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Intussusception

A rare condition in which a segment of intestine slides inside the neighbouring part, causing an intestinal obstruction

  • Usually develops in early childhood
  • More common in boys
  • Genetics and lifestyle are not significant factors

Intussusception is a rare condition, but it is the most common cause of intestinal obstruction in children under the age of 2. In intussusception, a section of the intestine “telescopes” into a neighbouring part, forming a tube within a tube. The condition usually affects the last part of the small intestine. If left untreated, the blood supply to the affected “telescoped” part may be cut off and cause tissue death in that section of intestine. The cause of intussusception is usually unknown. However, it may be associated with enlargement of the lymph nodes in the lining of the intestine, possibly due to a viral infection.

Intussusception

In this example of intussusception, the last part of the small intestine has passed into the adjacent section of large intestine and caused an obstruction.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of intussusception are usually intermittent. Each episode develops suddenly and usually lasts for a few minutes. Symptoms may include:

  • Severe abdominal pain, which may cause the child to cry and draw up his or her legs.

  • Pale skin.

  • Vomiting.

  • After a few hours, passage from the rectum of bloodstained mucus that may resemble redcurrant jam.

Between the intermittent episodes of pain and vomiting, your child may feel ill and lethargic. If you suspect intussusception, seek medical attention at once. The disorder progresses rapidly, and prompt treatment is essential.

What might be done?

If your child’s doctor suspects intussusception from the symptoms, he or she will arrange for your child to be admitted to hospital immediately.

In hospital, your child will probably be given intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration. In order to confirm the diagnosis, a special X-ray examination that involves the use of air or a barium enema may be carried out. In most cases, the gentle pressure exerted by the air or barium forces the displaced intestinal tissue back into the correct position and relieves the obstruction. If this procedure does not correct the problem, surgery is necessary to relieve the obstruction and to remove the damaged part of the intestine. Most affected children recover fully following treatment, and the condition recurs in fewer than 1 in 20 of all cases.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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