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The lethal twist – a story of unspoken pain: small intestinal volvulus in cerebral palsy

Kritika Krishnamurthy; Siba El Hussein; Yumna Omarzai

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Small intestinal volvulus (SBV) is the abnormal twisting of bowel around the axis of its mesentery, leading to obstruction and vascular compromise, resulting in bowel ischemia and necrosis which are life-threatening. Risk factors include malformation, malrotation, and adhesions. Its rare incidence and vague clinical presentation make it a difficult diagnosis, more so in a nonverbal patient who cannot express his pain, which is the first and most prominent symptom. Studies suggest an increased frequency of intestinal obstruction in cerebral palsy patients. There are no reported cases of small intestinal volvulus in association with cerebral palsy.

We present a case of a 21-year-old man with severe cerebral palsy and kyphoscoliosis. The patient presented to the emergency room with respiratory distress and abdominal distension. An acute abdomen was noted. Abdominal X-rays revealed gas patterns suggestive of small intestinal obstruction. The patient rapidly deteriorated, and resuscitation attempts were unsuccessful.

Autopsy revealed peritoneal cavity filled with extensively dilated and thin-walled loops of small intestine. Twisting of the small intestine, showing 360° rotation around the mesenteric root in a clockwise manner at two separate sites, was noted. On bowel dissection, mucosal folds were absent, and mucosa was green with patchy areas of hemorrhage consistent with ischemic necrosis. There was no evidence of any malformation, malrotation or adhesions.

Small intestinal volvulus is a rare entity with a nonspecific clinical presentation that poses a diagnostic challenge. This autopsy highlights the need to maintain a high index of suspicion for small intestinal volvulus in cases of bowel obstruction in cerebral palsy patients to expedite surgery and prevent mortality. The primary caregivers of non-verbal cerebral palsy patients living outside of healthcare facilities need to be trained in recognition of life-threatening medical emergencies such as gastrointestinal obstruction and seek emergent attention at the earliest to prevent treatment delays.


- Intestine, Small, Intestinal Volvulus, Cerebral Palsy, Kyphoscoliosis


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