vomiting up bile, a bitter-tasting yellowish-green fluid
passing stools (poop) mixed with blood and mucus, known as currant jelly stool
grunting due to pain
As the illness continues, the child may:
develop a fever
appear to go into shock. In this life-threatening problem, a lack of blood flow
to the body's organs makes the heart beat quickly and blood pressure drop.
What Causes Intussusception?
Most of the time, doctors don't know what causes intussusception. In some cases,
it might follow a recent attack of gastroenteritis
(or "stomach flu"). It also can follow a cold
or the flu. Bacterial or viral
gastrointestinal infections can make the infection-fighting
tissue that lines the intestine swell. This can cause part of the intestine
to get pulled into the other.
In kids younger than 3 months old or older than 5, intussusception is more likely
to be caused by an underlying condition like enlarged lymph nodes, a tumor, or a blood
vessel problem in the intestines.
Intussusception is most common in babies 5 to 9 months old, but older children
also can have it. Boys get intussusception more often than girls.
How Is Intussusception Diagnosed?
Doctors usually check for intussusception if a child keeps having periods of pain,
drawing up the legs, vomiting, feeling drowsy, or poop with blood and mucus.
During the visit, the doctor will:
do an exam, paying special attention to the belly, which may be swollen or tender
to the touch. Sometimes the doctor can feel the part of the intestine that's involved.
ask about the child's health, family health, any medicines taken, and any allergies
How Is Intussusception Treated?
If the doctor suspects intussusception, the child may be sent to an emergency
room (ER). Usually, doctors there will ask a pediatric surgeon to see the child
right away. The ER doctor might order an abdominal
ultrasound or X-ray,
which can sometimes show a blockage in the intestines. If the child looks very sick,
suggesting damage to the intestine, the surgeon may take the child to the operating
room right away to fix the blocked bowel.
Two kinds of enemas often can diagnose and treat intussusception at the same time:
In an air enema, doctors place a small soft tube in the rectum
(where poop comes out) and pass air though the tube. The air travels into the intestines
and outlines the bowels on the X-rays. If there's intussusception, it shows the telescoping
piece in the intestine. At the same time, the pressure of the air unfolds the inside-out
section of bowel and cures the blockage.
In a barium enema, a liquid mixture called barium is used instead
of air to fix the blockage in the same way.
Both types of enema are very safe, and children usually do very well. Most children
treated with the enema do not need surgery. In a few children, intussusception can
return, usually within 72 hours of the procedure. They may need a repeat enema.
A child will need surgery if the intestine is torn, an enema doesn't work, or the
child is too sick for an enema. This is often the case in older children. Then, surgeons
will try to fix the obstruction. But if too much damage has been done, they may need
to remove that part of the bowel.
After treatment, the child will stay in the hospital and get IV
feedings until they can eat and have normal bowel function. Doctors will watch the
child to make sure that the intussusception does not come back. Some babies also may
get antibiotics to prevent infection.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
Intussusception is a medical
emergency. Call your doctor or get emergency medical help right away
if your child has any symptoms of intussusception, such as:
repeated crampy belly pain
passing of currant jelly stool
Most infants treated within the first 24 hours recover completely with no problems.
But untreated intussusception can cause serious problems that get worse quickly. So
it's important to get help right away — every second counts.