May also be called: Adynamic Ileus; Paralytic Ileus; Intestinal Pseudo-obstruction
An ileus (ILL-ee-us) is when the intestines stop functioning properly and food, fluids, and gas are not able to pass through normally.
Normally, partially digested food, fluids, and gas are pushed through the intestines by a process called peristalsis. Peristalsis is a wavelike, muscular contraction of the intestines. With an ileus, peristalsis slows down or stops somewhere in the intestines, causing waste products to stop moving and back up.
An ileus is often a temporary side effect of abdominal surgery or spine surgery. It can also be caused by injuries or infections such as viral illness, chemical or electrolyte imbalances, genetic disorders, and certain medications. It can cause pain, vomiting, cramps, and constipation; if not treated, it can lead to complications.
Treatment involves treating the cause of the ileus and allowing the intestines some time to rest. The doctor may recommend a blander, more easily digested diet. In more severe cases, hospitalization, no food by mouth, and intravenous (IV) fluids are required.
An ileus caused by surgery typically clears up in 2 to 3 days. Most other cases will get better in a few days as well. Surgery to treat paralytic ileus is extremely rare and is only used as a last resort.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.
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