How do patients describe the abdominal pain associated with small-bowel obstruction (SBO) and what are common presentations of SBO?

Updated: Apr 28, 2017
  • Author: Mityanand Ramnarine, MD, FACEP; Chief Editor: Steven C Dronen, MD, FAAEM  more...
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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.

Changes in the character of the pain may indicate the development of a more serious complication (ie, constant pain of a strangulated or ischemic bowel).

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