Terminology of Obstructive Intestinal Disorders

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  • 0:01 Intestinal Obstruction
  • 0:34 Adhesions and Herniation
  • 2:23 Volvulus and Intussusception
  • 3:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Your intestines are susceptible to being obstructed simply as a result of their positioning or location. This lesson defines these problems: herniation, volvulus, intussusception, and adhesions.

Intestinal Obstruction

Your intestines are basically a tube and rope-like tract that sits a little bit too loosely in your abdomen. This doesn't mean it can do whatever it wants to, but there is enough slack for it to twist, turn, and even telescope given the right circumstances.

Not sure what that means? Well, you will soon enough. Let's define some words associated with intestinal obstructions. An intestinal obstruction is a partial or complete blockage of the intestines such that the contents of the intestines fail to progress through the intestinal tract.

Adhesions and Herniation

Be it due to trauma, infection, or surgery, intestinal adhesions can lead to intestinal obstruction. Adhesions are fibrous bands of tissue that connect two normally separate intestinal structures. Think of them as glue or tape that force these abdominal organs to stick to one another.

The abnormal protrusion of a body structure through an opening, herniation, of the intestines can cause an obstruction as well. For instance, an inguinal hernia, as shown on the screen, is an example of this.


The problem with herniation is multi-dimensional. The intestinal tract is one continuous loop of tissue. If any one part of this loop protrudes through and gets stuck in a hole, then all of the intestinal contents before this section of the intestinal tract cannot move forward very well, if at all. It's like a roadblock, nothing gets past this point.

The other part is that a hernia may encompass strangulation, the impairment of blood flow as a result of mechanically constricted blood vessels. Think of these intestines, stuck in this hole, as being choked. Except it's not a windpipe that's mechanically constricted, it's the blood vessels that bring life-giving nutrients to the intestines that are constricted.

This strangulation leads to gangrene, or tissue death, which can prove fatal unless treated right away. The reason it can be fatal is because when gangrene sets in, the intestinal wall dies. This means the intestine perforates, or ruptures, and the bacteria, feces, and accumulated toxins from the gangrene spill into the abdomen. This causes the inflammation of the lining of the abdomen, called peritonitis, and this leads to shock, and eventually death. A strangulated hernia is always a medical and surgical emergency.

Volvulus & Intussusception

Now, for some thought exercises. Imagine that our intestines are a piece of rope. If you were to take that rope, create a kink, and then twist that kink like you would twist a garbage bag when trying to tie it shut, this would be reminiscent of a volvulus.

A volvulus is a torsion (twisting) of an intestinal loop. As you can imagine, this can not only obstruct the passage of intestinal content, but this twisting can also cut off the blood supply, resulting in strangulation, just like per the hernia.

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