Colonic pseudo-obstruction (also known as Ogilvie syndrome) is a potentially fatal condition leading to an acute colonic distention without an underlying mechanical obstruction. It is defined as an acute pseudo-obstruction and dilatation of the colon in the absence of any mechanical obstruction.
Numerous causes have been identified, and the demographics of affected patients generally reflect these, with elderly unwell patients being most frequently affected 4. Usually seen in people over 60 years of age and there is male predilection 5.
Patients usually present with constipation, nausea, vomiting and abdominal distension. Pseudo-obstruction can present with a sudden painless enlargement of the proximal colon accompanied by distension. Bowel sounds are normal or high-pitched, but should not be absent.
Despite the absence of mechanical obstruction, patients can nonetheless go on to bowel necrosis and perforation (especially if dilatation is severe) which in turn can go on to become generalized peritonitis 3.
Pseudo-obstruction is related to decreased parasympathetic activity.
Risk factors include:
- recent surgery
- respiratory failure
- electrolyte disturbances
- diabetes mellitus
Findings can be identical to a mechanical large bowel obstruction 1.
A single contrast / water-soluble enema demonstrates the absence of any mechanical obstruction.
The hallmark of colonic pseudo-obstruction is the presence of dilatation of the large bowel (often marked) without evidence of an abrupt transition point or mechanically obstructing lesion.
It is important to note, however, that a gradual transition point is frequently present, usually at or near the splenic flexure 3.
Treatment and prognosis
Treatment involves correction of the underlying disorder and correction of any biochemical abnormalities. Medical treatment options include anticholinesterases like neostigmine and antibiotics like erythromycin.
Decompression with a rectal tube (endoscopic decompression) or careful colonoscopy may be effective. In severe cases, surgical or fluoroscopy-assisted caecostomy is necessary.
Caecal perforation: decompression is usually undertaken if the calibre is more than 9-12 cm.
History and etymology
It was initially described by H Ogilvie in 1948 1.
General imaging differential considerations include:
- no transition point
- often history has a cause for the ileus, e.g. surgery
- small bowel is also often dilated
mechanical large bowel obstruction
- abrupt transition point often with an identifiable obstructing lesion
toxic megacolon secondary to Clostridium difficile colitis
- C. difficile infection is usually preceded by antibiotic use or chemotherapy and is therefore usually encountered in unwell, hospitalized patients with significant co-morbidity
- bowel wall thickening usually a prominent feature
- usually bowel wall is thickened, but can be thinned and dilated
- absent/poor wall enhancement
- usually involves vascular territories
sigmoid volvulus and caecal volvulus
- transition point evident
- whirlpool sign of the twisted mesentery
- 1. Lang EV, Carson L, Gossler A. Gas lock obstruction of the colon: Ogilvie's syndrome revisited. AJR Am J Roentgenol. 1998;171 (4): 1014-6. AJR Am J Roentgenol (citation) - Pubmed citation
- 2. Krajewski K, Siewert B, Eisenberg RL. Colonic dilation. AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2009;193 (5): W363-72. doi:10.2214/AJR.09.3353 - Pubmed citation
- 3. Choi JS, Lim JS, Kim H et-al. Colonic pseudoobstruction: CT findings. AJR Am J Roentgenol. 2008;190 (6): 1521-6. doi:10.2214/AJR.07.3159 - Pubmed citation
- 4. Maloney N, Vargas HD. Acute intestinal pseudo-obstruction (Ogilvie's syndrome). Clin Colon Rectal Surg. 2005;18 (02): 96-101. doi:10.1055/s-2005-870890 - Free text at pubmed - Pubmed citation
- 5. Vanek VW, Al-Salti M. Acute pseudo-obstruction of the colon (Ogilvie's syndrome). An analysis of 400 cases. Dis. Colon Rectum. 1986;29 (3): 203-10. Pubmed citation