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The word “ileus” comes from the Greek word “ileos” . It is a condition where there is a bowel blockage for a period of time.


There is bowel distension, abdominal pain and vomiting of dark bowel contents with a fecal smell. Along with this comes toxemia (blood poisoning), dehydration and if neglected shock and sepsis.

First of all, the examining doctor will fail to hear the normal bowel sounds on auscultation of the abdomen. Another sign are distended bowel loops that can be seen on plain X-rays of the abdomen. Furthermore, ileus can happen post-surgically after intraabdominal surgery. Finally, in a newborn it can also happen due to thickened meconium.

The stomach and the small bowel recover usually within 24 hours after surgery. However, the large intestine takes much longer to recover its peristalsis, in the order of up to 72 hours. As a result this leads to a backing up of the bowel contents at the level of the colon.




The mainstay of therapy is decompression. The physician does this by providing continuous nasogastric suctioning through a nasogastric tube hooked up to a vacuum machine.

In the first place, the patient cannot eat food until the bowel sounds reappear and the patient passes gas. The lab measures potassium levels frequently as a low potassium level can also contribute to the ileus. The physician gives intravenous fluids to treat dehydration. When the patient starts to pass gas, the diet is gradually built up from fluids to a full diet over a period of three days.


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5. Textbook of Primary Care Medicine, 3rd ed., Copyright © 2001 Mosby, Inc., pages 976-983: “Chapter 107 – Acute Abdomen and Common Surgical Abdominal Problems”.

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8. Ferri: Ferri’s Clinical Advisor: Instant Diagnosis and Treatment, 2004 ed., Copyright © 2004 Mosby, Inc.

Last modified: August 27, 2018

This outline is only a teaching aid to patients and should stimulate you to ask the right questions when seeing your doctor. However, the responsibility of treatment stays in the hands of your doctor and you.