Digestive and Gastrointestinal Conditions

Intussusception Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of Intussusception

Intussusception causes pain in the belly for almost all children who have the condition. In many cases, the pain:

  • Is intense
  • Starts suddenly
  • Comes and goes
  • Tends to get worse each time it returns

Children with pain from intussusception may cry and draw their knees up to their chest. When the pain is gone, the child may seem fine.

Your child may also have any of these symptoms:

  • Swelling in the belly
  • Blood and mucus in the stool, which may look purple
  • Vomiting
  • Sluggishness (lethargy)
  • Weakness
  • Fever

Intussusception Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your child's symptoms. The doctor will also ask you about your child's medical history. Often, children with intussusception have had a recent history of stomach pain and swelling, constipation and bleeding where the stool leaves the body (anus).

The doctor will also give your child a physical exam. They will check your child's belly, and feel for swollen, blocked sections of intestine. The doctor will also look for signs of dehydration and shock.

So your child's doctor can see the intestine, your child may have an X-ray or& ultrasound exam of their belly. Doctors also can use ultrasound to screen for intussusception.

Your child may also need to have a test called a contrast enema. The doctor puts contrast agent, either air or barium, through your child's anus into the intestine and takes X-rays. The air or barium helps the intestine show up on the X-rays.

Contrast enemas can also be used to treat intussusception. Putting the contrast agent in the intestine sometimes makes the telescoped section open up.

At Seattle Children's, doctors usually use air when they do this test. Barium may be used if the air enema did not work or if doctors cannot tell if the intussusception was opened up.