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About Intussusception: What Is It and Who Does It Affect

written by: Rochelle Connery • edited by: lrohner • updated: 5/31/2011

Intussusception is a common intestinal condition that can be very painful, especially in small infants and children. Find out more about what this condition entails and how it is treated.

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    About Intussusception

    So what is intussusception exactly? This condition comes about as a result of one portion of the intestines sliding into another portion. Most doctors refer to this as the telescoping effect. The problem is, the intestine doesn’t ordinarily slide back out on its own. Its presence inside the other intestine leads to emergency complications. When the intestines telescope into each other, the blood vessels and nerves in the intestines get strained, causing them to surge and compress, often causing excruciating pain.

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    Who Is At Risk?

    Intussusception is most common in infants and small children, especially males. This condition does not often occur in grown children or adults, although it is sometimes present in senior adults and every once in a while in an average-aged adult.

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    Symptoms of Intussusception

    Your small infant or child won’t be able to tell you what they have or what their symptoms are. However, there are some tell-tale signs that intussusception might be wreaking havoc in their abdomens.

    Infants and babies will likely start crying as if they have colic. Your attempts at calming them will probably be in vain if they have this condition. Their bowel movements will change in color and consistency. MedicineNet calls this “currant jelly stool," a dark deposit with a liquid consistency that indicates the presence of blood and mucous.

    Other symptoms include flu-like exhibitions, like fever and vomiting. However, the vomit will be bile-colored and probably runny, rather than chunky, as if from throwing up something eaten.

    More serious symptoms include changes in skin color and blood flow. This leads to pale-colored skin and possibly shock, especially if gone untreated. Note that such symptoms are considered severe and require immediate professional attention.

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    How Intussusception Starts

    This condition is not necessarily preventable in many cases, as its origin isn’t always identifiable. However, it likely has something to do with virus and bacterial infections found in the intestine, especially in infants.

    If the condition is found in an adult, the cause likely points to polyps or tumors, according to MedicineNet.

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    Treatment

    What is intussusception treatment? Since this condition leads to blocked intestines (which can die in segments if not treated), it’s necessary to unblock it somehow. In many cases, this can be accomplished by administering enema to the infant. Before any operation is done, some type of scan, such as an ultrasound or CT scan, is performed to properly identify what kind of treatment is necessary.

    If an enema is not sufficient to clear the blockage, the doctor will do surgery on the infant to clear the passage.

    If the symptoms of intussusception are identified early, there’s a very good chance the infant will survive. That’s why you should immediately seek medical attention if your infant exhibits any of these behaviors, as they are not normal and won’t go away on their own.

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