Digestive and Gastrointestinal Conditions

Intussusception Treatment

Intussusception Treatment Options

Treatment for intussusception begins with a contrast enema. The enema may gently push the telescoped section of intestine back to its proper position. Doctors call this treatment “reducing the intussusception.”

We usually try to fix the problem with an air enema first. This type of enema sends air into the intestine through a tube placed in your child’s anus.

If this doesn’t work, doctors may try a liquid enema. It may work even if the air enema did not.

Contrast enemas done with either air or liquid are useful even if they don’t push your child’s intestine into place. The X-rays made during the process help doctors see where the blockage is. These images can help our doctors plan for surgery, if needed.

If enema treatment works, your child may be discharged from the emergency department if they are able to drink liquids. This way, we can make sure your child is able to eat food and pass stool (have a bowel movement).

Surgery for Intussusception

If the enema doesn’t work, your child will need surgery right away. Your child may have surgery before having an enema if the doctor thinks the intestine has been damaged by the intussusception. This is not common, though.

At the time of surgery, we will give your child medicine (general anesthesia) to make them sleep without pain. The doctors at Seattle Children’s who give your child anesthesia are board certified in pediatric anesthesiology. They have extra years of training in how to take care of children.

The surgeon will make a cut (incision) in your child’s belly. The surgeon may do this surgery:

  • Through 3 or 4 tiny cuts (laparoscopic surgery)
  • Through 1 larger incision (open surgery)

Your child’s surgeon will talk with you about which option may be best for your child.

Then the surgeon will squeeze the telescoped intestine back into place, if possible.

If the intestine is severely damaged or cannot be squeezed back into place, the surgeon will cut out the damaged section and sew the loose ends together. Sometimes, surgeons remove the child’s appendix during this surgery. They may remove the appendix because it may act as a starting point for intussusception to happen again. Your doctor will discuss this with you before surgery.

The length of the surgery depends on what your child needs. It takes 30 minutes to 1 hour, sometimes longer. Your child will be in the recovery room for another hour.

After Surgery for Intussusception

After surgery, we will give your child pain medicine to make them comfortable. It takes some time for the intestine to recover after surgery. You can expect your child to stay in the hospital at least overnight. They may need to stay for up to a week. How soon your child can eat or drink will depend on the type of surgery.

After your child goes home, you’ll need to keep the incision clean and dry until it heals. The surgery team will:

  • Teach you how to care for the incision
  • Explain what kinds of food or medicine to give your child
  • Tell you if you need to limit your child’s activity for a while

Between 1% and 5% of children get intussusception again, so you will need to watch for symptoms.

Your child will need to see the surgeon for a follow-up visit about 2 to 3 weeks after surgery. The surgeon will make sure the incision is healing and your child is recovering well.

Contact Us

If you have questions about intussusception treatment, call our General and Thoracic Surgery Department at 206-987-2794, extension 4.