DIGESTIVE/LIVER DISORDERS :: Lower Digestive Tract Problems
What is intussusception?
Intussusception is the most common cause of intestinal obstruction in children between ages three months and six years. Male babies are affected four times as often as female babies. Intussusception occurs when a portion of the intestine folds like a telescope, with one segment slipping inside another segment. This causes an obstruction, preventing the passage of food that is being digested through the intestine.
The walls of the two "telescoped" sections of intestine press on each other, causing irritation and swelling. Eventually, the blood supply to that area is cut off, which can cause damage to the intestine.
What causes intussusception?
The cause of intussusception is not known. It may occur more frequently in people who have relatives who also had intussusception.
An increased incidence of developing intussusception is often seen in children:
A rotavirus vaccine that was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1998 was pulled from the market in 1999 because of an association between the vaccine and an increased risk for intussusception in infants aged one year or younger. However, no direct link was established to the vaccine as a cause of intussusception.
A new rotavirus vaccine was approved by the FDA in 2006. The risk for intussusception with the new vaccine was evaluated in a large clinical trial of over 70,000 children, and no increased risk was found. The manufacturer of the vaccine will continue to closely monitor the vaccine’s safety in additional clinical studies.
How often does intussusception occur?
Intussusception is rarely seen in newborn infants. Sixty percent of those who develop intussusception are between 2 months and 1 year of age. Although 80 percent of the children who develop the condition are less than 2 years old, intussusception can also occur in older children, teenagers, and adults.
Why is intussusception of concern?
Intussusception is a life-threatening illness. If left untreated, it can cause serious damage to the intestines, since their blood supply is cut off. Intestinal infection can occur, and the intestinal tissue can also die. Untreated intussusception can also cause internal bleeding and a severe abdominal infection called peritonitis.
What are the symptoms of intussusception?
The most common symptom of intussusception is sudden onset of intermittent pain in a previously well child. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. The pain may be mistaken for colic at first, and occurs at frequent intervals. Infants and children may strain, draw their knees up, act very irritable, and cry loudly. Your child may recover and become playful in-between bouts of pain, or may become tired and weak from crying.
Vomiting may also occur with intussusception, and it usually starts soon after the pain begins.
Your child may pass a normal stool, but the next stool may look bloody. Further, a red, mucus or jelly-like stool is usually seen with intussusception.
Symptoms of intussusception may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Please consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.
How is intussusception diagnosed?
A physician will obtain a medical history and perform a physical examination of your child. Imaging studies are also done to examine the abdominal organs, and may include:
Treatment for intussusception:
Specific treatment for intussusception will be determined by your child's physician based on the following:
In some instances, intussusception will fix itself while being diagnosed with a barium enema. However, if your child is very ill with an abdominal infection or other complications, your physician may not choose to perform this procedure.
Treatment may include:
What is the long-term outlook for a child with intussusception?
If not treated, intussusception is a life-threatening disorder. If treated within 24 hours, most babies recover completely.
The long-term outlook depends on the extent of intestinal damage (if any). Children with intestinal injury who had the damaged part removed may have long-term problems. When a large portion of the intestine is removed, the digestive process can be affected. Removing a large segment of the intestine can prevent a child from getting adequate nutrients and fluids. In this case, nutrition may need to be supplemented with long-term, high calorie IV (intravenous) solutions given through special IV catheters.
Consult your physician regarding the prognosis for your child.
Click here to view the
It is important to remember the health information found on this website is for reference only not intended to replace the advice and guidance of your healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.
© Children's Hospital of Orange County