Ileus is a type of bowel obstruction. It results when peristalsis stops. Peristalsis is the wavelike contractions that help push stool through the colon and small bowel.

Ileus is a “nonmechanical” bowel obstruction. The other type of obstruction is called a “mechanical” obstruction]]> . Mechanical obstruction occurs when there is a physical blockage of the intestine.

Small Bowel Distention

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Ileus may be caused by:

  • Abdominal surgery
  • Joint or spine surgery
  • Injury or trauma
  • Infections, such as:
  • ]]>Heart attack]]>
  • Imbalance of electrolytes
  • Disorders that affect muscle function
  • Use of certain drugs, such as narcotic pain drugs or high blood pressure medicine
  • Low blood supply to parts of intestine (mesenteric ischemia)


Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.

Risk factors for ileus include:

  • Abdominal surgery, infection, or injury
  • Joint or spine surgery
  • A previous history of ileus
  • Use of certain pain or high blood pressure drugs
  • Certain health conditions or diseases, such as:
    • Lower lobe pneumonia
    • Heart attack


Symptoms of ileus may include:

  • Abdominal distention
  • Pain
  • Vomiting
  • Cramps
  • Hiccups
  • Inability to pass stool or gas


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam. Diagnosis of ileus is usually based on symptoms and testing. Tests may include:

  • X-rays]]> —a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the body
  • ]]>CT scan]]> —a test that uses radiation to take multiple pictures of the inside of your body
  • ]]>Barium enema]]> —a test that uses radiation to take a picture of the colon, after the colon has been filled with barium
  • ]]>Colonoscopy]]> —a thin, lighted tube inserted through the rectum and into the colon to examine the lining of the colon


If ileus was caused by surgery, it will usually resolve within 48 to 72 hours. In other cases, the disease that caused the ileus needs to be treated. This may involve adjusting the dose of a medication or replacing electrolytes.

Other treatments may be used to help ease symptoms. These may include:

Diet Limitation

Patients who suffer from ileus should not be fed until the ileus has resolved.

Nasogastric Suction (NG Tube)

A tube is inserted through the nose and into the stomach to remove digestive fluids. This will help relieve pain and bloating.

Intravenous Fluids and Electrolytes

Fluids are given by vein to avoid dehydration. Electrolytes are given by vein to help the ileus resolve.


There are medications that increase peristalsis (ie, neostigmine, tegaserod) that can be used in selected patients to help ileus resolve.

Colonoscopic Decompression

A flexible tube may be inserted into the colon to relieve pressure.


Rarely, surgery is required to remove the part of the bowels affected.


Since ileus is generally the result of injury, surgery, or a medical condition, there is little that can be done to prevent it.