A volvulus occurs when part of the large intestine is twisted on itself and the mesentery. The mesentery is a supportive tissue that anchors the intestines to the back wall of the abdomen. The twisted intestine creates a bowel obstruction that cuts off the blood supply and affects bowel function.
A volvulus requires immediate medical attention.
It is not known what causes the twisting to happen. Rarely, this may lead to bowel obstruction.
Factors that increase your child’s chance of volvulus include: Congenital defects including: Elongated or enlarged colonCongenital intestinal malrotationSigmoid colon unattached to abdominal wallNarrow mesenteric connection to the colonIrregular bowel habitsChronic constipationHigh fiber diet Previous volvulusHirschsprung disease
In some cases, your child may not have symptoms. In those that have them, symptoms may include: Green or yellow vomitAbdominal pain and swellingRapid breathing and heart rateBloody stoolsDehydration
Your child’s doctor will ask you about symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your child’s doctor may recommend: Blood tests for electrolytesHematest to check for hidden blood in the stool
Imaging tests will be needed to see your child’s internal structures. Tests include: Abdominal x-rayAbdominal ultrasoundLower GI series with barium enemaUpper GI series with barium swallow
The treatment goal is to unblock the obstruction and restore bowel function. Treatment may include:
IV fluids may be given to prevent dehydration and shock. Your child 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.
Your child’s doctor may recommend antibiotics if an infection is present or possible. It is important for your child to take all of the antibiotics as recommended, even when feeling well.
Your child’s doctor will untwist the intestine and assess for any damage. In most cases, untwisting the intestine helps restore blood flow and bowel function.
If needed, the section of intestine that is damaged is removed. The two remaining healthy ends are put together with stitches or staples. This procedure may reduce the chance of another volvulus.
There are no current guidelines to prevent volvulus.
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Intestinal malrotation and volvulus. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital website. Available at: http://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/health/i/intestinal-malrotation. Updated August 2010. Accessed June 14, 2013.
Intestinal obstruction and volvulus. PEMSoft at EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Accessed June 14, 2013.
Lal SK, Morgenstern R, et al. Sigmoid volvulus an update. Gastrointest Endosc Clin N Am. 2006;16(1):175-87.
Osiro SB, Cunningham D, et al. The twisted colon: a review of sigmoid volvulus. Am Surg. 2012;78(3):271-9.
Sigmoid volvulus. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated June 21, 2010. Accessed June 14, 2013.
Williams H. Green for danger! Intestinal malrotation and volvulus. Arch Dis Child Educ Prac Ed. 2007;92(3):ep87-ep91.
Last reviewed January 2014 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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