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Dealing with a Partial Bowel Obstruction

Having lived with a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) for almost 17 years now, I have unfortunately dealt with a lot of bowel obstructions and partial obstructions (also known as blockages.) That certainly does not mean that you will have to deal with a lot, or any for that matter, given inflammatory bowel disease is hardly a one size fits all disease.

For those of you who do suffer from this because of your Crohn’s Disease or ulcerative colitis, I wanted to share some of my experiences with you.

My journey with ulcerative colitis

I have lived with a colon (obviously 🙂 ),a Jpouch, a temporary ileostomy, five continent ileostomies, and now a permanent ileostomy
In addition, I no longer have a rectum or anus. I share this and especially the latter not to be TMI but to give anyone reading this who is trying to understand more about their own disease and body, or for someone who might be trying to gain more insight for a loved one, some context behind it.

Quite often, I find people share what they have gone through during a particular situation, but leave out some of the back story. For example, if a person is sharing their experiences with how a medication is working for them, wouldn’t it be helpful to know what type of IBD they have? Or, what medications they have tried? Or, if they have had any surgeries? Do they have an ostomy or a Jpouch? I think you get it. It is for this reason that I try to share more of who I am and what my body is like right now so that anyone reading this might be able to tell if what I am saying has anything to do with them or a loved one.

I hope that makes sense.

Anyway, I recently suffered from another partial blockage and it got me wanting to share some of my thoughts and some tips I have learned along the way.

What I’ve learned about bowel obstructions

A bowel obstruction is when your small or large intestine is so blocked that food (or anything else for that matter) is unable to pass through the intestines in a “normal” way. Before I share my personal experiences, I want to clarify that a partial obstruction is very different than a full-on bowel obstruction. For me personally, I can tell the difference in a few ways.

In a partial obstruction, I still have some output while a true bowel obstruction I would never have an output (aka stool coming out of a person’s stoma or anus) or even bowel sounds.

Both types of obstructions cause my stomach to be incredibly distended and feel discomfort and pain, but with a partial, the pain is more manageable.

The pain from a full bowel obstruction

A true blockage is without a doubt one of the most painful things I have ever experienced

Marisa showing scar and distended stomach from previous surgeries and her permanent ileostomyIt seems to be constant pain with waves of it getting much, much more severe. Kind of like labor contractions in a way. It also causes a lot of nausea and vomiting.

With a partial obstruction, I don’t have this block, so to speak, in my mind telling me not to eat. When I am in the midst of a full blockage/obstruction, I cannot even think about consuming any food or liquids. If I do in an attempt to flush things out of my system, it will almost always make things worse or cause me to vomit.

Getting help for an obstruction

If you are experiencing a true bowel obstruction, please call your GI or surgeon and get yourself to a hospital ASAP. I don’t say things like that lightly because I know how awful it is to have to go to the ER or be inpatient in the hospital. Like a lot of you reading this, I look at it as the absolute last resort. However, an obstruction can be very dangerous and cause a lot of problems the longer you wait to seek medical attention. Not to mention, your pain will become increasingly worse and the frequency at which your body is throwing up will increase.

If you are not in severe pain (trust me, you will know the pain I am referring to if it happens to you) and have some stool output either through your stoma or rectum/anus, it is most likely a partial obstruction. That does not mean you should just go about your day and forget what is happening to your body. It means you have been given a chance to help yourself before it gets to a more dire state. I would also never deter anyone from calling their doctor or going to a local emergency room if they are scared of what is going on and want to err on the side of caution. You can never be too careful when it comes to a disease as complex as IBD.

**If your partial obstruction ends up turning into a full-blown blockage, that does NOT mean it is YOUR fault!!**

Common causes of bowel obstructions in patients who suffer from CD or UC are:

  • Undigested food
  • Strictures, which are narrowing of the intestines.
  • Prior abdominal surgery since adhesions could be present. Therefore, the more surgeries a person has, the more adhesions there probably are in the abdomen.

Helpful things when suffering from a partial obstruction:

  • Hot Coffee (I always go with decaf but I am sure regular coffee would have the same result)two cups of coffee and note pads on table
  • Hot tea.
  • Milk. Many people who suffer from IBD cannot tolerate lactose or dairy well. While usually this means someone probably wants to stay away from foods that contain this, it also might have a laxative effect on the body which could aid in flushing your system out. In fact, any beverage that has this impact on your intestines could help unless it causes you a great deal of pain and suffering in another way.
    I find heating pads to be soothing to lay on your stomach.
  • Moving your body a little has also been known to help get things flowing again.

I know how scary and unpredictable an obstruction is

To any of you reading this who suffer from frequent bowel obstructions of any kind, please know you are so far from alone. It is fairly common in those who have severe Crohn’s Disease or ulcerative colitis. I know how scary they are and how unpredictable they can be. I always try to pinpoint it to food since it is how I try to control a lot of my symptoms. While sometimes it is food related which makes me happy since I know I just need to avoid whatever that triggering food was and I will be okay, other times I cannot. Enter frustration overload.

Do you experience bowel obstructions frequently? Are they usually partial or worse? Do you usually have to go to the ER/hospital? Have any tips for others?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • susans53
    11 months ago

    Oh yes! I even had surgery 6/7 years ago to remove adhesions. It got to the point I could not even eat.
    I’ve been doing well since but every so often due to the fact I too have no colon, jpouch, my intestines twist a bit or maybe some adhesions are coming back, idk, I immediately put in my heating pad, drink lots of tea and usually after a bit it opens up. White grape juice is also good.
    I only go to the hospital if I’m vomiting.

  • survivor012
    1 year ago

    Hi Marisa and the rest. The reason I’m here at this post is because I am assuming I have some problem with my tummy post op Day 13. The incision is lower right of tummy closer to bikini line. It is a ureter reimplantation surgery(parts involved are lower part of ureter and bladder)

    Crampy pain (around mid ab untouched during surgery) and pressure atop of a huge bloated tummy,after a small or normal meal. Pain is the greatest after dinner. It’s like waves comes and goes.Are these symptoms similar to partial bowel obstruction ?

    For me sometimes can be temporarily relieved by drinking hot water,passing gas, rubbing medicated/menthol oil on tummy and sleeping.

    I passed stools once or twice a day. Even though I feel like there would be some left behind,I don’t want to strain as I have a urine catheter and the drainage bag on me for a week.

    I am not sure if mine is a partial bowel obstruction. Its way past midnight here in Singapore. I’m thinking to see the doctor tomorrow. Hopefully they can find a good relief as I’m becoming afraid to eat because of the huge discomfort.

    For partial obstruction,what meds did docs give to help clear it?

    Appreciate that this posts are present and your inputs in this topic.

  • thedancingcrohnie moderator
    1 year ago

    I’ve never had a bowel obstruction, thank God. But I really appreciate this post, as now I know what signs to be mindful of. Thank you for sharing.

    Always dancing,
    Elizabeth (team member)

  • ruthydodah
    2 years ago

    I have adhesions caused by appendix and gallbladder removal. I have actually lost count how many complete bowel obstructions I have had over the years, its been at least 20 times over a 10 year period, nasal tubes, gastrographin liquid to help move it the whole job.
    The pain is the worst pain I have ever felt in my life and I find it so difficult to explain to someone who has never experienced it before. Vomiting (well wretching) up first yellow fluid then eventually bottle green (yuck)
    I then had surgery to separate all the adhesions and was told it was a 50/50 chance it could make me worse, but I was willing to take that risk.
    This all happened 12 years ago now and I thought it was all behind me, clear from ALL bowel obstructions for the entire time….. until now.
    A month ago today I was again rushed into A&E with a bowel obstruction, I cant believe it. I was told again it was down to adhesions and I’m now being tested for IBD which to be honest I really don’t think its that, my problem is a result of so much previous surgery.
    I have had that many I know around a week before the pain starts and sometimes I can (what I call) self medicate. I stop eating and drink only water, if this doesn’t work I know what to expect and what pain I’m going to be in, which I dread.
    A few days before I feel tired and a little “spaced out” I also feel shakey inside.
    The first sign of pain is like a BAD case of trapped wind in my stomach, I also don’t want food, or any drink other than water.
    I am backwards and forward going to the toilet, not to poop but to just try and pass the wind that I can feel rolling round my stomach but of coarse nothing comes out. the pain gets progressively worse over the next few hours to the point where I cannot get my breath, my blood pressure drops to around 72/40, I’m sweating my boobs off, then I’m freezing. I am also tachicardic (sorry cant spell it lol). this is usually when the sickness starts.
    Once hospitalized I am put onto IV fluids and nothing to eat with some morphine pain relief, which doesn’t do much to be honest other than help me sleep through it.
    After being in hospital for around 5 days and still no sign of any movement down below, I am given a contrast die to drink called gastrografin which tastes like very very strong aniseed. This has a therapeutic effect on an obstruction but also comes with a risk of perforation of the bowel, but by this point I don’t care just get rid of the pain!!
    I am told everytime that if this doesn’t work I am to have surgery the following day, which I am glad it has worked so far.
    After returning home I find I still have a lot of discomfort and pain after eating for anything up to two weeks, if the pain lasts longer than this I usually end up back in A&E shortly after as the obstruction hasn’t fully cleared.
    Hope this helps people 🙂

  • NanaRides
    2 years ago

    Thank you for sharing this. I have been dealing with partial obstruction for years, and have just recently learned I have small bowel strictures. I don’t want surgery, so I am going to have to learn to live with them. This is the first place I’ve seen the pain I have described. I have several days of “build up” when I sometimes don’t recognize it’s coming, and several days of soreness after. My severe pain lasts varying degrees of time, a few to many hours, and then is suddenly just gone. Do any of you have this “suddenly it’s gone” experience?

  • Belle
    11 months ago

    I have had partial bowel blockages for at least 10 years. When I first started going to the ER everyone thought I was a hypochondriac because by the time they would get to me I was OK. A gastro practically killed me with a med because he guessed I might have a bacterial overgrowth and I ended up in Mayos for 2 1/2 weeks. I was to the point that I had 22 episodes and 2 hospitalizations in one year. I put myself on a fiber restricted diet, (the gastros were telling me to eat MORE fiber) and can eat very few fresh fruits or vegetables. Only well cooked and no fiber and no gas producing ones and no seeds or popcorn. I finally went to the one of the best specialists we have in the state and had extensive tests–adhesions from numerous abdominal surgeries of course. He said to treat it like Crone’s disease and I was doing exactly the right thing, anyway, for my situation. If it got to be a solid pain or lasted over 2 days and I did not have gut sounds in all four quadrants, to get down to Indianapolis to IU Med. Local hospitals cannot handle a complete small intestinal blockage. It would be impractical for me to go to the hospital every time I had an episode. He did not recommend surgery saying
    the way I form adhesions, I’d get them back worse than what I have. I have the labor pain, the cramping, vomiting is actually a relief because of the decompression and then it ends. I invert every couple of days, not complete, on an inversion table–keeps things looser? I have also found that CBD capsules along with my self imposed diet has cut episodes down to about 6-8 per year. The only thing that makes me able to bear the pain is a 5/25 percocet. I rarely have to take over 2–one every 4 hours. It’s just strong enough to blunt the pain but not make me feel high. I also keep listening to my gut sounds in all 4 quadrants with my stethascope. Usually it is over within 12 hours or when ever I throw up, if I do. I have thrown up in all the best places. Some are a lot worse than others. I drink hot water, I have runner’s electrolyte salt that I take a few licks of and take simenthacone during attacks or right afterward. First day, liquids, second as well if it was really bad, then soup and soft food, then work my up to my restricted diet. It’s so nice to know I’m not alone.

  • Pam.Kingsland moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi @nanarides– Thank you so much for reaching out and sharing your experiences with us. I’m glad you were able to find some relatable information here! If you would like to, I think your question would be a great one to add to our community’s Q&A feature – you’re more likely to get answers from our community and others living with IBD there. Let me know if you have any questions
    -Pam ( Team Member)

  • carolineg
    2 years ago

    How long does it take to pass? I’ve had it two weeks now and getting fed up…

  • SusanHU
    2 years ago

    Hi @carolineg – great question. Everyone is different of course so it can vary. Have you reached out to your doctor? – Susan ( Team Member)

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