Intussusception | Diagnosis & Treatments

How we diagnose intussusception

Your child's physician will obtain a medical history and perform a physical examination. Imaging studies are also done to examine the abdominal organs, and may include:

  • abdominal x-ray: a diagnostic test that may show intestinal obstruction
  • barium or air enema: a procedure performed to examine the large intestine for abnormalities. A fluid called barium (a metallic, chemical, chalky, liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an x-ray) or air is given into the rectum as an enema. An x-ray of the abdomen shows narrowed areas, ,obstructions and other problems.

In some cases, the pressure exerted on your child's intestine while inserting the barium or air will help the intestine to unfold, correcting the intussusception.

How we treat intussusception

An operation is necessary for intussusception that does not resolve with a barium enema, or for those who are too ill to have this diagnostic procedure.

Under anesthesia, the surgeon will make an incision in your child's abdomen, locate the intussusception, and push the affected sections back into place. Your child's intestine will be examined for damage, and, if any sections are not working correctly, they will be removed.

  • If there is damage to the intestine and the section removed is small, the two sections of healthy intestine will be sewn back together.
  • If the injured section of intestine is large, a significant amount of intestine may be removed.

In this case, the parts of the intestine that remain after the damaged section is removed may not be attached to each other surgically. An enterostomy may be created so that the digestive process can continue.

With an enterostomy, the two remaining healthy ends of intestine are brought through openings in the abdomen. Stool will pass through the opening (called a stoma) and then into a collection bag. The enterostomy will be temporary.

What is the long-term outlook for my child?

If not treated, intussusception is a life-threatening disorder. If treated within 24 hours, most babies recover completely.

The long-term outlook depends on the extent of intestinal damage (if any).

  • Children with intestinal injury who had a large portion of the intestine removed may have long-term problems.
  • Removing a large segment of the intestine can prevent a child from getting adequate nutrients and fluids. In this case, nutrition may need to be supplemented with long-term, high calorie solutions given through special IV catheters.

Intussusception recurs in up to 10 percent of children. Your child's physician will be able to give you the most accurate prognosis for your child.