Ileostomy: Dealing with a Food Blockage

Woman drinking water.After an ileostomy, it may be harder to digest foods that are high in fiber, such as raw vegetables, popcorn, and nuts. Eaten in large amounts, these foods can clump together. Then they get stuck in the small intestine, causing a blockage. You need to know the signs of a blockage and what to do if you have one.

Signs of a blockage

A blockage can be an emergency. That’s because you can become dehydrated quickly. The intestine can also rupture. Most likely you’ll never have a blockage. But you need to know the signs just in case you do:

  • At first, you may have an almost constant spurting of very watery stool. Your intestine is taking water from your body to try to get rid of the blockage.

  • You may feel bloated or have cramping. The stool may have a strong odor. The stoma or the skin around the stoma may swell.

  • If the blockage remains, the flow of stool will stop totally. Then you’ll have increased pain, often leading to nausea and vomiting.

What to do

You can try one or more of the following:

  • Put on a pouch with a larger opening.

  • Gently massage your belly with the palms of your hands.

  • Lie on your back. Pull your knees to your chest and rock from side to side.

  • Take a hot bath for 15 to 20 minutes.

  • Do not eat any solid food.

  • Do not take any laxatives or stool softeners. They cause your body to lose more water.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider or enterostomal therapy (ET) nurse, or go to the nearest hospital emergency room if:

  • You have increased pain and cramping with nothing produced from your stoma in 2 hours or more. 

  • You start to vomit.

Ways to help prevent a blockage

Sometimes a blockage happens no matter what you do. But you can help prevent a blockage:

  • Drink at least 8 to 12 cups (2 to 3 quarts) of fluids, such as water or juice, each day.

  • Chew your food slowly and thoroughly.

  • Eat only small amounts of foods that are high in fiber or cellulose. These include raw vegetables, unpeeled fresh fruits, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, cabbage, celery, coconut, corn, mushrooms, pea pods, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, popcorn, and hot dogs and other meats in casings.

  • Go easy on bran and other high-fiber grains, such as granola.