How is a large bowel obstruction diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will perform a physical exam to check for a swollen abdomen or masses. Usually, the stomach isn’t tender to touch.

Your healthcare provider will use a stethoscope to listen to the intestines. Loud or high-pitched bowel sounds or a quiet bowel may indicate a problem.

Your provider may order these tests:

  • Blood tests: A blood test checks for signs of infection and dehydration.
  • X-rays: Abdominal X-rays can show a bowel blockage’s location. These images can also show air around the intestine or diaphragm (the muscle that separates the stomach and chest). Air in these places can indicate a dead bowel or rupture.
  • CT scan: If x-rays reveal a problem, your provider may perform a CT scan. This imaging procedure provides more detailed photos than x-rays.
  • Barium enema x-ray: A barium enema x-ray is a lower gastrointestinal (GI) exam. While you are sedated with anesthesia, a provider inserts a catheter (thin tube) into the anus. The catheter fills the intestine with a safe, white barium liquid. This liquid travels through the intestine while a machine takes x-rays.

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