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Intussusception in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is intussusception?

Intussusception is a condition that causes part of the bowel to fold into itself like a telescope. The fold blocks the bowel and its blood supply, which can damage the bowel. Intussusception often involves both small and large bowels. It is the most common cause of bowel obstruction in children.

What increases my child's risk for intussusception?

The exact cause of your child's intussusception may not be known. Any of the following may increase the risk:

  • Diseases, such as cystic fibrosis or leukemia
  • Viral infection of the nose, throat, or bowel
  • Surgery in the last 24 days
  • Overgrowth of tissues in the intestine

What are the signs and symptoms of intussusception?

  • Abdominal pain that lasts 5 to 10 minutes and goes away between episodes
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Bloody or mucus-filled bowel movements
  • Tiredness
  • Abdominal lump that you can feel
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Fever

How is intussusception diagnosed?

  • Blood and urine tests may be used to find signs of infection or to check kidney function. The tests can give healthcare providers information about your child's overall health.
  • A bowel movement sample may be checked for blood.
  • An ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures of your child's intussusception on a monitor.
  • An x-ray may show a blocked intestine.
  • A CT scan of your child's abdomen may show the intussusception, blood vessels, and other tissues. Your child may be given contrast liquid to help healthcare providers see the pictures better. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.

How is intussusception treated?

The intussusception may unfold by itself, or your child may need any of the following:

  • A nasogastric (NG) tube is inserted into your child's nose and down to his or her stomach. Food or medicine may be given through the NG tube. Your child may need an NG tube if he or she throws up a lot. An NG tube may also be used to help get your child's bowels working correctly.
  • An enema is a procedure that uses pressure to unfold your child's bowel. A tube is put into your child's anus. Air or barium is put through the tube. Barium is a liquid that helps the bowel show up better on a monitor. X-rays are used to help healthcare providers see the intussusception during the enema.
  • Surgery may be needed if other treatments do not work. Healthcare providers may unfold the intussusception by hand or remove it. Ask your child's healthcare provider for more information about surgery.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child's symptoms return.
  • Your child is irritable, fussy, and crying more than usual.
  • Your child is eating and drinking less than usual.
  • Your child is urinating less than usual.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • Your child is not urinating.
  • Your child is weak or sleeps more than usual.
  • Your child's bowel movement has blood in it or looks like red jelly.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. 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.

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