An impacted bowel or stool can cause discomfort. Discover the symptoms, medical treatments, home remedies, and whether surgery can really help. You will also learn whether or not laxatives will help you have a softer stool.
Meaning or definition
Every healthy person has bowel movement whose movement frequency may vary from one person to another. It is estimated that about 95% of healthy adults will have their bowels move three times a day to a little as three times a week. What of the cases when there are little or no bowel movements? Can this lead to impacted feces and/or constipation?
Impacted bowel, stool or fecal impaction refer to a condition when “a large lump of dry, hard stool gets stuck in the rectum. It is most often seen in people who are constipated for a long time” [ww.nlm.nih.gov]. These hard, stone-like feces is often known as fecolith or fecaloma and it cannot pass out of the bowels naturally.
Although constipation often leads to this condition, the two are not the same since constipation refers to difficulty in passing stool which is characterized it being dry and hard but not totally being unable to pass it.
Finally, an impacted colon is much similar to an impacted stool with the only difference later happening in the colon and not rectum i.e. feces in the colon “become dry and won’t budge, making it impossible to excrete them from your body”.
Feces or bowel impaction causes
There a number of reasons why you would end up with this condition. Some of the common causes include the following.
- The most common reason is chronic constipation (or constipation impaction) which is often painful and makes one fill full, bloated, and to have the urge to go to the bathroom to try to push it out.
- Sudden stoppage of laxative use by people who have been using them to deal with constipation problems can cause colon or bowel impaction. The intestines may have forgotten how to move stool on their own.
- Some medicines usage can slow down stool passage. For instance, people who often use diarrhea medication, narcotic pain (opioid pain reliever) medications such as suboxone, hydrocodone, oxycodone codeine, and methadone or use of anticholinergics, which affect bowel muscle and nerves interaction can lead to impacted constipation.
- Going on with causes, any disease or condition that often lead to constipation “such as irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases such as amyloidosis, celiac disease, lupus, and scleroderma can cause constipation. Hypothyroidism can cause chronic constipation because of sluggish, slower, or weaker colon contractions” [Wikipedia.org] can lead to an impacted bowel.
- Dehydration and inadequate nutrients intake
- Digestive complications, and obstruction of the intestinal tract
- Jet lag
- Continuously vomiting or having frequent diarrhea bouts
- Ignoring the urge to defecated
- During pregnancy, some women tend to have more constipation and thus more likelihood of having this problem. Note that pregnant women should opt for safer ways to get rid of the impacted bowel which will not harm the baby. The good news is, there are some laxatives that are safe during pregnancy since they don’t get absorbed during digestion.
Besides the above cases, other risk factors that can increase chances of impaction of the bowels include the following:
- You do not move much around and instead, you speed most of your time in bed or sited on a chair.
- You suffer from a nervous or brain disease that has damaged nerves that lead to the intestine muscles.
- Immobilized patients who are in a chair or bed have a higher likelihood of having fecal impaction due to lack of exercise.
With that long list of causes, we can now look at its symptoms which will be important in pointing out how one will feel when he or she has this problem.
Signs and symptoms
Irrespective of whether you have intestinal impaction especially on your colon or it happens in your rectum, there are some common symptoms you are bound to experience. So, what are some of the common signs of impacted bowel should one expect?
- Bloating, abdominal cramping and discomfort
- Some people may have “leakage of liquid or sudden episodes of watery diarrhea in someone who has chronic (long-term) constipation” [www.nlm.nih.gov].
- Strain while passing stool and consequently impacted bowel pain
- Small not well-formed feces
- Another common symptom pressure on the bladder with some losing control of their bladder thus urine will easily flow out or unable to urinate.
- Lightheadedness and rapid heartbeats due to the strain of trying to pass stool
- The other possible symptom of fecal impaction is rectal bleeding
- Pain in your lower back, abdomen and during defecation and a swollen abdomen
- Feeling the urge to push
- Nausea, dizziness, vomiting, headache and not having the urge to eat
- An unexplained loss in weight
- Fewer than the usual bowel movements
Besides the above, other additional according to healthline.com, include will include fever, dehydration and rapid breathing or hyperventilation. When you have them, you need to seek medical help.
Note that, whereas to some patients most of the impacted bowel symptoms may show, to others, they might not have them. Instead, they will have just the “they may have problems with circulation, the heart, or breathing” [emedicinehealth.com]. In case of these symptoms, ensure you see a doctor since if left untreated it can lead to death.
Testing and examination
We have seen some of the common signs of this condition. It is now time to look at some of the fecal impaction testings before we look at how to remove or treatments.
The moment you have the symptoms, and those that closely related to chronic constipation, go to a healthcare provider. The health care provider will examine your stomach, and rectum to reveal if you have any immobile hard mass of stool. Normally, the diagnosis will involve feeling your abdomen for any masses or hardened areas.
Afterward, “your doctor will administer a digital rectal exam (DRE) to check for fecal impaction” [healthline.com]. If the doctor suspects an impaction but not certain, he/she may recommend an abdomen X-ray.
Other ways to diagnose impacted intestines or bowels include abdominal ultrasound, use of a sigmoidoscope (a small microscope to see the colon and bowels) or doing barium enema. Barium enema involved putting some dye in your rectum and having an X-ray of colon and rectum.
Treatments and fecal impaction removal
Once it has been determined you have this problem, the first step towards treatment is the actual impacted stool removal. Afterward, measures can be taken to ensure it does not happen again. So how will you remove it or how is fecal disimpaction done?
In general, impacted stool treatment mainly involves various techniques to actually the removal of the stool from your bowels (rectum and colon). Common techniques employed include the following:
1. Enema for an impacted colon
Usually, “warm mineral oil enema is used to soften and lubricate the stool” [nlm.nih.gov] in cases where the impaction is not hard and very large. This technique involves inserting an enema (fluid-filled small bottle that has a nozzle) nozzle and squeezing the bottle to release the fluid into the rectum and colon. This will help in loosening your feces.
2. Manual evacuation – digital feces removal
In cases where one has hardened and large impaction, manual bowel impaction removal is often employed where the masses are broken down using a gloved finger. It is often recommended patients who suffer from serious neurological problems including spinal injuries. However, digital removal of feces might be applied during evacuation if it is serious.
To do the procedure, a health provider will insert one or two fingers into your rectum and slowly break the masses down into smaller pieces which can then come out. Care must be taken to avoid rectum injury i.e. it should be with small steps.
During the process, it is possible for treatments laxative suppositories to be inserted into the rectum to help in clearing feces i.e. in the removal of the impacted fecal matter.
3. Removal by surgery
This is a less common way of removal unless you have a megacolon or excessively widened colon or the bowels are totally blocked. In such cases, fecal impaction emergency surgery may be recommended.
4. Try Laxatives for impacted stool relief
Oral laxatives are often used as a treatment for an impacted bowel. They work by stimulating colon clearing. Sometimes a medicated suppository may also be inserted through the patient’s anus. There are many laxatives. One worthwhile trying is the osmotic laxatives, where products such as magnesium citrate which is good for impacted stool and works well is used. Depending on impaction, laxatives alone ensure disimpaction of stool.
6. Water irrigation
Another possible fecal impaction treatment is water irrigation where a machine is used to push water into your rectum and after a doctor massages your abdomen, another one will be used to suck the waste out.
Besides this, try various treatments for constipation such as movicol, Amitiza, Linzess, cephula, Miralax, among others. This will ensure you reduce the likelihood of having this condition.
Also, note that colonoscopy might be recommended for patients who have bowel movement changes to confirm it is not cancer.
Treatment at home
I know you are interested in learning how to remove impacted stool at home or some of the home remedies for this problem. To be clear, we do not advocate for any attempt to remove and impacted stool at home. This should be done under the supervision of a healthcare professional to reduce the chances of tears and injury.
Most of the so-called stool impaction remedies are more or fewer approaches which will help prevent it from happening. In general, while at home, try over the counter stool softeners before going to bed and stop using them once the problem is resolved. Always exercise, and try natural fiber laxatives such as Metamucil,
Furthermore try probiotics to aid digestion, drink lots of water, take healthy diets full of fibers, and try water enemas if you know how they work. A good colon cleanses with cascara sagrada capsules or any other herbal cleanse with this cascara sagrada is also worthwhile trying.
Finally, avoid delaying going to the bathroom, to ensure your body has a regular and healthy bowel movement.
In toddlers, newborns, and children
Impacted stool in newborns, children, and toddlers is a problem that many parents may fail to notice. You will often notice leaking stool, pain (baby crying), inability to pass feces, having a pea-sized dry stool or uncontrolled watery diarrhea.
It is approximated that 30% -70% of children with long-standing chronic constipation problems tend to suffer from this bowel problem. This is according to The American Academy of Pediatrics publication in 2009, referenced at the end of the post.
In treatment for fecal impaction for children, toddlers, and newborns, the above mentioned American Academy of Pediatrics publication revealed that enemas and the use of laxatives as the two best methods in dealing with the menace.
Furthermore, avoid cow’s milk for children under the age of a year, ensure solid food has enough fibers if the child is already on solid food and avoid toilet training since it may affect a child’s bowel movements.
In elderly people
Elderly people often suffer from impacted stool due to less mobility since overall body movement stimulates bowel movements. Symptoms in elderly men and women are much or less similar to what we have already covered.
Impacted bowels in adults
Besides the elderly and children, even adults can be affected by this problem. The causes are nothing other than what we have discussed. Furthermore, the symptoms in an adult are mostly the ones we have already mentioned. Note that one may not have all the symptoms but just some of them. There are no unique symptoms of impacted bowels in adults that the elderly may not experience.
Prevention after bowel impaction treatment
After impacted feces removal, your health care provider such as a trained therapist or nurse should look at your diet history, laxative use, medical issues, and bowel movement pattern.
This will help him/her to advise you on how you can use stool softeners, laxatives, specific exercises and techniques to retain your bowel movements. Also, you might be required to undergo lifestyle changes to avoid such a problem again once bowel impaction removal has been performed successfully.
In addition, try the following to reduce on chances of having bowel impaction happening again:
- Drink lots of water to reduce the chances of constipation and dehydration
- Go for foods with high fiber such as whole wheat, oats, vegetables, and pears.
- Reduce foods that have high sugar content
Some of the complications associated with intestinal impaction especially colon and rectum impaction include rectal tissue tear, anal tears, hemorrhoids, injury, and death (necrosis).
Furthermore, prolonged cases in colons can lead to megacolon which might need surgery. If ignored, the “impaction will damage the mucus lining, affect colonic motility and impair blood flow to the bowel” [healthhype.com].
When to see a doctor
Inasmuch as it may sound not death threatening, ignoring impacted colon symptoms can actually cause death. In case you “have chronic diarrhea or fecal incontinence after a long period of constipation” [www.nlm.nih.gov], blood in stool pain on your abdomen and bloating and pencil-like thin feces, see your doctor.
Also, do not use laxatives and call your healthcare provider if you have sudden constipation accompanied by some cramping in your abdomen, and you are not able to pass stool or gas.
We have seen a number of symptoms of an impacted bowel to look at for. We have also looked at the causes, removal, and prevention, home remedies, and much more. It must be clear on how to loosen, clear, unlock, and move bowel impaction or hard stool stuck in your rectum or colon. We hope this post was helpful.