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Gastrointestinal (GI) obstructions most often occur in people with ovarian or colorectal cancers, but they may occur in people with cancers of the stomach, uterus, prostate, bladder, or other cancers as well. In a healthy person, the intestines move food and fluids through the GI tract (including the stomach, intestines, and bowel), and enzymes, fluids, and electrolytes help the body absorb nutrients. In a person with a GI obstruction, the food and fluids can't move through the system, and peristalsis (the normal contractions that the intestines make to move the food) can cause intense pain. If left untreated, a GI obstruction is a serious and even life-threatening problem.
People with a GI obstruction may experience the following symptoms:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain from the obstruction
- Cramping from the movement of the intestine as it tries to move food along
- Inability to have a bowel movement or pass gas, despite an urge to do so
Relieving side effects, also called symptom management, palliative care, or supportive care, is an important part of cancer care and treatment. Talk with your health care team about any symptoms you may experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.
The treatment of a GI obstruction depends on the cause. GI obstructions are often treated with surgery, in which the surgeon clears a path for the food to continue through the GI tract. Sometimes, a GI obstruction is due to stool (feces) that has become hard and difficult to pass. Enemas and other measures can resolve this issue. If the obstruction is caused by twisting of bowel that can be reversed, the health care team will recommend that you rest the GI tract by not eating or drinking and instead receive intravenous (IV, through a vein) feedings to for a few days to make sure you stay hydrated.
In people who cannot have surgery, other procedures may help relieve the symptoms caused by a GI obstruction:
- Delivering fluids through an IV tube
- Using a nasogastric tube (a tube that is inserted through the nose down to the stomach) to remove the contents of the stomach and prevent further pain
- Placing a stent (an expandable tube) into the site of the obstruction to help food move more easily through the GI tract
In addition, your doctor may give you medication to address nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, inflammation, or pain.
Last Updated: February 01, 2012