Jul 12, 2021

Blockages (or “obstructions” as they’re called in the medical world) can be a temporary discomfort or serious enough to require medical attention. Here’s what you need to know: 


Like with constipation, the primary symptom is minimal or no output for an unusual length of time (from several hours, if that’s not your norm, to a few days). Other symptoms can include: 

  • Watery output that has a foul smell 
  • Stoma looks bigger than normal 
  • Movement in intestines that can be heard or felt 
  • Burping 
  • Passing little or no gas 
  • Distended abdomen, may be firm and tender to touch 
  • Abdominal cramps, particularly near the stoma. Often in waves 
  • Sweating  
  • Nausea or vomiting  
  • Decreased urination 
  • Dark colored urine 
  • Dry mouth 

Blockages in the large intestine (colostomies) usually happen gradually. Those in the small intestine (ileostomies) can happen fast.  

A blockage may be partial (watery output, with minimal or no stool) or total (no output at all). Cramping pains tend to be more severe in a total blockage.  

If you have signs of dehydration, if you’ve had no output for an unusual length of time or an excessive amount of all-liquid output, and especially you’re vomiting or in severe pain – get to the ER! 

If you go to the ER, take the UOAA’s Ileostomy Blockage Guide. It provides helpful information for ER staff on how to treat an ileostomy blockage. 


A blockage is pretty much like a clogged drainpipe. It can be one of two types. The first type is more common.  

  • Mechanical blockage (or “dynamic” obstruction) – This is a physical obstruction in the intestine. It might be a food blockage (more common with ileostomies), or a structural blockage like an adhesion from scar tissue.  
  • Paralytic ileus (“adynamic” obstruction, or “ileus”) – This happens when the normal muscle contractions in the intestine stop (due to an infection or a few other reasons). These contractions move the contents of your bowels along their usual path. If they stop, nothing is going to move.  

You can’t determine yourself what kind of blockage it is. That can only be done by diagnostic tests. 

Courtesy Joan Scott, author of The Ostomy Raft