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What is intussusception?

Intussusception is a severe medical condition and can be life-threatening in some cases. It happens when a part of the intestine folds in on itself like a telescope into another portion, causing an obstruction. This can block the passage of food and eventually cut off the blood supply to the affected area, causing damage to the intestine.

Intussusception primarily occurs in children under three. It is more common in children than adults and can often be treated with surgery. In some cases, however, intussusception may require radiation therapy or medications.

If you suspect your child has intussusception, it's essential to seek medical help immediately.

Intussusception Symptoms

Intussusception is often diagnosed when a child begins to experience intermittent abdominal pain, which then causes sudden outbursts of crying.

However, each child may experience intussusception symptoms differently. The pain is sometimes mistaken for colic, as it happens frequently.

Infants and children may display discomfort through strained movement, bringing their knees close to the chest, irritability, and crying.

Your child may become playful and energetic in-between episodes of pain or be tired and weak from all the crying.

Intussusception usually causes vomiting soon after the pain begins.

While your child may have a normal stool, the next one may look bloody. It's important to note that intussusception usually leads to a red, jelly-like stool.

Common intussusception symptoms such as fever, listlessness, vomiting bile, diarrhea, sweating, dehydration, and abdominal distention or lump-may look like other medical conditions, so it's essential to speak with your child's doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

Intussusception Causes

The exact cause of intussusception is unknown, but it may be more common in people with family members who have also had intussusception.

While not always the case, intussusception is most common in children who meet the following criteria:

  • Those with cystic fibrosis with dehydration
  • Those who have intestinal or abdominal masses or tumors
  • Those who have gastroenteritis (an intestinal virus)
  • Those with an upper respiratory tract infection, which includes those infected with adenovirus
  • Those who have just completed chemotherapy for cancer.

If you think your child may have intussusception, it is essential to see a doctor immediately, as the condition can be serious.

How often does it occur?

Intussusception is relatively rare, but it seems to occur more often in infants three years old or younger.

It's important to note that in rarer cases, intussusception can occur in older children, teenagers, and adults. The condition is also more common during the spring and fall months.

Various factors may contribute to the development of intussusception, including viral infections, food allergies, and tumors.

Why is intussusception of concern?

Intussusception is a serious illness that can cause damage to the intestines if left untreated.

It cuts off the blood supply to the intestines, which can be very dangerous. Intestinal infection can occur, and the intestinal tissue can die.

Intussusception that is not treated can cause internal bleeding and peritonitis, a serious abdominal infection.

Who gets intussusception?

While it can happen at any age, intussusception occurs mainly in young children and more often affects boys.

It's the most common bowel obstruction caused in children between six months and three years old.

In addition, those with intestinal malrotation have a higher chance of intussusception. This is a condition where the intestine doesn't develop or rotate properly.

It can also be more likely to occur in people with certain disorders, such as cystic fibrosis, Crohn's disease, celiac disease, or Henoch-Schonlein purpura (IgA vasculitis).

How is intussusception diagnosed?

Intussusception is diagnosed through a combination of history, physical exam, and x-ray studies.

The child usually complains of stomach pains, and the parent may notice swelling.

Imaging studies are also used to inspect the abdominal organs, which may include the following:

  • Abdominal X-ray: This is a diagnostic test that could suggest an intestinal blockage.
  • Upper GI (gastrointestinal) series: An examination of the upper digestive organs to detect any abnormalities. These organs include the stomach, esophagus, and duodenum (the small intestine's first section). A liquid called barium, a chemical used to coat organs so they will appear on an X-ray, is swallowed. These X-rays are taken to assess the digestive organs.
  • Barium enema (also known as a lower GI series): A procedure is done to test the large intestine for any abnormalities. A metallic, chalky liquid called barium is given into the rectum as an enema. This procedure coats the organs' insides so that they appear on an X-ray. An abdomen x-ray then shows evidence of strictures, obstructions, and other problems. The pressure exerted upon the intestine while the barium is inserted will sometimes help to unfold the intestine and correct the intussusception.

Intussusception Treatment

Your child's doctor will determine a unique intussusception treatment based on these factors:

  • The problem's severity
  • The child's health
  • The opinions of the child's healthcare providers
  • The parent's opinions and preference

Intussusception sometimes corrects itself while a barium enema is administered. However, if your child suffers from severe abdominal infection or other complications, the doctor may choose not to perform the procedure.

When is surgery needed?

Surgery is necessary if the barium enema does not fix the intussusception. Surgery is also important if there is a bowel or blood vessel tear.

What can I expect from surgery?

The surgeon will return the bowel to its normal position during surgery if the intestine is not torn.

If your child's intestine is damaged, requiring removal, they will have to stay in the hospital for a little longer. Your child may be unable to eat or drink normally for several days as their bowel adjusts.