Painful abdominal problems are common in babies and one such ailment is intussusception, which is not known to many and may need immediate medical attention. It is important to diagnose this problem as soon as possible for effective treatment, quick relief, and prevention. It occurs in 1 to 4 out of every 1,000 infants. It’s most common in babies 5 to 9 months old and boys are more prone to it than girls.
In this article:
All You Need to Know About Intussusception in Babies
What is Intussusception?
Intussusception is a condition in which a part of the intestine folds in, moves and slides/slips into the next part just like a fold-up telescope. This obstructs the movement of fluid, food, bowel, etc. in the intestine. This disease makes the walls of the intestine which is affected part come under great pressure and leads to bleeding, irritation, swelling, infection, tissue damage, and reduced intestinal blood supply. The affected part of the intestine can also die in acute cases.
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Signs and Symptoms of Intussusception
Babies with intussusception have intense belly pain that –
- Often begins suddenly
- Makes the baby draw the knees up toward the chest
- Makes the baby cry very loudly
As the pain eases, the baby may stop crying for a while and seem to feel better. The pain usually comes and goes like this, but can be very strong and more painful when it returns.
Other symptoms also include –
- A swollen belly
- Vomiting up bile, a bitter-tasting yellowish-green fluid
- Passing stool (poop) mixed with blood and mucus, known as currant jelly stool
- Grunting due to pain
As the illness continues, the baby may –
- Tiredness, weakness, lethargy, sleepiness, inactivity
- Develop a fever and gets a pale and sweaty skin
- Appear to go into shock, a life-threatening medical problem in which lack of blood flow to the body’s organs causes the heart to beat quickly and blood pressure to drop
Causes of Intussusception
Most of the time, doctors don’t know what causes and the reason behind intussusception. In some cases, it might follow a recent attack of gastroenteritis or stomach flu. Bacterial or viral gastrointestinal infections may cause swelling of the infection-fighting lymph tissue that lines the intestine which may cause part of the intestine to be pulled into the other.
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Diagnosis and Treatment for Intussusception
Doctors usually examine and check for intussusception if a baby is having repeat episodes of pain, drawing up the legs, vomiting, feeling drowsy or passing stools with blood and mucus. During the visit, the doctor will ask about the baby’s overall health, family health, any medicines the baby takes and any allergies the baby has.
The doctor will examine the baby, paying special attention to the belly which may be swollen or tender to the touch. Also sometimes the doctor can feel the part of the intestine that’s involved.
If the doctor suspects intussusception, the baby may be sent to an emergency room (ER). Usually, doctors will ask a pediatric surgeon to see the baby right away. The ER doctor might order an abdominal X-ray or ultrasound which can sometimes show a blockage in the intestines. If the baby looks very sick, suggesting damage to the intestine, the surgeon may take the child to the operating room right away to fix the blocked towel.
Two kinds to enemas often can diagnose and treat intussusception at the same time that is –
- In an air enema, doctors place a small soft tube in the rectum (where poop comes out) and pass air through the tube. The air travels into the intestines and outlines the bowels on the X-rays. If there’s intussusception, it appears to be a telescoping piece in the intestine. At the same time, the pressure of the air unfolds the inside-out section of the bowel and cures the blockage.
- In 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 the baby usually does very well. In a few cases, intussusception can return, usually with 72 hours of the procedure.
If the intestine is torn, an enema doesn’t work or the baby is too sick to try an enema, the baby will need surgery. This is often the cause of older children. Surgeons will try to fix the obstruction but if too much damage has been done, that part of the bowel has to be removed.
After treatment, the baby will stay in the hospital and get intravenous (IV, through a vein) feedings until able to eat and normal bowel function returns. Doctors will watch the baby closely to make sure that the intussusception does not return. Some babies also may get antibiotics to prevent infection.
When to Call a Doctor?
Intussusception in babies can be life-threatening if diagnosis and treatment are not done in time. If there are any kind of symptoms seen, consult the doctor immediately. Once the baby is fine, consult the doctor about future prognosis because intussusception may relapse and in rare cases even come back in adulthood.
Intussusception is a medical emergency and consult the doctor or get emergency medical help right away if the baby has any symptoms. Most babies treated within the first 24 hours recover completely with no problems. But untreated intussusception can cause severe problems than get worse quickly.
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