How do bowel injuries happen?
Damage to the bowel, which is part of the intestines, can happen any time a person has an injury
to the abdomen. This can be from a blunt trauma (the skin is unbroken) or a penetrating trauma
(an open wound). High speed accidents, like those with cars or other motorized vehicles, can
injure the bowel because of the forces in the impact.
What is a bowel injury?
A bowel injury means that part of a
person’s intestine has been torn, cut, or
the blood flow is cut off. The contents
that are inside the torn or cut intestine
can leak out. This leak can cause an
infection that can be life-threatening.
How will my health care team
know that I have a bowel injury?
These are signs of bowel injury:
Nausea, vomiting, abdominal
pain or tenderness
Blood pressure changes
Seat belt sign
These are tests or procedures you may need:
Serial abdominal exams
Imaging scan like a CT or an ultrasound
Peritoneal lavage where fluid is flushed into the abdomen, drawn out, and inspected
How will I be treated?
Intestinal fluid leaking into the abdomen is life-threatening. You will need emergency surgery to
repair the bowel. Doctors will repair the leak and remove any damaged tissue. Other
complications of a bowel injury include infection, bowel obstruction or fistula formation.
After surgery, what can I expect?
Your health care team will be checking you often. To watch your progress, they will often take
your temperature, blood pressure, and other vital signs. They will listen to your heart, lungs, and
abdomen often. They will also ask you about your comfort level, and what you are feeling.
After surgery, you will have a nasogastric tube in place to help drain your stomach. Some
patients may have an ostomy, which is a surgically created opening in abdomen that allows stool
to leave your body. An ostomy may be temporary or permanent.
You will be given medicine to help control your pain. You may be given intravenous (IV)
medicines or you may be given an epidural block which goes in your back. As you heal, you
will be transitioned to take oral pain pills. Your health care team will work with you to provide
the best pain control for you. While you are in the hospital, make sure to let your nurse know
whether you are having pain, where it is, and how it feels. Working together, you can help keep
your pain under control.
How will I get back to normal after surgery?
Eating and drinking
You will not be able to eat or drink anything for a while. Your intestines will need to rest and
heal until they return to normal. This is typically at least 3 to 5 days. Based on your healing
progress, you will be able to have small amounts of liquid at first. Later, you will have more
solid food as you tolerate.
Your health care team will be watching you for signs of bowel activity. At first, your bowels
will not work. They will not be moving and squeezing food or fluid through as they are
supposed to do. Your health care team will listen to your abdomen for signs that your bowels are
starting to work again. After this happens, your health care team will ask whether you are
passing gas. When you begin to pass gas again, it means that your gastro-intestinal system is
working in a normal way from your mouth all the way through to your rectum.
After your intestines are moving again, you should begin to have bowel movements even if you
have not eaten in a few days. This is because even though your bowels were not working as they
should, your liver still continued to make waste products that your body gets rid of through
bowel movements. You should still have bowel movements while you heal. Medicines and bed
rest can slow the normal intestinal speed, so you may be given medicines to help you have bowel
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 11/2015 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6897