Intussusception: Definition, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Jennafer Tomlinson
This lesson introduces you to the anatomy of your intestines and provides information regarding what an intussusception is, what causes it, what the signs and symptoms are and what can be done to treat it.

Intussusception Defined

An intussusception is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that takes place inside the intestines, so let's begin there. The intestines are tube-like structures that perform a variety of important tasks for the body. They are composed of the small and large intestine.

Anatomy of the Small and Large Intestines

Once food is chewed up and swallowed, it goes to the stomach where it is broken down into mush. The broken down food is then passed into the small intestine, where essential nutrients, minerals and vitamins are taken out and delivered to the body. The food is then passed into the large intestine, where water is absorbed out and passed through the urinary system to eventually be expelled as urine. What is left of the food is then passed out of the body as feces.

The small intestine is approximately 22 feet long, and the large intestine adds an additional 5 feet in length, making the total length of the intestines an astonishing 27 feet! When part of the small or large intestine collapses inside itself, much like a telescope, this is known as an intussusception.

Part of the Intestine Telescoping Into Itself, Causing an Intussusception

Understanding an Intussusception

To better understand an intussusception, picture a water snake toy: a slippery, water-filled toy that is about five inches long and has a circumference of a fifty-cent piece. When playing with this toy, you can hold it upside down in one hand and it will telescope through itself into the other hand. This is similar to an intestinal intussusception.

Unfortunately, this condition is much more serious than the toy may reveal, and because it is much more prevalent in young children than in adults, it is extremely important to be aware of the signs and symptoms. Recognizing them and seeking medical attention right away will reduce the possibility of more serious health issues, such as a bowel perforation, lack of blood supply to the affected area and tissue death. In very serious cases, intussusception may also cause death if not treated in a timely manner.

Water Snake Toy
Water Snake Toy

Signs, Symptoms & Causes of Intussusception

Signs and symptoms of an intussusception include dark, bloody mucus mixed in feces, abdominal pain, vomiting and fatigue. Causes of intussusception can include a tumor or unusual growth, but in most cases, the cause is unknown. In order to diagnosis an intussusception, the proper medical tests must first be performed. An intussusception can be clearly diagnosed by the use of ultrasound, X-ray or computerized tomography (CT).

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