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Bowel Sounds

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Updated March 29, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Stethoscope

Bowel sounds can be heard with a stethoscope.

Photo © Sundeip Arora
Definition:

Bowel sounds are sounds made by moving food, fluid and gases in the intestines. They can sometimes be loud enough to be heard across the room, but are usually quiet enough to be heard only with a stethoscope.

Bowel sounds are completely normal. The absence of bowel sounds is abnormal and is usually a sign that the intestines are inactive or underactive - a condition that requires prompt medical care. If the intestines are not passing food through and waste material begins to build up, it can cause harm.

After abdominal surgery, bowel sounds commonly slow down or stop for a variable amount of time. Surgical patients usually are told not to eat until bowel sounds resume and they can pass gas (another sign of normal bowel function).

Other causes of intestinal inactivity, including some medicines, may result in a lack of bowel sounds.

Also Known As: Abdominal Sounds, Borborygmi
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