Chronic Intestinal Pseudo-Obstruction

What is chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction?

Chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction (CIP) is a rare disorder in which intestinal nerve or muscle problems prevent food, fluid and air from moving through the stomach and intestines. The child experiences the symptoms of an intestinal blockage, though no actual physical blockage exists. Over time, children with CIP can become malnourished because their gastrointestinal tracts are unable to absorb food and get nutrition.

Approximately 100 children are born with congenital CIP in the U.S. each year. CIP is a lifelong condition that can be managed with proper medical care.

What are the symptoms of chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction?

Chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction prevents fluids and food from moving though the stomach and intestines. Symptoms vary, depending on which portion of the intestinal tract is affected. Common symptoms include:

  • abdominal distention (a bloated or swollen belly)
  • vomiting
  • constipation
  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea
  • feeling full after a small snack
  • food aversion
  • pain related to the distention or obstructive symptoms

The lack of intestinal function can lead to complications. It usually prevents the body from absorbing nutrients. As a result, many children suffer from malnutrition, failure to thrive, and weight loss. It is common for doctors to suspect and diagnose this condition soon after birth or before a child’s first birthday in the cases of primary pseudo-obstruction.

What causes chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction?

Chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction is caused by nerve or muscle problems that prevent the intestines from contracting normally to move food, fluid and air through the intestines. In many cases, the root cause is unknown. In children, the condition is typically congenital, meaning that most children who have it were born with it.

Chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction can be caused by a problem with the nerves or the muscles in the stomach and intestines:

  • neuropathic: when the stomach and intestines contract but the contractions are unsynchronized due to a problem with the nerves in the gastrointestinal tract
  • myogenic: when the stomach does not contract or the contractions are weak due to a muscular problem

At times the problem with the intestinal movement may be secondary to other underlying conditions like metabolic problems, mitochondrial diseases and surgery. These problems are considered secondary causes of pseudo-obstruction. They can have the same problems as children with the primary form.

How we care for chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction

The Motility and Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders Center at Boston Children’s Hospital provides access to state of the art specialized multi-disciplinary gastroenterology services including the most advanced testing, new therapy and access to more options for your child’s treatment plan. Our expert team will work together and with your family to develop an individualized treatment plan that addresses the full spectrum of your child’s health needs and provides the best outcomes and quality of life.