Intussusception is a condition that occurs when a part of the intestine folds into another section of intestines, resulting in obstruction.
This is commonly referred to as telescoping, because it’s similar to how one part of a collapsible telescope retracts into another part.
Intussusception is the most common cause of intestinal obstruction in infants and young children, with about two-thirds of them happening among infants under one year of age, though adults can occasionally have intussusception too.
Now, intussusception usually happens in the ileocecal region of the intestines, which is where the ileum of the small intestine and cecum of the large intestine meet, and almost all intussusceptions happen when the ileum folds, or telescopes, into the cecum.
In adults, telescoping is usually caused by an abnormal growth in the intestine, like a polyp or a tumor, which serves as a lead point or leading edge.
What happens is that the normal wave-like contractions of the intestine, called peristalsis, grab this leading edge and pull it into the part of the bowel ahead of it.
In babies the leading edge is most often caused by lymphoid hyperplasia, or the enlargement of lymphoid tissue.
There are a ton of tiny lymph nodes sprinkled throughout the intestines called Peyer’s patches, and they’re particularly common in the ileum.
When a child gets some sort of viral infection in the gastrointestinal tract, usually caused by rotavirus or norovirus, the Peyer’s patches enlarge to help fight off the infection, and sometimes become a lead point that drags the ileum into the cecum, causing intussusception.
Intussusception can also be caused by a Meckel’s diverticulum, which is an abnormal outpouching of gastrointestinal tissue, that sticks out of the ileum and into the peritoneal cavity.