infection.

In rare circumstances, the parents report 1 or more previous attacks of abdominal pain within 10 days to 6 months prior to the current episode. These patients are more likely to have a surgical lead point causing recurrent attacks of intussusception with spontaneous reduction.

Pain in intussusception is colicky, severe, and intermittent. The parents or caregivers describe the child as drawing the legs up to the abdomen and kicking the legs in the air. In between attacks, the child appears calm and relieved.

Initially, vomiting is nonbilious and reflexive, but when the intestinal obstruction occurs, vomiting becomes bilious. Any child with bilious vomiting is assumed to have a condition that must be treated surgically until proven otherwise.

Parents also report the passage of stools that look like currant jelly. This is a mixture of mucus, sloughed mucosa, and shed blood. Diarrhea can also be an early sign of intussusception.

Lethargy is a relatively common presenting symptom with intussusception. The reason lethargy occurs is unknown, because lethargy has not been described with other forms of intestinal obstruction. Lethargy can be the sole presenting symptom, which makes the diagnosis challenging. Patients are found to have an intestinal process late, after initiation of a septic workup.

In a prospective observational study, Weihmiller et al evaluated several clinical criteria to risk-stratify children with possible intussusception. This study identified that age older than 5 months, male sex, and lethargy were 3 important clinical predictors of intussusception.[18]

Physical Examination

Upon physical examination, the patient is usually chubby and in good health. Intussusception is uncommon in children who are malnourished. The child is found to have periods of lethargy alternating with crying spells, and this cycle repeats every 15-30 minutes. The infant can be pale, diaphoretic, and hypotensive if shock has occurred.

The hallmark physical findings in intussusception are a right hypochondrium sausage-shaped mass and emptiness in the right lower quadrant (Dance sign). This mass is hard to detect and is best palpated between spasms of colic, when the infant is quiet. Abdominal distention frequently is found if obstruction is complete.

If intestinal gangrene and infarction have occurred, peritonitis can be suggested on the basis of rigidity and involuntary guarding.

Early in the disease process, occult blood in the stools is the first sign of impaired mucosal blood supply. Later on, frank hematochezia and the classic currant jelly stools appear. Fever and leukocytosis are late signs and can indicate transmural gangrene and infarction.

Patients with intussusception often have no classic signs and symptoms, which can lead to an unfortunate delay in diagnosis and disastrous consequences.

Maintaining a high index of suspicion for intussusception is essential when evaluating a child younger than 5 years who presents with abdominal pain or when evaluating a child with HSP or hematologic dyscrasias.

 

DDx

Diagnostic Considerations

In rare circumstances, intussusception presents with prolapse of the intussusceptum through the anus. Such prolapse can be confused with rectal prolapse. Careful examination can differentiate between the 2 presentations, as follows:

  • The anal crypts are everted with rectal prolapse and not with intussusception

  • An examining finger can be passed between the prolapse and the anus in patients with intussusception but not in patients with rectal prolapse

Conditions to consider in the differential diagnosis of intussusception, along with those in the next section, include the following:

  • Milk allergy

  • Incarcerated hernia

  • Internal hernia

  • Other, rare causes of intestinal obstruction

  • Adhesive band

  • Volvulus

  • Meckel diverticulum

  • Any process causing abdominal pain or GI bleeding

Differential Diagnoses

 

Workup

Approach Considerations

Laboratory investigation is usually not helpful in the evaluation of patients with intussusception, although leukocytosis can be an indication of gangrene if the process is advanced. With persistent vomiting and sequestration of fluid in the obstructed bowel, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance occur.

Ultrasonographic imaging has been found to have a high sensitivity and specificity in the detection of ileocolic intussusception. Abdominal radiographs can also reveal diagnostic characteristics of intussusception, but their sensitivity and specificity has been called into question.

If a segment of intestine is resected at the time of operative reduction, intestinal obstruction with edema, congestion, lymphocytic infiltration, and transmural infarction are typical findings.

Radiographs

After obtaining a thorough history and performing a careful physical examination, obtain plain radiographs of the abdomen with the patient in the supine and upright positions.

Plain abdominal radiography reveals signs that suggest intussusception in only 60% of cases. (See the images below.) Plain radiograph findings may be normal early in the course of intussusception.[19] As the disease progresses, the earliest radiographic evidence includes an absence of air in the right lower and upper quadrants and a right upper quadrant soft tissue density present in 25-60% of patients.

Abdominal radiograph shows small bowel dilatation Abdominal radiograph shows small bowel dilatation and paucity of gas in the right lower and upper quadrants.
Note intussusception in the left upper quadrant on Note intussusception in the left upper quadrant on this plain film of an infant with pain vomiting. Courtesy of Kelley W Marshall, MD, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Emory University School of Medicine.

These findings are followed by an obvious pattern of small bowel obstruction, with dilatation and air-fluid levels in the small bowel only. If the distention is generalized and the air-fluid levels are also present in the colon, the findings more likely represent acute gastroenteritis than intussusception.

A left lateral decubitus view is also helpful.[20] If the view exhibits air in the cecum, the presence of ileocecal intussusception is highly unlikely.

Limitations of radiography

Morrison et al concluded that, when interpreted by pediatric emergency physicians, abdominal radiographs have a low sensitivity and specificity for diagnosing intussusception.[19] In a prospective experimental study, 14 pediatric emergency physicians interpreted radiographs of 50 cases of intussusception and 50 matched controls; these interpretations showed a sensitivity of 48% and a specificity of 21%. In 11% of cases, the abdominal radiographs were incorrectly interpreted as reassuring.

A study by Tareen et al concluded that abdominal radiography is not recommended for the diagnosis of intussusception in children, for the prediction of the outcome of pneumatic reduction of intussusception or for the detection of occult pneumoperitoneum. The study further noted that abdominal radiography should always be performed when clinical peritonism is present but is not otherwise necessary.[21]

Ultrasonography and CT Scanning

Hallmarks of ultrasonography include the target and pseudokidney signs. (See the image below.)

Abdominal ultrasonography reveals the classic targ Abdominal ultrasonography reveals the classic target sign of an intussusceptum inside an intussuscipiens.

One study reported that the overall sensitivity and specificity of ultrasonography for detecting ileocolic intussusception was 97.9% and 97.8%, respectively. The authors concluded that ultrasonography should be used as a first-line examination for the assessment of possible pediatric intussusception.[22]

Ultrasonography eliminates the risk of exposure to ionizing radiation and can help to depict lead points and residual intussusceptions. It also helps to rule out other possible causes of abdominal pain. Even so, ultrasonography is highly operator dependent; therefore, interpret results with caution.

The presence of ascites and long segments of intussusception can be used as sonographic predictors of failure for nonoperative management.[23] Sonographic detection of ascites, air, and absence of blood flow in the intestinal wall strongly suggest bowel gangrene.

Computed tomography (CT) scanning has also been proposed as a useful tool to diagnose intussusception (see the image below); however, CT scan findings are unreliable, and CT scanning carries risks associated with intravenous contrast administration, radiation exposure, and sedation.

CT scan reveals the classic ying-yang sign of an i CT scan reveals the classic ying-yang sign of an intussusceptum inside an intussuscipiens.

Contrast Enema

The traditional and most reliable way to make the diagnosis of intussusception in children is to obtain a contrast enema (either barium or air). Contrast enema is quick and reliable and has the potential to be therapeutic.[24] (See the images below.)

Barium enema shows intussusception in the descendi Barium enema shows intussusception in the descending colon.
Intussusception evident during air contrast enema Intussusception evident during air contrast enema prior to reduction. Courtesy of Kelley W Marshall, MD, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Emory University School of Medicine.

Exercise caution when performing contrast enema in children older than 3 years, because most of these patients have a surgical lead point, usually in the small bowel. The diagnostic and therapeutic yield of the enema is lower in these patients. Enema is contraindicated in patients in whom bowel gangrene or perforation is suspected.

 

Treatment

Approach Considerations

From a clinical perspective, using a cutoff age of 3 years is helpful for dividing patients with intussusception into 2 groups. Patients aged 5 months to 3 years who have intussusception rarely have a lead point (ie, idiopathic intussusception) and are usually responsive to nonoperative reduction. Older children and adults more often have a surgical lead point to the intussusception and require operative reduction.

A decreased rate of operative intussusception management is noted in specialized pediatric hospitals compared with nonpediatric hospitals. This is attributed to the increased experience with and use of the various radiologic reduction techniques.[25]

Intussusception seen in patients older than age 2-3 years may be associated with various medical conditions or situations. The intussusception in these patients is usually small bowel to small bowel; therefore, therapeutic enemas are less helpful and are usually unsuccessful.

A few hours after nonoperative reduction, start the infant on a regular age-appropriate diet as tolerated. If operative reduction was performed, advance the diet as with any postoperative patient.

The only limitations on activity after the treatment of intussusception are those imposed by the postoperative state.

Go to Pediatric Intussusception Surgery for complete information on this topic.

Nonoperative Reduction

Tailor treatment of the child with intussusception to the stage at presentation. For all children, start intravenous fluid resuscitation and nasogastric decompression as soon as possible.

The presence of peritonitis and any evidence of perforation revealed on plain radiographs are the only 2 absolute contraindications to an attempt at nonoperative reduction with a therapeutic enema. Therapeutic enemas can be hydrostatic, with either barium or water-soluble contrast, or pneumatic, with air insufflation. Therapeutic enemas can be performed under fluoroscopic or ultrasonographic guidance. The technique chosen is not important as long as the radiologist performing the enema is comfortable with the method. Preferably, the pediatric surgeon involved is present at the reduction.

A study by Flaum et al presented their experience in intussusception reductions using saline enema under ultrasound control and concluded that it is an efficient and safe procedure.[26]

Since Harald Hirschsprung’s description of a systematic approach to hydrostatic reduction of intussusception, the reported success rate of this nonoperative intervention has widely varied (< 40% to >90%). This variability in outcome attests to the various factors involved in successful hydrostatic reduction. Among these are factors that are individual to the patient (age, duration of symptoms, presence of lead points) and others that depend on the technique used. Paramount among the latter category is the availability of a team of pediatric surgeons and radiologists with the necessary expertise, determination, and dedication. Even among pediatric radiologists, consensus has been lacking on methodologic issues, including the choice of reducing agent, the type of catheter, the role of the external manipulation of the abdomen, the use of medications, and the establishment of guidelines for pressure limits and number of attempts.

Air enema is the treatment of choice in many institutions. The risk of major complications with this technique is small. Its success is decreased, as with other reducing agents, in patients with small bowel intussusceptions and in those with prolapsing intussusceptions. When performing a therapeutic enema, the recommended pressure of air insufflation should not exceed 120 cm of water. When using barium or water-soluble contrast, the column of contrast should not exceed 100 cm above the level of the buttocks.

Traditionally, an attempt was not considered successful until the reducing agent, whether air, barium, or water-soluble contrast, was observed refluxing back into the terminal ileum, but evidence has shown that this is not entirely necessary. Most intussusceptions that failed to show reflux into the ileum were due to either an edematous or competent ileocecal valve. When these patients were explored, they displayed a completely reduced intussusception. According to this study, a patient who becomes asymptomatic after nonoperative reduction that fails to show reflux of the reducing agent into the ileum can safely be observed.[24]

The value of repeated attempts at nonoperative reduction, if the first attempt is unsuccessful, has not been determined. Some clinicians recommend taking the patient to surgical care if the first attempt fails, and other clinicians advocate 1 or 2 subsequent attempts within a few minutes to a few hours after the first attempt.[27] Delay between the reduction attempts may place the patient in the "window" of spontaneous resolution, which has been reported with an incidence of 5-6%. In addition, the first attempt can reduce the intussusception partially, making the intussusceptum less edematous, with improved venous drainage.

Some reports have postulated that reduced bowel edema with improved venous drainage is one of the reasons why the success rate of hydrostatic reduction increases with the administration of a second enema. If repeated attempts are unsuccessful, any progress in pushing back the intussusceptum toward the ileocecal valve during operative reduction is advantageous. Delay in performing surgery because of additional attempts at nonoperative reduction has been demonstrated to have no adverse effects on the rates of success of operative reduction and patient morbidity.

When therapeutic enema is successful, the results are immediate and extremely gratifying. The infant falls asleep almost immediately, and the obstruction is relieved, allowing the resumption of a normal diet. A short period of overnight observation usually is warranted before discharge.

Therapeutic enema is of no value in patients with small bowel–to–small bowel intussusception, which usually occurs in older children who have other associated diseases (eg, HSP, hemophilia, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, malignancies).

Intussusception in the first month of life is rare. Most of these patients are found to have a surgical lead point; therefore, enemas are rarely successful and are potentially dangerous.

Surgical Reduction

If nonoperative reduction is unsuccessful or if obvious perforation is present, promptly refer the infant for surgical care.

Traditional entry into the abdomen is through a right paraumbilical incision. Deliver the intussusception into the wound and attempt nonoperative reduction. Milking the intussusceptum out of the intussuscipiens is important. Sustain gentle manual pressure rather than pulling out the intussusceptum to avoid risk of iatrogenic perforation. If operative reduction is successful, appendectomy is often performed if the blood supply of the appendix is compromised. A cecopexy is not necessary. Risk of recurrence of the intussusception after operative reduction is less than 5%.[17]

If manual reduction is not possible or perforation is present, perform a segmental resection with an end-to-end anastomosis. A diligent search for any lead points is warranted, especially if the patient is older than 2-3 years.

Laparoscopy has been added to the surgical armamentarium in the treatment of intussusception.[1, 2] Laparoscopy can be performed in all cases of intussusception. Reduction of the intussusception, confirmation of radiologic reduction, and detection of lead points have all been reported.

Laparoscopy is associated with faster recovery times, decreased length of stay, decreased time to full feeds, and lower requirements of pain medication. (See the image below.)

Laparoscopic view of a jejuno-jejunal intussuscept Laparoscopic view of a jejuno-jejunal intussusception.

Go to Pediatric Intussusception Surgery for complete information on this topic.

Inpatient and Discharge Considerations

With toleration of diet, patients treated with nonoperative reduction are usually discharged 12-18 hours after the therapeutic enema. After operative reduction, postoperative progress dictates the length of stay.

Some have proposed patient discharge from the emergency department after a short period of observation. Their recommendation is based on the fact that hospitalized children after enema-reduced intussusceptions often require minimal interventions and often have no serious enema-related complications.[28, 29] Obviously, the decision of where to observe the patient must be made on an individual basis, keeping in mind the small, but significant, recurrence rate.

Consultations, Monitoring, and Transfer

Involve a pediatric surgeon as early as possible to help coordinate the care and resuscitation of the child. The availability of a pediatric radiologist enhances the chances of successful nonoperative reduction.

Patients treated with nonoperative reduction usually do not require any specific follow-up care unless problems exist. Postoperatively, patients require 1-2 visits to the pediatric surgeon to check on the progress of healing.

Radiologic reduction is best performed with the surgeon on standby, because complications may develop and require immediate surgery. This may require transfer to a facility with a pediatric surgeon. The benefit of transfer must be weighed against the delay in reduction.

 

Medication

Medication Summary

Drug therapy is not currently a component of the standard of care for intussusception. Medications are limited to those used for pain control after surgery. In the immediate postoperative period, weight-adjusted intravenous morphine is usually administered. As the oral diet is resumed, acetaminophen with codeine or ibuprofen is given orally.

Patients with HSP or hemophilia and intussusception require standard therapy for the individual disease. Some investigators have advocated the use of steroids in intussusception secondary to HSP and lymphoid hyperplasia, with varied results.

A Cochrane review reported that as an adjuvant therapy to reduce recurrence rates, Dexamethasone may be more effective following air or liquid enema. However, these results were based on a few small studies and further research is necessary.[30]

 

Opioid Analgesics

Class Summary

Opioid analgesics are used to control acute crisis and chronic pain.

Morphine (Astramorph, Depodur, Duramorph)

An opioid analgesic, morphine interacts with endorphin receptors in the CNS.

Codeine/acetaminophen (Tylenol #3, Tylenol #4, Tylenol with Codeine)

This is a mild narcotic analgesic. Provide the family with a small supply for use when pain severity is greater than what can be managed with acetaminophen alone. Counsel parents to use only for severe pain, not as the first medication for each symptom.

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Class Summary

These agents add to the effects of opioids during painful crises and allow use of lower doses of narcotics.

Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)

Ibuprofen is usually the drug of choice for the treatment of mild to moderate pain, if no contraindications exist. It inhibits inflammatory reactions and pain by decreasing the activity of the enzyme cyclo-oxygenase, resulting in inhibition of prostaglandin synthesis.

 

Questions & Answers

Overview

What is intussusception?

What are the symptoms of intussusception?

What are the hallmark physical findings of intussusception?

How is intussusception diagnosed?

What therapeutic enemas are used in the treatment of intussusception?

How is surgical reduction performed in the treatment of intussusception?

What is intussusception?

What should be included in information given to parents about intussusception?

What is the pathogenesis of intussusception?

What are the surgical lead points in intussusception?

What is the role of Henoch-Schönlein purpura (HSP) in the etiology of intussusception?

How is intussusception treated in patients with Henoch-Schönlein purpura (HSP)?

What is the role of hemophilia in the etiology of intussusception?

What are the signs and symptoms of postoperative intussusceptions?

How do indwelling catheters cause intussusception?

What is the role of cystic fibrosis in the etiology of intussusception?

What is the role of electrolyte derangements in the etiology of intussusception?

What is the role of nitric oxide in the etiology of intussusception?

What is the role of viral agents in the etiology of intussusception?

What is the role of rotavirus vaccine in the etiology of intussusception?

What is the pathophysiology of idiopathic intussusception?

What is the incidence of intussusception in the US?

Which children are at highest risk for intussusception?

What is the prognosis of intussusception?

What are the complications associated with intussusception?

Presentation

Which clinical history is characteristic of intussusception?

Which physical findings are characteristic of intussusception?

Which physical findings suggest the early disease process in intussusception?

DDX

How is rectal prolapse differentiated from intussusception?

Which conditions should be included in the differential diagnoses of intussusception?

What are the differential diagnoses for Intussusception?

Workup

What is included in the evaluation for intussusception?

What is the role of abdominal radiography in the diagnosis of intussusception?

What are the limitations of radiography in the evaluation of intussusception?

What is the role of ultrasonography in the diagnosis of intussusception?

What is the role of CT scanning in the diagnosis of intussusception?

What is the role of contrast enema in the diagnosis and treatment of intussusception?

Treatment

What are the treatment options for intussusception?

Which diet and activity restrictions are needed following treatment of intussusception?

What is the role of nonoperative reduction in the treatment of intussusception?

What is the role of air enema in the treatment of intussusception?

If the first attempt at nonoperative reduction of intussusception fails, when should repeated attempts be made?

What is the efficacy of therapeutic enema in the treatment of intussusception?

What is the role of surgical reduction in the treatment of intussusception?

How long should children be hospitalized following reduction of intussusception?

Which specialist consultations are needed for the treatment of intussusception?

Medications

What is the role of medications in the treatment of intussusception?

Which medications in the drug class Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs are used in the treatment of Intussusception?

Which medications in the drug class Opioid Analgesics are used in the treatment of Intussusception?