Ileus is a type of nonmechanical bowel obstruction. It results when peristalsis stops. Peristalsis is the wavelike contractions that push contents through the digestive system.

Small Bowel Distention

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Ileus is caused by damage to the nerves controlling the intestines from surgery, infection, low blood flow, trauma, medications, or changes in the body chemistry.

Risk Factors

Factors that increase your chance of ileus include:

  • Abdominal, joint, or spine surgery
  • Intestinal injury or trauma
  • Severe generalized trauma
  • Abdominal bleeding.
  • Infections, such as:     
  • Abdominal infections: peritonitis, appendicitis, kidney infection, and diverticulitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Severe generalized infections such as sepsis
  • Heart attack or stroke
  • Imbalance of electrolytes, especially potassium and calcium
  • Disorders that affect muscle function
  • Use of certain drugs, such as narcotic pain drugs, high blood pressure medication, or chemotherapy
  • A previous history of ileus
  • Symptoms

    Symptoms of ileus may include:

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Pain
  • Vomiting
  • Cramps
  • Hiccups
  • Inability to pass stool or gas
  • Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam and blood tests will be done. A diagnosis of ileus is usually based on symptoms and results of imaging studies.

    Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

  • X-rays
  • CT scan
  • Barium enema
  • The lining of your colon may need to be examined. This can be done with a colonoscopy.


    If ileus was caused by surgery, stress, or trauma it will usually resolve within 48-72 hours. In other cases, the disease or abnormality that caused the ileus needs to be treated. This may involve adjusting the dose of or stopping a medication, treating an infection, or replacing electrolytes.

    Other treatments may be used to help ease symptoms. These may include:

    Diet Limitation

    People who have ileus should not be fed until the ileus has resolved.

    Nasogastric Suction (NG Tube)

    A tube is inserted through the nose and into the stomach to remove digestive fluids. This will help relieve pain and bloating.

    Intravenous Fluids and Electrolytes

    IV fluids and electrolytes are given to avoid dehydration.


    There are medications that increase peristalsis, such as neostigmine and tegaserod, which can be used in some to help ileus resolve.

    Colonoscopic Decompression

    A flexible tube may be inserted into the colon to relieve pressure.


    Rarely, surgery is required if there is a perforation or other abnormality causing the ileus.


    Since ileus is generally the result of injury, surgery, or a medical condition, there is little that can be done to prevent it.