How are the symptoms of small-bowel obstruction (SBO) characterized?

Updated: Apr 28, 2017
  • Author: Mityanand Ramnarine, MD, FACEP; Chief Editor: Steven C Dronen, MD, FAAEM  more...
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Symptoms of SBO can be characterized as either partial or complete versus simple or strangulated. The classic symptoms of nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and constipation are rarely present in all cases of SBO. Abdominal pain associated with SBO is often described as crampy and intermittent. Without treatment, the abdominal pain can increase as a result of bowel perforation and ischemia. Therefore, having a clinical suspicion for the condition is paramount to early identification and intervention. Furthermore, the clinical presentation of the patients varies and no one clinical symptom on its own identifies the majority of patients with SBO. Some studies have suggested that the absence of passage of flatus and/or feces and vomiting are the most common presenting symptoms, with abdominal discomfort/distention the most frequent physical examination findings. [3] Other studies have shown that abdominal pain is present in the majority of patients found to have SBO.

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