Intestinal pseudo-obstruction produces the symptoms of an intestinal obstruction (constipation, swollen, tender abdomen) without any evidence of such a blockage. It occurs in teenagers and young adults. In this condition, the abdomen becomes swollen and distended for some reason, but no cause is found. The patient may experience all of these symptoms, as well as weight loss, nausea and vomiting.

For patients with this condition, the physician orders many tests – X-rays, barium swallows, esophageal manometry and blood tests – to make sure the patient is absorbing nutrients correctly.

X-rays and barium swallows are painless. X-rays are pictures of the digestive system. Barium swallows involve swallowing liquid that causes the intestinal tract to “light up” during the X-ray so that doctors can see better. Esophageal manometry is uncomfortable but not painful. A balloon is inserted through the mouth and into the esophagus to measure the pressure the esophageal muscles use to swallow – to make sure they are working effectively.

To treat the condition, a tube is placed in the nose and down into the stomach while the patient is hospitalized. This takes the air and discomfort out of the bowel. Intravenous fluids replace those lost from vomiting or diarrhea. B-12 shots may be given to assist absorption of nutrients. Medications such as neostigmine may be used to treat this condition. The disease may be recurrent and persist for years.

For an appointment with a Washington University pediatric surgeon, call (314) 454-6022, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.