Ogilvie syndrome (patient information)

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Ogilvie syndrome


What are the symptoms?

What are the causes?

Who is at highest risk?


When to seek urgent medical care?

Treatment options

What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Possible complications

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-In-Chief: Ujjwal Rastogi, M.B.B.S. [2]


Intestinal pseudo-obstruction is a condition in which there are symptoms of intestinal blockage without any physical signs of a blockage.

What are the symptoms of Ogilvie syndrome?

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Swollen abdomen (abdominal distention)
  • Weight loss

What causes Ogilvie syndrome?

In primary intestinal pseudo-obstruction, the small or large intestines lose their ability to contract and push food, stool, and air through the gastrointestinal tract.

The condition can occur suddenly (acute) or over time (chronic). It may occur at any age, but is most common in children and the elderly. Because the cause is unknown, it is also called idiopathic intestinal pseudo-obstruction (idiopathic means occurring without reason).

Who is at highest risk?

  • Having cerebral palsy or other nervous system (neurologic) disorders
  • Staying in bed for long periods of time (bedridden)
  • Taking narcotic (pain) medications


  • Signs include:
    • Nutritional deficiency
  • Tests include:
    • Abdominal manometry
    • Abdominal x-ray
    • Barium swallow, barium small bowel follow-through, or barium enema
    • Colonoscopy
    • Esophageal manometry
    • Gastric emptying radionuclide scan
    • Intestinal radionuclide scan

When to seek urgent medical care?

Call your health care provider if you have persistent abdominal pain or other symptoms of this disorder.

Treatment options

  • Colonoscopy may be used to remove air from the large intestine.
  • Fluids given through a vein (intravenous fluids) will replace fluids lost from vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Neostigmine may be used to treat intestinal pseudo-obstruction that is only in the large bowel (Ogilvie's syndrome)
  • Nasogastric suction -- a nasogastric (NG) tube is placed through the nose into the stomach to remove air from (decompress) the bowel.
  • Special diets usually do not work, although vitamin B12 and other vitamin supplements should be used for patients with vitamin deficiency.
  • In severe cases, surgery may be needed.

Where to find medical care for Ogilvie syndrome?

Directions to Hospitals Treating Ogilvie syndrome

What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Most cases of acute pseudo-obstruction get better in a few days with treatment. In chronic forms of the disease, symptoms can return and worsen for many years.

Possible Complications

  • Diarrhea
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Weight loss


Batke M, Cappell MS. Adynamic ileus and acute colonic pseudo-obstruction. Med Clin North Am. 2008;92:649-670.

Camilleri M. Disorders of gastrointestinal motility. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 138.