Dealing with intestinal obstructions

I am never not surprised by how debilitating an obstruction is. It’s so much more than an obstructed feeling in your stomach. For me, it makes my entire body ache. It makes me feel run down. More often than not, my first sign of an obstruction is simply feeling bleh. (Yes, I believe that’s the technical term.) Even before noticing a lack of output or stomach pains.

This morning, I woke up not feeling great. Sort of nauseated and tired. It wasn’t until after breakfast (which I didn’t eat) that I noticed my bag filling up with liquid. That’s when I realized why I had been feeling run down, even last night. Now it’s the afternoon and I haven’t eaten anything all day, but I have emptied several bags of liquid output, and everything hurts and I really wish I could curl up in a ball and stay there, praying that it passes. However, I have a 15-month-old, so that’s probably not going to happen.

I have written about blockages a couple of times in the past (See: My first major blockage – which still makes me laugh that I considered it a “major” blockage. After having a major blockage later on, trust me, it wasn’t. And see: Intestinal blockages during pregnancy), but since they are an ongoing concern, I wanted to address them again.

So how do you deal with an intestinal blockage or obstruction?

blockage obstruction intestinalThe first step is doing what you can to avoid them. You do this by hydrating (which I have not been doing well) and by watching what you eat (which also could have used some work this week).

But once you have a blockage of some sort, the next step is to get back to hydrating. Whether you’ve been staying hydrated or not prior to the obstruction, do it after a blockage starts. A blockage can be caused by dehydration and it also causes dehydration by pushing out only liquid output. Hydration can be helpful in getting the blockage to start moving again, as well as simply helping you stay healthy outside of that.

Next, be cautious what you eat. If you’re anything like me, you likely don’t want to eat anything anyways, but if you are hungry, I suggest sticking with non-solids, such as smoothies, yogurt, applesauce, etc. This way you can continue to take in nutrients, but these foods shouldn’t add to the blockage that has formed.

From here, there are a few things you can try… Massage your stomach. This can help get things moving, possibly even break up a smaller obstruction. Use a heating pad. Of course be careful of putting heat on your skin, but the warmth does help your muscles to relax which can get food moving again. Take a warm bath. Another way of trying to relax your muscles. You can also simply wait for it to pass, which it will sometimes.

A lot of blockages can be taken care of at home in these ways, but do be willing to go to the doctor or hospital if things get worse. Severe blockages can lead to more complications, so if you feel that the blockage is not going to pass easily, the hospital is your next option. Only you know your body, so pay attention to the signs it gives you. If you start vomiting or are dealing with extreme pain, it’s time to get medical help. The hospital will make sure you are staying hydrated and getting the nutrients you need, even if you are unable to eat anything. They may opt for using an NG tube, which is not pleasant at all, but it really does work. If a blockage gets too severe, they may consider surgery, but that’s a last option.

Once a blockage passes, you may still deal with some lingering issues. I like to call it an “obstruction hangover,” because the next day I usually still don’t feel quite right, even if I am feeling a lot better than before. I try to take it easy, drink lots of water and stick with either liquids or easily digestible foods. And usually after that, I feel back to normal.

I hope you never have to deal with an intestinal blockage, but if you do, these are some of the things I have found along the way that have helped me get through them. For those who have been through an obstruction, what has your experience been? Do you have other tips that might help somebody get through a blockage?

19 thoughts on “Dealing with intestinal obstructions

  1. Hayley

    Hi..ive found drinking fizzy/sparkling water helped before it got too severe. I always keep a couple of bottles in the house now x

  2. Angela

    Thanks!! This is exactly what I have experienced so it was great to find someone who can relate. I have also found that chugging pedialyte during a crisis or before keeps me out of the ER. I have avoided the ER multiple times with this trick. Try it. It works and you will feel a ton better too. I get my energy back after drinking them. It works way faster than water alone.

  3. Nancy J

    Also, check to see if your stoma is swollen. I have to change my wafer to one with a larger opening to accommodate the swelling.

  4. Millie

    Do you distend and vomit? How are constructions diagnosed? I am wondering that with myself, and I’m scared. I have a Hartmann’s pouch colostomy. No colon removed. Are xray or ct scans with clear contrast good at finding blockages/narrowing?
    I had ng tune once, and it was awful.

    1. Stephanie Hughes Post author

      Hi Millie, so the only time I’ve been hospitalized for an obstruction was when I was pregnant, so things were done a little differently for me. I was vomiting at the time. I’m not 100% sure about being distended, but I’m sure I was, you just couldn’t tell because of my pregnant belly. My stoma, however, was much larger and prolapsed. I ended up getting a CT scan which showed it. Before that, it was diagnosed simply by symptoms such as no output and vomiting. I do not know the specifics your particular colostomy, but if you are feeling really concerned, have a lot of pain or it’s been going on for days, it might be worth a trip to see your doctor.

  5. Peg Herstine

    Thank you so much for this blog. As a newbie to the ostomy world, I am full of questions. You have shed light on so many of my concerns. Now, go enjoy that toddler of yours 🙂

  6. Colette


    I am so glad that I stumbled upon your site. You have taught me so many things with the sharing of your experiences. Thank you so very much.

  7. Tammy

    Your blog saved my mental health. I had so much trouble with my colostomy leaking and found no help until the week before my take down…had my takedown and woke up with an ileostomy. (I was told it might happen)
    Now my life is so different because I have no leakage and have found an awesome ostomy nurse!!! So I feel like I can handle life with your blog and my nurse! Seriously though I can really do things, not confined to the house because of constantly leaking. Now I go places with my family and garden and do things like before my ostomy.
    Chances are that this is going to be a permanent side kick of mine so I keep reading and researching all I can. Thank you!

  8. Kate

    Fizzy water definitely helps, and I’ve found coca cola even better (think because it’s so acidic it may assist in dissolving the obstruction if food-related). An IBD nurse gave me that tip and it’s definitely worked for me! I would say don’t leave it too late before feeling medical help. The more sick and dehydrated you are the less fun it is getting the NG tube down. On NG tubes it can help to use the harder plastic ones without a guide wire if you’ve been throwing up for a while and your throat is sore.

  9. Lee

    I have a bags 2-3 that I have a result that my feces does not go into my bag. It sits at the top and does not fall into my bag!!! Why? Has anyone have an answer at it then spills out and I have a huge mess?? Any help. Ubclee@ Thanks

  10. Mike

    Can’t agree more about staying hydrated. Every time I have one, hydration is always the culprit. Thanks so much for sharing!

  11. Daniel S Lennox

    I don’t know if this is the right section to ask this but I’ll take my chances anyway.
    Hi Stephanie, I just want to ask if you ever tried using cannabis for colitis? I am 35 years old now and been battling anxiety and panic attacks for almost half of my life. I have read many articles about medical marijuana and how it can help you in terms of pain management, anxiety disorders and panic attacks, inflammation, even cancer and a lot more. Like this review on a certain strain called dark-star from Cbd and thc are also new to me and I don’t even smoke. If this is true I cant find any solid conclusive evidence that speaks to its efficacy. Any personal experience or testimonial would be highly appreciated. Thanks

  12. Dina

    I’m right there with you! I have SBO because I have SBS… They are the worst thing in the world and I would not wish one on the Devil Himself… I have lived with these for 13 years now and I pray to God that I come through each one! If anyone wants to know how bad the nausea is, consider yourself praying that you’re going to live because you’re so sick you are afraid you’re going to die

  13. Rosie Martin

    For years I managed my blockages at home, usually with a hot drink, hot water bottle and lots of water. I would vomit a few times but it eventually worked its way through. But then about 3years ago after I’d been in agony for hours, vomited over 20 times (I know I should have gone sooner) I went to A&E. I had no output at all by then, not even fluid. They were fantastic, I had my first ng tube, a drip and some morphine (I actually told the nurse I loved her when that kicked in). Within a few hours everything was working properly and I was allowed to go home. Luckily I’ve had very little problems since then but I certainly wouldn’t leave it so long to go in if I got that bad again.

  14. Stefhatcher

    I’ve had one almost complete blockage and the gave me Miralax in the hospital. Along with multiple IV fluid bags of course! Worked great, but you definitely have to stay well hydrated for it to work! I keep some at home now just in case.


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