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What is intussusception?

Intussusception is a serious problem in the intestine. When intussusception occurs, one part of the intestine slides into another section. It folds into itself like a collapsible tube with one part slipping inside another part. This creates a blockage and causes the intestines to not work properly.


What are the symptoms of intussusception?

Symptoms of intussusception include:

  • Severe abdominal pain (that can last for 15 to 20 minutes at a time)
  • Swelling in the abdomen
  • Vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Bloody stools
  • Fever

Intussusception is a medical emergency. If it is left untreated, it may cause severe complications such as infection or even death.


What causes it?

There is no known cause for most cases of intussusception. Rarely, intussusception is caused by conditions such as appendicitis, tumors or a polyp (a growth inside the intestine).

Who gets it?

Intussusception is the most common cause of intestinal blockage in children between 3 months and 3 years of age. Most cases of intussusception occur in babies younger than 1 year of age. For unknown reasons, boys are affected more often than girls. Intussusception also occurs in older children and adults, but there are far fewer cases in these groups.


How will my doctor know my child has intussusceptions?

Your doctor will note your child’s symptoms and perform a physical exam. Your doctor may use an ultrasound (which uses sounds waves to create pictures) to see if intussusception is causing your child’s symptoms.


How is it treated?

In many cases, intussusception is corrected with an air enema. Your doctor will put air into your child’s rectum through a small tube. The air pushes the folded intestine back into place, clearing the blockage. Your doctor may also want to get an X-ray of your child’s abdomen to check whether or not the procedure was effective. Antibiotics are usually not needed. Sometimes surgery is necessary to correct intussusception if the intestine doesn’t stop collapsing into itself or if the cause of intussusception is a tumor or polyp.

Intussusception is a medical emergency. If your child has symptoms of intussusception, seek medical help right away. When left untreated, intussusception may cause severe complications.


Will my child be okay?

With prompt treatment, most children recover completely from intussusception. Occasionally, complications such as infection can occur if the intussusception is not treated quickly. If this happens, part of the bowel must be surgically removed. It is important to see your doctor quickly if your child has symptoms of intussusception.


Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • What can I do to make my child more comfortable before surgery?
  • What risks are there for my child who is having surgery?
  • What is an air enema?
  • Will my child be able to live a normal life after surgery?
  • Could the intussusception happen again?
  • If one of my children has intussusceptions, could the others develop it, as well?