Intussusception is a condition that can cause severe belly pain. It happens when one part of the intestine slides into another part of the intestine. Intussusception can happen with either the small or large intestine.

When one part of the intestine slides into another, it causes a blockage. When the intestine is blocked, air, fluid, and food get stuck. They can’t move through the intestine the way they normally would. This causes symptoms.

Intussusception happens most often in babies and children, especially those younger than 3 years old. In some cases, intussusception is caused by another medical condition. But in most cases, doctors don’t know what caused the intussusception.

Symptoms usually start suddenly. They can include:

  • Severe belly pain – The pain comes in waves. At first, episodes of pain happen about every 15 to 20 minutes, but the episodes get closer over time. The pain usually makes children cry and pull their knees up into their belly.
  • Vomiting
  • Bloody bowel movements
  • Being very sleepy and hard to wake up

Some children with intussusception have only 1 or 2 of these symptoms. Other children with a small intussusception do not have any symptoms, although this is uncommon. Their doctor might find that they have an intussusception when the child has a test for another reason. Children who have no symptoms might not need treatment.

Yes. Call your child’s doctor or nurse right away if your child has symptoms of an intussusception.

Yes. The doctor or nurse will ask about your child’s symptoms and do an exam. They will do an imaging test of the belly, such as an X-ray or ultrasound. Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of the body.

The doctor will do a few things to treat your child’s intussusception.

First, they will probably give your child fluids through a thin tube that goes into a vein, called an “IV.”

Then, the doctor will fix the intussusception. There are different ways to do this. They include:

  • A procedure called “nonoperative reduction” – This is also sometimes called an “air enema” or “contrast enema.” It is not surgery. For this procedure, the doctor will put a tube into your child’s rectum and push air or a special fluid into the tube. The air or fluid will go into the rectum and through the intestine. As the air or fluid reaches the intussusception, it makes the stuck intestine slide back out of the other part of the intestine. To see what they are doing, the doctor will do an ultrasound or X-ray during this procedure.

Some children will get a “nasogastric tube.” This is a tube that goes into the nose, down the esophagus, and into the stomach. The tube will suck up the fluid and air in the stomach. This will help your child feel better and keep them from vomiting.

  • Surgery – If the intussusception could not be fixed with the nonoperative reduction, or if the intussusception has caused problems, your child will probably need surgery.