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This is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the child’s intestines fold into itself. Each segment of the intestines slips inside another segment causing a blockage. When this happens, food cannot move through the digestive tract and be eliminated. Left untreated, it can permanently damage the intestines, set up infection or result in bleeding. While it can be diagnosed in older children and teens, it normally occurs in children between three months and two years of age. There is no known cause of intussusception, but in some cases, a polyp from previous intestinal surgery may cause the intestines to fold into itself, or a virus could be responsible in other cases.

Symptoms of Intussusception

These are the most common symptoms and signs:

  • Sudden pain in the abdomen and vomiting
  • Infants and toddlers may become irritable and draw their knees up and cry from the intense discomfort.
  • Passage of normal stool with bouts of bloody or red and jelly-like stools in subsequent bowel movements
  • A palpable sausage-shape mass in the abdomen upon examination

Testing and Diagnosis

Intussusception is a medical emergency. Your child’s doctor will perform a thorough physical examination and usually order a series of imaging studies to diagnose intussusception. In some centers, such as WakeMed, ultrasound may be used to identify the size, shape, and location of the intussusception.

Treatment Options

Experienced radiologists may be able to insert a small tube into the child’s rectum and use either air or barium liquid to “push” the telescoping intestine back into place and, therefore, reduce or “fix” the intussusception without surgery. Even if the procedure is successful, most children are hospitalized overnight for observation.

The enema treatment is not always successful, so surgery may be necessary.

Laparoscopic Intussusception Reduction 

Using a series of small incisions, the pediatric surgeon inserts a tiny laparoscope that clearly visualizes the abdomen. Once the obstruction is located, the intussusception is reduced by carefully tucking it back into its normal position. In rare cases, the surgeon may not be able to push the bowel back into place. When this occurs, the affected portion of the bowel is removed and the healthy segments are sutured together.

Recovery and More Information

Children normally recover quickly and only require a night’s stay in the hospital.

Learn more about Intussusception from the American Pediatric Surgical Association.

Learn What to Expect from Laparoscopic Intussusception