Intestinal Injuries

Injuries to the intestine can happen after car crashes, falls, bicycle crashes or violence. The intestinal injury may also be caused by a gunshot wound or knife wound that punctures the intestine.

These types of injuries are known as penetrating injuries.

The intestine is what digests your food. It starts at the opening of the stomach and ends at the anus or rectum. The intestine is a long, slender, coiled tube. The first part is called the small intestine and the last part is the large intestine.

The small intestine is further divided into the duodenum, jejunum and ileum. The large intestine is divided up into the ascending colon, transverse colon, descending colon, sigmoid colon and rectum. Together, the small intestine (20 feet) and large intestine (5 feet) are about 25 feet long.

The intestine has three functions:

  • To digest food that is eaten
  • To absorb water, electrolytes and nutrients
  • To help get rid of wastes from the body

When the intestine is injured, the child may develop stomach pain and a tight belly. If what's inside the intestine leaks out, it can cause a serious and possibly life-threatening infection. Some intestinal injuries do not present themselves right away but may develop after many hours or even days.

If intestinal injury is suspected, the trauma team will thoroughly and carefully examine your child. X-rays, CAT scan (a picture that can show more detail than an X-ray) and blood tests usually are done to find out what kind of injury your child has.

A child with a crushed or torn intestines will need emergency surgery to fix the tear. Once your child is asleep, the skin incision will be closed with staples or stitches after surgery. For a few days after the operation, as things begin to heal, your child's intestine must rest so he / she will not be allowed to eat.

He / she will have an IV (a small tube in their vein) to get liquids. He / she may also have a nasogastric tube (a tube through the nose into the stomach) after surgery to keep the stomach empty and help the injury. Antibiotics and pain medication may be given to your child to ward off infection or pain and speed recovery.

As your child gets better, the doctors and nurses will check for bowel sounds or the passing of gas. Once this has happened, your child may start to drink clear liquids and over time start to eat regular foods. It is important to know that healing time is not the same for each child and it can be a few days before your child can eat regular food.

If the intestine was only bruised, your child will probably not need surgery, but he / she may need to stay in the hospital a few days to be watched and make sure the bruises heal.

The number of days in the hospital will depend on how badly your child was hurt and how long he or she will need to heal.

Call your doctor if your child has stomach pain, fever, nausea, vomiting, or difficulty with bowel movements.

Speak to your healthcare provider about medications your child has previously taken. Your child may experience pain or soreness while recovering at home. Give acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain. Your child's doctor may give you a prescription for stronger pain medication. Always carefully follow the directions on the bottle. Do not give your child ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, Aleve) until the doctor says that it is OK.

Your child may shower or take a tub bath, but may need help for several days after going home. Check with your doctor about taking baths if your child has had surgery. If your child has cuts or scrapes on the skin from other injuries, wash the areas with warm, soapy water and pat dry. If your child has stitches, follow the specific instructions on caring for them.

After the injury, your child may be tired and irritable. It takes time to heal physically and mentally. Use this time for rest and quiet activities. Tell your child that he / she will feel better soon.

Have your child play board games, read, or do small craft projects for short periods of time. It is harder to get infants and toddlers to rest and do quiet activities.

Try putting your infant or toddler in a large crib or playpen. Ask family and friends to visit, but only for a short time because your child needs their rest.

It is very important to teach your child how to play and live safely. Your child watches you, so you should also model proper safety precautions. Your child should learn to wear a helmet when riding a bike, in-line skating or skate boarding.

You should also teach your child to always wear a seatbelt when in a car. Remember that children 12 years and younger should always sit with correct safety restraints in the back seat when the car has a passenger side airbag.

All children with intestinal injuries are seen in the trauma clinic / surgery clinic two weeks after they leave the hospital. Usually, no follow-up tests are needed.

Your child may not be allowed to go to gym class, recess, or play sports for a while after leaving the hospital. The amount of time will depend on how badly your child was hurt. The doctor or nurse will talk to you about this before your child leaves the hospital.

Usually, your child can go back to school within one to two weeks after the injury. However, if surgery was needed or there were other injuries, your child may be out of school longer. The trauma team will work with you to help your child get back to school.

Last Updated 12/2013