Skip to main content


Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 5, 2023.

What is an ileus?

An ileus is a condition that develops when the muscles of your intestines stop contracting. This causes a blockage that prevents food and waste from passing through normally.

What increases my risk for an ileus?

  • Surgery
  • Certain medicines, such as opioids
  • Electrolyte imbalance, such as not enough potassium or calcium in your blood
  • Inflammation caused by trauma, bleeding, or pancreatitis
  • Infection

What are the signs and symptoms of an ileus?

  • Decreased or no passage of gas or bowel movements
  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Decreased appetite or inability to eat

How is an ileus diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you. He or she will ask about your symptoms and when they started. Tell him or her if you take any medicines, had surgery recently, or have any health conditions. You may also need any of the following tests:

  • Blood tests may show the cause of your ileus, such as an infection or electrolyte imbalance.
  • An x-ray or CT may show the location and cause of your ileus. You may be given contrast liquid to help your intestines show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.
  • A barium enema is used to help your colon show up better on the x-ray. A tube is put into your anus, and a liquid called barium is put through the tube. Then x-rays are taken.

How is an ileus treated?

Your treatment depends on the cause of your ileus. You may need any of the following:

  • An IV may be used to give you liquids and nutrition. You may not be able to eat or drink anything until your healthcare provider says it is okay.
  • A nasogastric tube may be put into your nose. The tube passes through your throat and is guided into your stomach. The tube will be attached to a suction device that removes air and fluid from your stomach.
  • Laxatives may help your intestines work properly again. They may also help soften your bowel movement to make it easier to pass.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have a fever and severe abdominal pain or bloating.
  • You have blood in your bowel movement.
  • Your heart is pounding or racing.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have nausea or are vomiting.
  • You cannot pass gas or a bowel movement.
  • You have abdominal bloating or pain that does not go away.
  • You cannot eat.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© Copyright Merative 2023 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.