Stomach bloating: Condition could be caused by intestinal pseudo-obstruction – what is it

Easy Ways to Live Well: Steph McGovern discusses bloating

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Dietary decisions are normally the culprit and solution to stomach bloating because the food and drink we consume can either clog up or facilitate the passage of items through the gastrointestinal tract (GI). However, sometimes your bloating could be caused by a condition known as intestinal pseudo-obstruction.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), intestinal pseudo-obstruction is a rare condition with symptoms that resemble those caused by a blockage, or obstruction, of the intestines, also called the bowel.

“However, when a health care provider examines the intestines, no blockage exists,” the NIDDK explains.

The symptoms are due to nerve or muscle problems that affect the movement of food, fluid, and air through the intestines, says the health body.

In addition to bloating and abdominal pain, other tell-tale signs of intestinal pseudo-obstruction include nausea, vomiting, constipation and diarrhoea.

Intestinal pseudo-obstruction leads to a build-up of partially digested food in the intestines, said Medline Plus.

The health site added: “This build-up can cause abdominal swelling (distention) and pain, nausea, vomiting, and constipation or diarrhoea.

Affected individuals experience loss of appetite and impaired ability to absorb nutrients, which may lead to malnutrition.

“These symptoms resemble those of an intestinal blockage (obstruction), but in intestinal pseudo-obstruction no blockage is found.”

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How to diagnose intestinal pseudo-obstruction?

Abdominal x-ray and a CT scan of the bowel

Manometry (pressure studies)

Blood tests


Some people with intestinal pseudo-obstruction may become malnourished.

This can be potentially life-threatening so it is important that a dietitian is involved at an early stage and can advise on certain diets, depending on individual needs.

Health experts advise for a person to eat small meals and often, rather than three large meals a day and to follow a relatively low-fat, low-fibre diet.

Fatty foods are thought to delay stomach emptying and high fibre diets tend to cause bloating and are strongly advised to restrict consumption of these types of foods.

Other underlying causes of bloating

According to Harvard Health, any of these disorders can cause bloating:

Irritable bowel syndrome, a condition characterised by a combination of symptoms (bloating, cramping, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, or constipation) that last for three or more months.

Inflammatory bowel disease, an inflammation of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the small intestine. It’s triggered by a protein called gluten that’s found in wheat, barley, and rye.

Constipation, a condition defined by fewer than three bowel movements per week, hard or dry stools, the need to strain to move the bowels, and a sense of incomplete evacuation.

Gastroparesis, a sluggish emptying of food from the stomach into the small intestine.

Cancer. Colon, ovarian, stomach, and pancreatic cancer are among the cancers that can have bloating as a symptom.
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