Intestinal Pseudo-Obstruction

Intestinal pseudo-obstruction (false blockage) is a condition that causes symptoms like those of a bowel obstruction (blockage). But when the intestines are examined, no obstruction is found. The symptoms of intestinal pseudo-obstruction are caused by a problem in how the muscles and nerves in the intestines work.

Symptoms of pseudo-obstruction include cramps, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, bloating, fewer bowel movements than usual, and loose stools. Over time, pseudo-obstruction can cause bacterial infections, malnutrition, and muscle problems in other parts of the body. Some people with intestinal pseudo-obstruction also have bladder problems.

Some diseases that affect muscles and nerves such as lupus erythematosus, scleroderma, or Parkinson’s disease can cause symptoms of pseudo-obstruction. When a disease causes the symptoms, the condition is called secondary intestinal pseudo-obstruction. Medications that affect muscles and nerves such as opiates and antidepressants might also cause secondary pseudo-obstruction.

To diagnose the condition, the doctor will take a complete medical history, do a physical exam, and take x rays. The main treatment is nutritional support (intravenous feeding) to prevent malnutrition and antibiotics to treat bacterial infections. Medicine might also be given to help with intestinal muscle problems. In severe cases, surgery to remove part of the intestines might be necessary.

Additional Information on Intestinal Pseudo-Obstruction
International Foundation for Functional
Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD), Inc.
P.O. Box 170864
Milwaukee, WI 53217
Phone: 1-888-964-2001 or (414) 964-1799
Fax: (414) 964-7176

The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse collects resource information on digestive diseases for the Combined Health Information Database (CHID). CHID is a database produced by health-related agencies of the Federal Government. The CHID database located on the World Wide Web at, provides titles, abstracts, and availability information for health information and health education resources. See the results of our CHID research on “Intestinal Pseudo-Obstruction,” June 16, 2004.