Small Bowel Obstruction in CF Patients

Small bowel obstruction means the small intestine is partially or totally blocked. When this happens, the contents of the intestine cannot properly get out of the body. Stools, fluid, and gas build up inside the intestine. This is a potentially serious condition that requires urgent medical care.


The symptoms for “mechanical” small bowel obstruction include:

          Abdominal fullness and/or excessive gas

          Abdomen feels stretched out more than normal (abdominal distention)

          Pain and cramps in stomach area


          Constipation (cannot pass gas or stool)


          Bad breath

The symptoms of paralytic ileus include:

          Abdominal fullness and/or excessive gas

          Abdominal distention

          Vomiting after eating

          Pain is often less severe than in “mechanical” small bowel obstruction

The diagnosis of a small bowel obstruction is initially performed through a physical exam. The exam will include listening for bowel sounds in your stomach. Very high pitched bowel sounds heard through a stethoscope suggest mechanical bowel obstruction, whereas paralytic ileus often produces no bowel sounds. Your doctor may recommend that you see a gastroenterologist or surgeon depending on the suspected diagnosis. These tests include:

  • CT scan
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Abdominal X-ray

For patients with cystic fibrosis, small bowel obstructions are much more common and potentially more dangerous. In cystic fibrosis, the build-up of thick, sticky mucus blocks the ducts leading from your pancreas to your bowel. When this happens, the amount of insulin that your body produces is reduced and digestive enzymes are stopped from aiding your digestion. Without these enzymes, you may not be able to digest enough essential nutrients and you may find it difficult to gain weight. Malnutrition can lead to poor growth, physical weakness and delayed puberty in children. Your feces may contain excess fat making them oily, smelly, large and difficult to flush away.

NYU Langone Medical Center

Bupa Health Center

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