How do bowel injuries happen?
Damage to the bowel, which is part of the intestines, can happen any time a person has an injury to the abdomen. This can be from a blunt trauma (the skin is unbroken) or a penetrating trauma (an open wound). High speed accidents, like those with cars or other motorized vehicles, can injure the bowel because of the forces in the impact.
What is a bowel injury?
A bowel injury means that part of a person’s intestine has been torn, cut, or the blood flow is cut off. The contents that are inside the torn or cut intestine can leak out. This leak can cause an infection that can be life-threatening.
How will my health care team know that I have a bowel injury?
These are signs of bowel injury.
- Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or tenderness
- Blood pressure changes
- Seat belt sign
These are tests or procedures you may need.
- Serial abdominal exams
- Blood draws
- Imaging scan like a CT or an ultrasound
- Peritoneal lavage where fluid is flushed into the abdomen, drawn out, and inspected
How will I be treated?
Intestinal fluid leaking into the abdomen is life-threatening. You will need emergency surgery to repair the bowel. Doctors will repair the leak and remove any damaged tissue. Other complications of a bowel injury include infection, bowel obstruction or fistula formation.
After surgery, what can I expect?
Your health care team will be checking you often. To watch your progress, they will often take your temperature, blood pressure, and other vital signs. They will listen to your heart, lungs, and abdomen often. They will also ask you about your comfort level, and what you are feeling.
After surgery, you will have a nasogastric tube in place to help drain your stomach. Some patients may have an ostomy, which is a surgically created opening in abdomen that allows stool to leave your body. An ostomy may be temporary or permanent.
You will be given medicine to help control your pain. You may be given intravenous (IV) medicines or you may be given an epidural block which goes in your back. Later, you will take pain pills. Your health care team will work with you to provide the best pain control for you. While you are in the hospital, make sure to let your nurse know whether you are having pain, where it is, and how it feels. Working together, you can help keep your pain under control.
How will I get back to normal after surgery?
Eating and drinking
You will not be able to eat or drink anything for a while. Your intestines will need to rest and heal until they return to normal. This is typically at least 3 to 5 days. Based on your healing progress, you will be able to have small amounts of liquid at first. Later, you will have more solid food as you can handle it.
Your health care team will be watching you for signs of bowel activity. At first, your bowels will not work. They will not be moving and squeezing food or fluid through as they are supposed to do. Your health care team will listen to your abdomen for signs that your bowels are starting to work again. After this happens, your health care team will ask whether you are passing gas. When you begin to pass gas again, it means that your gastro-intestinal system is working in a normal way from your mouth all the way through to your rectum.
After your intestines are moving again, you should begin to have bowel movements even if you have not eaten in a few days. You should still have bowel movements while you heal. Medicines and bed rest can slow the normal intestinal speed, so you may be given medicines to help you have bowel movements.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 12/19/2012
Copyright © 12/19/2012 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6897
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