Colonic obstruction is a condition that occurs when the large bowel, or colon, develops a partial or complete blockage. Blockage can hamper the colon's ability to pass solid waste from the body, or stop the excretion of solid waste altogether. Partial colonic obstruction is usually easier to treat than complete obstruction, which may require surgical intervention. There are a number of conditions that can cause colonic obstruction. Symptoms can be painful and uncomfortable, and serious complications can arise if the obstruction isn't properly treated.
In many cases, the colon becomes obstructed because a physical object is blocking it. This object can be a cancerous tumor or a mass of impacted feces. Other mechanical causes of obstruction in the large bowel include volvulus, a condition in which the colon because twisted around itself. Diverticulitis, a condition in which pouches within the colon become infected and bulge out, can lead to colonic obstruction. Inflammation and scarring of the colon can lead to colonic stricture, a narrowing of the large bowel that can cause partial or complete obstruction of the colon.
Obstruction of the large bowel can lead to life-threatening complications. Blockages can cut off the supply of blood to nearby intestinal tissues, causing death of intestinal tissue. When tissue death occurs, serious infection often follows. Infections in the abdominal cavity are generally considered medical emergencies, because they can rapidly cause death.
There are a number of factors that can increase the risk of colonic obstruction. Obstruction often occurs as a complication of abdominal surgery. The inflammatory disorder Crohn's disease can lead to colonic obstruction, as can abdominal cancer.
Symptoms of obstruction in the colon include intermittent abdominal cramps, abdominal distention, nausea, vomiting, and either diarrhea or constipation, depending on whether the blockage is partial or complete. Because obstruction of the colon can be a life-threatening condition, medical intervention is usually immediately necessary.
Treatment for obstruction of the colon often varies depending on whether the obstruction is partial or complete. Patients with partial obstructions are usually stabilized in the hospital and given low-fiber diets. Often, partial obstruction clears up on its own.
If the obstruction is complete, or the partial obstruction is not clearing up on its own, surgery may be necessary. The surgeon will generally remove the obstruction, as well as any dead intestinal tissue.