A volvulus occurs when the intestine (bowel) twists in a way it’s not supposed to. The twist can cut off blood flow to part of the intestine. The part of the intestine not receiving blood can die. This can cause serious digestive problems. A volvulus can even be fatal.
Volvulus often occurs in children with intestinal malrotation, a problem in which the intestine twists and turns the wrong way inside the abdomen (belly). A volvulus can also be caused by infection or obstruction (blockage) in the intestine. Sometimes a volvulus occurs for unknown reasons.
Symptoms of a volvulus are often sudden and severe. They can include:
Severe abdominal pain (a baby may express this with inconsolable crying)
Nausea or vomiting, sometimes of green (bile-tinged) vomit
Inability to pass stool
A volvulus must be treated right away with emergency surgery. During surgery:
The intestine is carefully untwisted.
If a portion of the intestine has died due to lack of blood flow, this must be removed. The healthy ends of the intestine are reconnected.
If a long length of intestine is removed, a small opening (stoma) may need to be made in the child’s abdomen. This provides a new way for waste to leave the body. If your child needs a stoma, the doctor will tell you more.
If a volvulus is found and treated, the child will likely do well. But you should watch for signs of volvulus in the future. If a long portion of intestine must be removed during surgery, the child may have lifelong digestive problems, such as short bowel syndrome. Talk to your child’s health care provider about how your child is likely to do.