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


Key points to remember about intussusception

Signs of intussusception include tummy pain, vomiting and possibly blood in your child's poo.

  • intussusception is a rare condition where one part of the bowel slides inside the next (like a telescope) and causes a blockage
  • it is the most common cause of bowel blockage in young children
  • 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 small increase in the risk of intussusception 

What is intussusception?

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

Image showing how intussusception affects the bowel

How common is intussusception?

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

What causes intussusception?

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 intussusception?

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

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

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

Intussusception is most common in children under 2 years of age but can happen in older children.

What are the signs and symptoms of intussusception?

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 may 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 for intussusception?

If you're worried your baby might have intussusception, seek urgent medical 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 straightaway, 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 rotavirus immunisation, tell your doctor.

What is the treatment for intussusception?

Intussusception is treated in hospital. A radiologist (specialist 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 in 100 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 of intussusception?

Most babies recover completely with no further problems. But, intussusception can happen again in up to 1 in 10 cases.


BPAC NZ. 2014. Changes to the National Immunisation Schedule: rotavirus vaccine now added. [Accessed 22/09/2020]

Ministry of Health. Rotavirus. [Accessed 22/09/2020]

Medsafe. NZ. Information for consumers. Information on rotavirus vaccination (Rotarix) [Accessed 22/09/2020]

HealthEd. 2017. Immunise against rotavirus - protect your child. [Accessed 22/09/2020]

IMAC. 2020. Rotavirus factsheet [Accessed 21/10/2020]


Intussusception image (cropped) is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Image created by BruceBlaus.

This page last reviewed 07 March 2022.

Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 any time of the day or night for free health advice when you need it