My grandmother died in 1910 of bowel paralysis at the age of 56. I googled but didn't find an exact answer. I don't have her death cert. Any thoughts as to what we would call that disease today?
The modern term is paralytic ileus. According to this Medline Plus article on Intestinal obstruction:
Paralytic ileus, also called pseudo-obstruction, is one of the major causes of intestinal obstruction in infants and children. Causes of paralytic ileus may include:
- Bacteria or viruses that cause intestinal infections (gastroenteritis)
- Chemical, electrolyte, or mineral imbalances (such as decreased potassium level)
- Abdominal surgery
- Decreased blood supply to the intestines
- Infections inside the abdomen, such as appendicitis
- Kidney or lung disease
- Use of certain medicines, especially narcotics
I found this article by performing this search on Google "what is "bowel paralysis" "cause of death". The search result which gave me the modern term was the preview snippet from Google Books for Linda Lane Lilley, Shelly Rainforth Collins and, Julie S. Snyder (2015), Pharmacology and the Nursing Process.
For older time periods, the following resources can also help:
I worked as an RN for nearly 40 years and in the 1970's and even much later, "Paralytic Ileus" or just "Ileus" was a fairly common known complication after surgery (particularly abdominal surgery of some kind) and one we were taught to look for. That's one of the reason we were also taught to get patients out of bed and make them walk the halls of the hospital after surgery. We wanted to get them moving and increase their mobility in all possible ways. Without getting very technical, simply put, it was a big problem if you couldn't "go to the bathroom". There were other reasons this happened as sited in previous answers, but this was by far the most common. I hope this makes sense and helps some.