What Is Intussusception?

Intussusception is a serious condition seen in babies and young infants resulting from a blockage to the bowel. It causes crying which can occur in bouts with periods where the infants seems settled in between.

This page answers these questions:


What is intussusception?

This is a condition where you get telescoping of the bowel into itself which causes a blockage.

Sometimes the blockage resolves by itself. However, often the blockage remains and this can be serious for babies and needs to be corrected. Read on for more details of when to be concerned.

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How do you know if your baby has intussusception?

Babies tend to get intermittent abdominal pain - they have crying bouts where they characteristically draw up their legs. The cry is usually different from their normal cry. They then can be settled for a while before having another bout of pain and crying.

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Are there any other symptoms or signs other than crying?

Babies may also have vomiting (which may be bile-stained) and in some cases, they may pass blood in the bowel motion - it can look like red-currant jelly. This is a late sign and you need to get to a hospital quickly if your baby passes a bowel motion that looks like red-currant jelly.

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How is the telescoping of the bowel diagnosed?

Sometimes the doctor will feel a fullness in the abdomen. There may be changes on x-ray that will help make the diagnosis. However, ultrasound scan is the best test to diagnose the condition.

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What is the treatment of intussusception?

The condition is usually treated by gently pushing the bowel back into its normal position by gently pushing air or fluid in through the back-passage (rectum). This is done by experienced staff in the radiology department. Sometimes, infants will need an operation and it is important an experienced surgeon is standing by when the radiology staff try to reduce the bowel (put the bowel back where it should be).

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Are there any complications?

If the blockage lasts for a long time, the wall of the bowel will not get enough blood coming to it and this will cause a weakness in the wall and so the bowel could burst open (perforate). This is potentially life-threatening - your baby would look very unwell if this was happening.

Sometimes, when the bowel is being reduced (put back in place) in the radiology department, the bowel could perforate as well - that is why we always have an experienced surgeon on hand when we do this procedure.

If there is a perforation, an urgent operation is needed to fix it.

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To go to the top of the Intussusception page, click here

To go to the Hernia page, click here

To go to the Crying page, click here

To go to the Vomiting page, click here

To go to the Newborn Baby problem page, click here

To return to the Home page, click here


Last reviewed 24 May 2011

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Dr Maud MD

Dr Maud MD (MBChB, FRACP, FRCPCH), a specialist pediatrician, provides health information and medical advice for parents of babies and toddlers. Read more about Dr Maud.

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