What Is an Intestinal Obstruction?

An intestinal obstruction is a blockage in the small or large intestine that prevents food, liquid and air from passing through the digestive system.

Intestinal obstructions can cause serious complications, including death of the intestinal tissue and leakage of the contents of your intestines into your abdominal cavity that causes peritonitis, a life-threatening infection.

In rare cases, the blockage is a pseudo-obstruction. This means there is no actual blockage, but the patient experiences the symptoms of an obstruction. The symptoms are usually caused by a nerve or muscle disorder that inhibits motility, or the movement of material through the intestines. This disorder can be congenital (present at birth) or develop in older adults after surgery, injury or illness.