Diagnosis of Intussusception

Your child’s doctor will begin to diagnose intussusception by doing a complete physical exam. They will ask questions about your child’s personal and family medical history. From there, your child will take one or more of the following tests to confirm this condition:

  • Abdominal X-ray. Your child’s doctor may use X-ray imaging to obtain detailed pictures of your child’s abdomen and intestines. For this test, your child may need to take barium (a silver-colored liquid) that shows up on the image and helps the doctor get a clearer picture of the intestines and problem.
  • Ultrasound. This test uses sound waves to capture detailed images of the inside of your child’s body that will help the doctor pinpoint the area of the folded intestine.
  • Barium enema. This test involves delivering barium (a silver-colored liquid) directly into the rectum to help the doctor see issues. During this test, your child’s doctor captures detailed images of the intestine that will help the doctor pinpoint the area of the folded intestine.

Treatments for Intussusception

If your child’s doctor diagnoses intussusception, they may order another diagnostic imaging test that is also a form of treatment, called an air contrast enema. This will be performed by the radiologist and is often effective in returning the intestines into their usual place. If the imaging procedure is successful, your child can be observed in the emergency department (ED). It is possible for intussusception to happen again following this treatment, so your child will need to return to the ED if the symptoms reoccur.

If doctors cannot fix the intussusception with the enema, your child will need surgery to correct it. During the procedure, your child’s surgeon will reposition the intestine that has slid out of place. This minimally invasive surgery usually involves small incisions (cuts) and a short recovery time.

During the surgery, your child will be under general anesthesia (fully asleep). To begin, the surgeon will make tiny incisions (cuts) on your child’s abdomen. They will then insert a tiny surgical camera into one incision and thin surgical tools into the others.

Your child’s surgeon will use a monitor through the tiny camera to move the intestine back into place. Your child will likely receive fluids through their vein via an intravenous (IV) line before surgery. These fluids hydrate your child and help prevent dehydration while they are unable to eat. Your child may also need a nasogastric (NG) tube running from their nose to their stomach to prevent gas buildup.

After the procedure, your child will spend several hours in a recovery area for close monitoring while the effects of anesthesia wear off. Your child will likely stay one night in the hospital after the procedure. Your child will need to rest for at least one week and then limit physical activity for a couple more weeks after that. Your child should be fully recovered from the procedure in about four to six weeks.

Most children who receive prompt (typically within 24 hours) treatment for intussusception fully recover and do not have any long-term effects or restrictions. If treatment is delayed for any reason, damage to the intestine can occur. In this case, the child’s digestive process can be affected long term and they may need supplemental nutrition. This supplemental nutrition is called total parenteral nutrition (TPN) and is delivered through a vein (intravenous) to bypass the intestine. Your child’s surgeon will provide you with specific instructions based on your child’s unique needs and situation.

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If you suspect that your child may have intussusception, find the closest emergency room to you so your child can start on the road to improved health.