Bowel or abdominal sounds are the noises made inside the large and small intestines mostly during digestion. This noise is similar to the sound water makes when moving through the pipe. Because of the fact that intestines are hollow, bowel sounds may echo in the abdomen. Bowel sounds are normal and frequent but it becomes a matter of concern if bowel sounds are loud or there is no abdominal noise at all.
Ileus is a term given to the condition when there is reduced intestinal activity. A number of medical conditions may lead of ileus. It is necessary to determine it in the initial phase because fluids, gas etc may rupture the bowel wall. The noise is so less that doctor may not be able to hear bowel sound.
Hypoactive or reduced bowel sounds is the reduction in tone, frequency and loudness of the bowel sounds. This is an indication that intestinal activity has slowed down. These sounds are most common during sleep and occur for short duration. Usually they occur after taking certain medications or if the person has undergone abdominal surgery. However absent or very less bowel sound indicate constipation.
Causes of bowel sounds
Hypoactive bowel sounds are generally related to digestion – when food is being processed in the intestines. The process of digestion typically occurs few hours after eating and continues even when the person is sleeping. Bowel sounds occur after eating and may also occur due to hunger. When a person is hungry, a hormone-like-substance in the brain increases the urge to eat which then send signals to intestines and stomach. This causes muscle to contract and produce growl like sound.
Abdominal or bowel sounds are of two types: hypoactive and hyperactive. Hypoactive or reduced bowel sounds occur when intestinal activity slows down. On the other hand hyperactive bowel sounds are loud noises; loud enough to be heard by people around. Occasional hypoactive and hyperactive bowel movements are normal but it becomes a medical case if these abdominal sounds are frequent.
Increased or reduced bowel sounds may also be caused because of certain underlying conditions such as:
- Blood clots
- Reduced blood potassium
- Hernia and
If abdominal sounds are not present at all then it may be an indication of certain medical conditions including codeine, radiation exposure, abdominal surgery and damaged intestines.
Hyperactive, hypoactive or no bowel movement can also be because of the following serious conditions:
- Blocked blood vessels prevent intestines from getting proper blood flow which in turn produces sounds.
- Conditions like tumour, hernia and adhesion may cause mechanical bowel obstruction which causes blockage in intestines.
- Paralytic ileus i.e. problem in the nerves of intestine or reduced nerve activity is caused due to bowel blockage, infection, chemical imbalance, blood vessel blockage, over expanded bowel and trauma. This may also cause hypoactive bowel movement.
Other causes of Hypoactive bowel sounds
- Intake of drugs which slow down the movement in intestine like phenothiazines, anticholinergics and opiates.
- Radiation to abdomen
- Spinal anaesthesia
- General anaesthesia
Tests for abdominal sounds
Abdominal sounds are caused by digestion but it may also be accompanied by other conditions like excess gas, vomiting, nausea, constipation, bloody stools, diarrhoea, weight loss, heart burn and feeling of fullness. In order to diagnose the underlying cause of sounds, the doctor will perform some tests.
The doctor will first know the medical history and will question about the frequency of sounds. Doctor’s stethoscope will help your doctor to listen to the bowel sounds. Following tests may also be performed:
- Computed tomography i.e. CT scan which help gets the X-ray images of abdominal area.
- Endoscopy that takes pictures of abdomen with the help of a camera attached to tube.
- Blood testing to determine any other infection or organ damage.
Treatment for hypoactive bowel sounds depends upon the cause of symptoms. The person should be immediately taken to the hospital if emergencies such as bleeding, bowel damage or obstruction occur.
In case of emergency, the doctor will place a tube through your mouth or nose into the stomach or intestine. During this time the patient will not be allowed to eat or drink anything so that the intestine remains empty. Intravenous fluid will be given in the meantime.
Most of the sounds produced in the stomach or intestine are due to digestion and do not require concern. Bowel sounds are harmless and do not need treatment. If anytime you feel your intestinal activity has become abnormal or your bowel sounds are slowed, loud or too frequent then you should seek medical help. Also if you experience symptoms like nausea, prolonged diarrhoea, vomiting, constipation, bleeding from rectum or any other abnormal symptoms that may be a cause of bowel sound then call your medical care provider immediately.