Children's Hospital Colorado


What is intussusception?

Intussusception is a condition that occurs when part of the intestine slides inside itself, similar to how two parts of a telescope slide together.

What are the effects of intussusception?

Intussusception in children: 

  • Blocks fluid and food from moving through the digestive tract
  • Cuts off the blood supply to the affected part of the intestine, which can cause the tissue to die

What causes intussusception?

The cause of intussusception is not always known. However, there are illnesses that have been shown to cause intussusception, including:

  • Meckel's diverticulum
  • Enteric duplication cyst
  • Pancreatic rest
  • Hemangioma
  • Abdominal injury and operations
  • Tumors
  • Enlarged lymph nodes

Who gets intussusception?

Intussusception is an uncommon disorder that affects children of all ages, especially those under the age of 2.

What are the signs and symptoms of intussusception?

Intussusception can occur even in healthy, well-nourished infants. Signs may include a baby who seems fine most of the time but develops frequent (every 15-20 minutes) episodes of:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Screaming
  • Irritability
  • Drawing the knees to the chest 

Additional symptoms include:

  • Vomiting
  • Bloody stool
  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue 

If intussusception is not diagnosed, the child will develop an enlarged abdomen, soreness and possibly infection. If you think that your child may have intussusception, bring him or her to a pediatric emergency department.

What tests are used to diagnose intussusception?

When you visit Children's Hospital Colorado, your child's doctor will take a medical history and perform a physical exam. In some cases, additional tests are recommended, such as:

  • Abdominal ultrasound – imaging that allows doctors to see inside your child’s abdomen. The ultrasound is painless and only takes a few minutes. 
  • X-ray – imaging that lets doctors look for signs of intussusception.

At Children's Colorado, our radiology testing is designed specifically for kids. We use only the amount of radiation needed to provide a detailed image for diagnosis and our equipment is designed for smaller bodies – so kids are comfortable and safe during the tests.

How do providers at Children's Colorado make a diagnosis?

Doctors at Children's Colorado use your child's X-rays to see if there is air in the first part of the colon (cecum).

  • If there is air, then they can rule out ileocolic intussusception, which is a type of intussusception in the ileum or colon.
  • If there is no air, the doctor may order an ultrasound to continue to look for a sign of an intussusception.

How is intussusception treated?

Most of the time, intussusception is treated with a non-operative procedure, which means that doctors first try to treat this condition without surgery.

Treatments include:

During a barium or air contrast enema, your child's doctor will insert air or liquid barium into your child’s colon. This expands the intestine and oftentimes returns it to its normal form.

If a barium or air contrast enema does not work, your doctor will recommend surgery as the next step.

Why choose Children's Colorado for your child's intussusception?

The region's only Level 1 Pediatric Trauma Center

Children's Colorado cares for sick and injured children, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Our Trauma Center is the only Level 1 Pediatric Trauma Center in the Colorado region. Our goal is to help children get back to the business of being a kid as quickly as possible.

Board-certified pediatric surgeons

Surgeons in the Pediatric Surgery Program at Children's Colorado are board-certified. We offer leading treatments for babies, infants, children and teens. Our surgeons are specially trained and experienced in the surgical care of kids.

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