Definition

A volvulus occurs when part of the large intestine is twisted or rotated on itself and the mesentery. Mesentery is supportive tissue that anchors the intestines to the back wall of the abdomen. The twisted intestine creates a bowel obstruction that cuts off the intestine’s blood supply and affects bowel function.

Volvulus can occur anywhere in the large intestine, but it is most common in the sigmoid colon, the lowest part near the rectum.

A volvulus requires immediate medical attention.

Causes

It is not known what causes the twisting to happen. It may result in a bowel obstruction.

Risk Factors

Volvulus is more common in older, inactive people, especially those in assisted living facilities. Other factors that may increase your chance of volvulus include:

    
  • Congenital defects    
  • Elongated or enlarged colon
  • Sigmoid colon unattached to abdominal wall
  • Narrow mesenteric connection to the colon
  • Previous volvulus
  • History of chronic constipation
  • History of mental health disorders
  • History of adhesions
  • Hirschsprung disease
  • Symptoms

    Symptoms may include:

        
  • Sudden, severe abdominal pain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Bloody stools
  • Dehydration
  • Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

    Imaging tests will be needed to see internal structures. Tests include:

        
  • Abdominal x-ray
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • Lower GI series with barium enema
  • Upper GI series with barium swallow
  • Treatment

    The treatment goal is to unblock the obstruction and restore bowel function. Parts of the treatment may include:

    Hydration

    IV fluids may be given to prevent dehydration and shock. You may need a nasogastric tube to help prevent the build-up of gas in the stomach. A nasogastric tube is a tube inserted through the nose, down the esophagus, and into the stomach.

    Sigmoidoscopy

    A sigmoidoscope is a tube inserted into the colon through the rectum. The tube allows for the passage of a lighted camera and small surgical instruments. Your doctor can untwist the intestine during this procedure. Untwisting the intestine helps restore blood flow and bowel function. Depending on the extent of intestinal damage, further surgery may be necessary.

    Surgery

    If necessary, the section of intestine that is damaged is removed. The two remaining healthy ends are put together with stitches or staples.

    Prevention

    There are no current guidelines to prevent volvulus. There are several surgical procedures that may help reduce your chance of having another volvulus. Talk with your doctor about what options may be best for you.