Acute GI obstruction

Tomas Hucl
Best Practice & Research. Clinical Gastroenterology 2013, 27 (5): 691-707
Acute gastrointestinal obstruction occurs when the normal flow of intestinal contents is interrupted. The blockage can occur at any level throughout the gastrointestinal tract. The clinical symptoms depend on the level and extent of obstruction. Various benign and malignant processes can produce acute gastrointestinal obstruction, which often represents a medical emergency because of the potential for bowel ischemia leading to perforation and peritonitis. Early recognition and appropriate treatment are thus essential. The typical clinical symptoms associated with obstruction include nausea, vomiting, dysphagia, abdominal pain and failure to pass bowel movements. Abdominal distention, tympany due to an air-filled stomach and high-pitched bowel sounds suggest the diagnosis. The diagnostic process involves imaging including radiography, ultrasonography, contrast fluoroscopy and computer tomography in less certain cases. In patients with uncomplicated obstruction, management is conservative, including fluid resuscitation, electrolyte replacement, intestinal decompression and bowel rest. In many cases, endoscopy may aid in both the diagnostic process and in therapy. Endoscopy can be used for bowel decompression, dilation of strictures or placement of self-expandable metal stents to restore the luminal flow either as a final treatment or to allow for a delay until elective surgical therapy. When gastrointestinal obstruction results in ischemia, perforation or peritonitis, emergency surgery is required.

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