Intestinal obstruction complicating pregnancy

Am J Surg. 1992 Oct;164(4):384-8. doi: 10.1016/s0002-9610(05)80910-9.


Intestinal obstruction is a rare but serious complication of pregnancy with significant maternal and fetal mortality. The reported incidence of intestinal obstruction complicating pregnancy varies widely, from 1 in 66,431 to 1 in 1,500 deliveries. A retrospective review of 66 cases of intestinal obstruction complicating pregnancy and the puerperium, including 2 cases from our institution, revealed that the most common causes of mechanical obstruction were adhesions (58%), volvulus (24%), and intussusception (5%). Seventy-seven percent of the patients with obstruction due to adhesions had undergone previous abdominal or pelvic surgery. Presenting symptoms and signs were similar to those of the nonpregnant patient; abdominal pain was present in 98% of patients, vomiting in 82%, and tenderness to palpation in 71%. In 82% of patients, obstruction was evident on radiographic evaluation. Prompt management of obstruction is essential; the median length of time from admission to laparotomy in the 66 patients was 48 hours. Bowel strangulation requiring resection was present in 23% of patients. Thirty-eight percent of patients completed term pregnancies after operative resolution of obstruction; total maternal mortality was 6%, and total fetal mortality 26%. Thus, both mother and fetus are at risk when intestinal obstruction complicates pregnancy. Clinical suspicion of the presence of obstruction and aggressive intervention are required to decrease the morbidity and mortality of this rare complication of pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Obstruction* / diagnosis
  • Intestinal Obstruction* / etiology
  • Intestinal Obstruction* / therapy
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications* / diagnosis
  • Pregnancy Complications* / etiology
  • Pregnancy Complications* / therapy
  • Puerperal Disorders / diagnosis
  • Puerperal Disorders / etiology
  • Puerperal Disorders / therapy