Intussusception is a rare condition where one part of the bowel slides into the next (like a telescope) and causes a blockage.

Key points to remember

  • intussusception is a rare condition where one part of the bowel slides into the next (like a telescope) and causes a blockage
  • it is the most common cause of bowel blockage in children (most often in children under 2 years of age)
  • the signs of intussusception include tummy pain (your baby may cry and draw their knees up), vomiting and possibly blood in their poo
  • intussusception needs urgent treatment in hospital
  • rotavirus immunisation is linked with a possible small increase in the risk of intussusception 

What is it?

Intussusception is a rare condition where one part of the bowel slides into the next (like a telescope) and causes a blockage.

How common is it?

In New Zealand, there are about 65 cases of intussusception for every 100,000 children under 1 year old.

What causes it?

In most cases of intussusception, the cause is unknown. Some cases occur after an infection, like a tummy bug. 

What puts my child at risk of getting it?

While the cause of intussusception is unknown, there is a small additional risk of intussusception from receiving the rotavirus vaccination (given by mouth), most often in the first week after vaccination.

The possible increased risk is between 1 and 6 more infants in every 100,000 infants vaccinated. 

The overall benefits of vaccination far outweigh the very small risk of intussusception.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Signs of intussusception may include:

  • severe crying caused by tummy pain. The pain may be colicky and not continuous, but it comes back often. Your baby may draw their knees to their chest while crying
  • vomiting, which can become green (caused by bile in the vomit)
  • blood in the poo - the poo can often have the appearance of 'redcurrant jelly', which is a mix of mucus, cells and blood
  • pale skin colour
  • being unusually tired or floppy, and not interested in surroundings (lethargic)

When should I seek help?

If your baby has some of the symptoms above, and you're worried they might have intussusception, seek urgent medical help. If you can't see a doctor straight away, call an ambulance. Dial 111 within New Zealand (use the appropriate emergency number in other countries).

If your baby has some of the above symptoms and has recently had a rotavirus vaccination, tell the doctor.

What treatment is required?

Intussusception is treated in hospital. A radiologist (specialised doctor) can usually unfold the intussusception by using air or fluid to push the folded part of the bowel back into its normal position. In about 30 percent of cases an operation is necessary. After surgery your baby will need to stay in hospital for a few days to recover.

What are the complications?

Most infants recover completely with no further problems. However, intussusception can occur again in up to 10 percent of cases.

BPAC NZ. 2014. Changes to the National Immunisation Schedule: rotavirus vaccine now added. [Accessed 10/10/2017]

Ministry of Health. Rotavirus. [Accessed 10/10/2017]

Medsafe. NZ. Information for consumers. Information on rotavirus vaccination (Rotarix) [Accessed 10/10/2017]

HealthEd. 2017. Immunise against rotavirus - protect your child. [Accessed 10/10/2017]

IMAC. 2017. Rotavirus factsheet [Accessed 10/10/2017]

This page last reviewed 31 October 2015.
Email us your feedback

On this page