Intussusception is when one part of the intestine folds into itself, like the way a telescope folds. This can put pressure on the intestine and block food from passing through. Intussusception is an emergency. If it is not treated promptly, it can cause part of the intestine to die or develop a tear. This can result in a dangerous infection inside the belly called peritonitis.
Intussusception is most common in children between 3 months and 5 years of age, but it can happen at any age.
The exact cause of intussusception is not known. It sometimes happens when a child has a cold or other viral illness that causes swollen glands in the belly. Swelling in the wall of the intestine can cause the intestine to fold into itself.
Most children with intussusception have sudden and severe belly pain. The pain comes and goes in waves. The waves last seconds to minutes and may happen every 5 to 15 minutes. During these painful attacks your child may whimper, cry, or scream. Infants may draw their legs up to their belly, while toddlers may freeze in the middle of whatever they were doing. Other symptoms may include:
Your child’s healthcare provider will ask your child's symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Tests may include:
Your child may be treated in the emergency department or in the hospital.
The most common treatment is the air or fluid enema that is also done to diagnose the problem. Gently putting air or fluid through your child's rectum helps unfold the walls of the intestine. This treatment is very effective in children. In rare cases, your child may need surgery if the enema does not work, or it cannot be done because your child's intestine is already torn.
Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your child’s healthcare provider. Ask your provider:
Make sure you know when you should bring your child back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.