What Is A Perforated Bowel

Published: 15th March 2011
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Copyright (c) 2011 Julie Glynn

If you or a loved one has suffered a perforated bowel, it probably came as quite a shock and you may have a number of questions, such as what is a perforated bowel and why did it happen? This article explores these questions, from symptoms and diagnosis to treatment and the recovery process.

What Is A Perforated Bowel?

A perforated bowel is a hole or a gap in the wall of the small intestine, large intestine, or stomach.

There are a number of factors that can cause a perforated bowel, including (but not exhaustively):-

Intestinal blockage;


Crohn's disease;

Crushing injuries - sustained when your bowel is compressed, such as during a car accident;

Puncture wounds - suffered when your bowel is penetrated, for example during surgery or a colonoscopy.

A perforated bowel should be treated as a medical emergency, as food and faeces can pass through the hole and into the abdomen, leading to infection of the blood, internal bleeding, and potentially even death.

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Someone suffering from a perforated bowel will usually experience the following symptoms:-

Pain in the abdomen;

Swelling of the abdomen (known as distension);



Change in bowel movements - such as constipation, diahorrea, or blood in the stool.

A patient presenting these symptoms should be immediately examined for a perforated bowel, usually by means of an X-Ray or a CT scan, which will show whether or not air has escaped into the peritoneal cavity.

If a positive diagnosis is made, then the patient should undergo immediate medical treatment. In the majority of cases, this will involve emergency surgery to repair the perforation.

Perforated Bowel Recovery

Recovering from a perforated bowel of course depends upon the how much damage was suffered. Even so, after undergoing a repair it is normal for a patient to spend time being monitored in an intensive care unit.

Recovery will be slow to begin with, particularly for the first three days, as the effects of toxins in the abdomen continue to be felt. To help expel infection, as well as prevent recurring peritonitis (in which cavities surrounding the abdomen and intestines become infected) a patient should be administered with a strong dose of antibiotics.

Some patients may also require a colostomy bag, whereby a stoma is attached to the large intestine and waste is excreted into a bag outside the body. This is usually a temporary measure, and will be particularly relevant to patient's who have had part of their large intestine removed.

After being discharged from hospital, someone recovering from a perforated bowel can perform light weight exercises but should refrain from strenuous activity. Consistent follow-ups with a medical professional are also of vital importance, both to ensure the wound is healing well and to assess whether there are any underlying conditions that may have caused the perforation.


If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of a perforated bowel, you should seek urgent medical assistance, as an early diagnosis is can be essential if a full recovery is to be made.


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