Causes of Obstruction in the Large Intestine – USMLE Step 2 CK

by / Saturday, 10 July 2010 / Published in Internal Medicine

Obstruction of the Large Intestine

  • Most common site of colon obstruction is the sigmoid colon

Common causes include:

  • Adhesions
  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Volvulus
  • Fecal impaction

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Abdominal pain with cramps
  • Abdominal distention


  • XRAY – showing a distended proximal colon, air-fluid levels, and an absence of gas in the rectum


  • If there is severe pain, sepsis, free air, or signs of peritonitis there must be an urgent laparotomy
  • Laparotomy if cecal diameter is >12cm


  • Twisting and rotation of the large intestine
  • Can cause ischemia, gangrene, perforation
  • The MC site is the sigmoid colon
  • Occurs most commonly in older patients

Signs and Symptoms:

  • High-pitched bowel sounds
  • Distention
  • Tympany


  • XRAY – “kidney bean” appearance (ie. Dilated loops of bowel with loss of haustra)
  • Barium enema showing a “bird’s beak” appearance – points to the site of rotation of the bowel


  • Sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy acts as diagnosis and treatment
  • If this doesn’t work, laparotomy is warranted

Cancer of the Colon

  • Colon cancer is the 2nd MCC of cancer deaths
  • Believed that a low-fiber, high-fat diet increases the risk
  • There are many genetic factors that contribute to colon cancer, such as Lynch syndrome and HNPCC

Lynch Syndrome:

  • LS 1 is an autosomal dominant predisposition to colon cancer that is usually right-sided
  • LS2 is the same as LS 1 with the addition of cancers outside the colon, such as in the endometrium, stomach, pancreas, small bowel, and ovaries


  • Screening should start at 40yr in people with no risk factors
  • If a family member has had cancer of the colon, screening should start 10yr prior to when they were diagnosed (assuming this is less than 40yr)
  • Should have yearly stool occult tests
  • Colonoscopy every 10yr
  • And a sigmoidoscopy every 3-5yrs


  • Obtain preoperative CEA (allows you to follow the progression or recession of the disease)
  • Endoscopy + barium enema


  • Surgical resection + LN dissection
  • If disease is metastatic, add 5-FU to the post-operative regimen


  • CEA levels every 3 months for 3 years
  • Perform a colonoscopy at 6 and 12 months, then yearly for 5 years
  • If a recurrence is suspected, a CT should be performed

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