What causes small-bowel obstruction (SBO), and how common is it?

Updated: Apr 28, 2017
  • Author: Mityanand Ramnarine, MD, FACEP; Chief Editor: Steven C Dronen, MD, FAAEM  more...
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Small-bowel obstruction (SBO) is caused by a variety of pathologic processes. The most common cause of SBO in developed countries is intra-abdominal adhesions, accounting for approximately 65% to 75% of cases, followed by hernias, Crohn disease, malignancy, and volvulus. [1]  In contrast, SBO in developing countries is primary caused by hernias (30-40%), adhesions (about 30%), and tuberculosis (about 10%), along with malignancy, Crohn disease, volvulus, and parasitic infections. [2] The general trend in developing countries is an increased incidence of SBO from adhesions, with a higher incidence of laparotomies. See the image below.

Small bowel obstruction. Image courtesy of Ademola Small bowel obstruction. Image courtesy of Ademola Adewale, MD.

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