What is the large bowel?

The large bowel (see illustration), also called the large intestine, is the last part of your digestive tract, helping transport waste to be eliminated. It includes your colon and rectum. Digested food enters your large bowel as liquid. Your large bowel absorbs water and changes the liquid to stool.

Illustration of the large bowel | Cleveland Clinic

What is large bowel obstruction?

Large bowel (intestinal) obstruction occurs when there is a blockage in the colon or rectum that prevents food or gas from passing through. This leads to swelling of the intestine. If the blockage and swelling are severe, the bowel can rupture, or the blood supply to the bowel can be cut off leading to bowel death. Both rupture and bowel death lead to bowel contents and bacteria leaking into the abdomen.

Who is at risk of a large bowel obstruction?

People who:

  • Are any age, but more often those over 70.
  • Have had surgery on abdomen.
  • Have had radiation therapy to the abdomen or pelvis.
  • Have/have had a form of cancer.

Note: Fewer than 1 in 3 colorectal cancer patients actually develop large bowel obstruction.

What are the causes/risk factors of large bowel obstruction?

  • Previous abdominal surgery and scar tissue.
  • Colon or rectal cancer, or cancer from other organs that has spread to the abdomen.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Diverticulitis.
  • Previous abdominal or pelvic radiation.
  • Hernias.
  • Twists in the bowel.

What are the symptoms of large bowel obstruction?

The most common symptoms are:

  • Not being able to pass gas.
  • Not being able to have a bowel movement.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Abdominal bloating and swelling.
  • Abdominal pain, usually crampy.

The pain usually comes in sharp waves and may get better for a while.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/31/2017.


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