What is Colonic Ileus?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 09 March 2019
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Colonic ileus is a functional defect of the large intestine that can cause major digestive issues and abdominal pain. It is a different problem than a colonic obstruction, which refers to a physical blockage in the bowel, such as a tumor or congenital abnormality. The muscles and nerves of the bowel may stop working properly because of a surgical complication, a severe infection, trauma to the abdomen, or one of several other risk factors. Colonic ileus may be a temporary or permanent problem, and treatment depends largely on the underlying cause. Most people are able to recover by resting, maintaining a special diet, and taking medications to improve digestion.

The most common cause of this disorder is surgery on the abdomen or gastrointestinal tract. Postoperative complications can arise if muscles and nerves were accidentally damaged or if local anesthetic fails to wear off correctly. In some cases, surgical sites in the abdomen may become irritated and inflamed, leading to ileus symptoms. A person can also experience the problem if he or she has an internal injury, a bacterial infection in the abdomen, or a blood clotting disorder. Certain medications, including antacids and blood thinners, can occasionally cause colonic ileus as well.


The most common signs of colonic ileus are frequent abdominal pains and bloating. An individual may also experience cramps, diarrhea, constipation, or vomiting as a result of poor digestion. Symptoms of nausea, dehydration, loss of appetite, and body aches are likely to develop if medical care is not sought within a few days.

At a doctor's office or emergency room, a physician can diagnose colonic ileus by asking about symptoms and performing a series of tests. He or she listens to the abdomen with a stethoscope to see if abnormal sounds are present that may indicate a physical blockage rather than ileus. Imaging scans such as ultrasounds can also help rule out obstructions and confirm the diagnosis. A doctor may also need to screen blood and stool samples if infection is suspected.

As long as there is no infection at the site, postoperative ileus typically improves on its own in a few days. A patient may be admitted to a hospital so his or her condition can be monitored, and symptoms of dehydration or pain can be treated appropriately. Antibiotics are prescribed if infection is responsible for symptoms, and drug-induced ileus typically gets better when medication use is stopped or adjusted. A person may need to maintain a liquid diet for several days or weeks during the healing phase to avoid irritating the colon further. Most patients are able to make full recoveries in less than one month.


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Post 5

@serenesurface: I also had a tumor removed from my colon in 2006. Had no problems until recently. An ER visit has revealed Ileus. My primary and GI docs have recommended Miralax twice a day along with lots of Gatorade to help get things moving. Seeing a little movement but my GI wants to scope to make sure I don't have scar tissue developing. Don't wait too long before you seek help. This condition can be life threatening (as I am sure you are aware).

Post 4

My husband had his bladder removed and complained about abdominal pain for the next four months.

He passed away last week and the hospital has no idea why. I believe he had an obstruction or colonic ileus and the doctors missed it.

Post 3

At what point is medical care necessary when experiencing colonic ileus?

My wife had bowel obstruction surgery more than a week ago. They removed a tumor from her colon. Since she left the hospital, she has symptoms of colonic ileus. She hasn't had any bowel movements and we're both starting to worry. We tried reaching her doctor who is apparently out of town due to an emergency. And I'm not sure if I should take my wife in to the ER.

She has been on liquids since the surgery, so I'm hoping that the ileus will resolve itself soon. But if she needs to be in the hospital during this time, I don't want us to ignore it and make her condition worse.

Has anyone experienced surgery related colonic ileus in the past? How long did it take for the ileus to resolve itself in your case?

Post 2

@simrin-- You are right that IBS and colonic ileus have similar or same symptoms. The treatment is basically the same too, but they are different from one another.

Many bowel disorders may look like one another. Especially when they are related to an injury, an illness or medication that upsets the function of the bowels. But they are most definitely not the same.

Colonic ileus is when the activity of the colon decreases or completely stops, whereas IBS is due to colonic spasms. Colonic ileus has a cause that can be determined and it usually cures itself. But the exact cause of IBS is not known and it is not curable.

Post 1
Are colonic ileus and irritable bowel syndrome the same thing?

I know that colonic ileus is usually temporary and IBS tends to be a permanent condition. But they have the same symptoms and it appears that both conditions are diagnosed simply by looking at the symptoms.

I have IBS and experience bowel problems like pain, bloating, diarrhea and indigestion. I think the only reason I have been diagnosed with IBS and not colonic ileus is because I didn't have surgery or an infection triggering these symptoms. But there must be cases of ileus that are unrelated to these factors too.

So, is there a difference between colonic ileus and IBS?

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