Fecal impaction is when waste becomes stuck in the colon, and it can be very uncomfortable. It means that your feces become hard, dry, and simply will not move, making it impossible to exit from your body. This impaction then blocks the exit for new waste that should be leaving your body as well.
Under normal digestion, we eat different foods that break down and pass through our intestines. Our bodies absorb the nutrients we need, and what remains is waste that passes to our colon and through our rectum. When this process doesn’t happen smoothly, a wide range of uncomfortable symptoms can occur.
Fecal impaction symptoms
An impacted bowel is something that can occur on an occasional basis, or it can be a common occurrence for some individuals. The following fecal impaction symptoms reflect what some people go through:
- Abdominal discomfort
- Abdominal bloating
- Abdominal pain
- Leakage of liquid stool
- Feeling like you need to push
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss due to lack of appetite
- Lower back pain
- Rectal bleeding
In severe cases, people can experience a rapid heart rate, dehydration, a fever, and incontinence. Hyperventilating has also been associated with an impacted bowel.
Fecal impaction: Causes, risk factors, and complications
When someone suffers from fecal impaction, it is most likely associated with constipation. In other words, finding out what is causing constipation can help resolve the problem. Constipation is often due to not consuming enough fiber, or is the result of dehydration. Below is a list of other triggers for constipation:
- Side effects of medication
- Insufficient nutrient intake
- Diabetes or thyroid disease
- Intestinal tract obstruction
- Digestive disorder
- Complications following surgery
- Spinal cord injury
- Mental stress
You are at risk of fecal impaction if you lack fiber or liquids in your diet, if you ignore the urge to have a bowel movement, are not very active, or are over the age of 80. Fecal impaction is also a risk if you are taking certain medications, such as those prescribed for people who suffer from Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s. Iron supplements, antidepressants, and narcotic pain medicine such as codeine can also cause bowel impaction.
While fecal impaction might not sound all that serious, the reality is that complications can arise. They include tearing of the colon wall, hemorrhoids, anal bleeding, and anal tears.
Diagnosing fecal impaction of the colon
If you experience constipation and it just doesn’t seem to be getting any better, you should see a doctor. They will perform a physical exam, which includes checking your abdomen for masses or hard spots. A digital rectal exam may also be conducted to determine if there is fecal impaction. While this test may be a little uncomfortable, it is not painful.
When impaction is suspected, a doctor may order an x-ray of the abdomen or an abdominal ultrasound. A viewing of the colon using a tiny microscope called a sigmoidoscope is also possible. Alternatively, a barium enema can be used to highlight problem areas. This involves inserting a dye into the rectum and then taking an x-ray of the colon and rectum.
Fecal impaction removal methods
For some people, fecal impaction removal is relatively simple, while for others, it takes a little more work. Here is a rundown of the different removal methods available:
- Laxatives: Oftentimes, the first method of treatment are oral laxatives. Sometimes a medicated suppository is placed inside the rectum to help stool pass. Osmotic laxatives, such as magnesium citrate, can also be very helpful.
- Manual removal: The doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum and removes the blockage. This method is often used in conjunction with laxatives.
- Water irrigation: This involves pushing a small hose up through the rectum and into the colon. The hose is connected to a machine that emits water through the tube. The abdomen is massaged, helping to move the waste out of the rectum and through another tube.
- Enema: This is a small, fluid-filled bottle with a nozzle attached. The nozzle is designed to fit into the rectum. When you squeeze the bottle, a warm mineral oil releases into the rectum and colon to moisten the feces, making it easier to move.
- Surgery: This is the last resort and a less common way of fixing impacted bowel removal.
How to remove impacted stool at home
No one likes the idea of running off to the doctors as soon as they are constipated. A lot of people want to know how to remove impacted stool at home. While occasional constipation is one thing, fecal impaction is another, and it can be unsafe to take matters into your own hands. Removal of a fecal impaction should be done under the supervision of a qualified healthcare professional.
When it comes to an impacted stool home remedy, you should really be thinking about prevention. For instance, if you feel you are starting to get constipated, then you can try an over-the-counter stool softener before going to bed at night. Exercise, drinking lots of fluids, consuming a proper amount of natural fiber in foods, and trying probiotics to aid digestion are also good ideas. It is also important to avoid delaying going to the bathroom when you feel the urge.
Bowel impaction home treatment is really all about how you live your life day-to-day. Research shows that those who consume foods that are high in sugar experience more constipation, while people who eat foods high in fiber, such as pears, oats and vegetables, tend to have good digestion and a healthy bowel. The exercise component of life is very important because it keeps the digestive system running.
When to call a professional
For many people who have a fecal impaction, extra fluids or a laxative is all that it takes to bring about relief, but not everyone is that fortunate. There are situations that require medical intervention. If you experience fecal incontinence, abdominal pain, blood in your stool, or very thin, pencil-like stools, you should see a doctor as soon as possible.
While many people are too embarrassed to discuss bowel issues with their doctors, the truth is, fecal impaction is not uncommon—it is something healthcare professionals deal with all the time. The consequences of not addressing bowel impaction are much worse than any uneasiness you might experience when bringing the subject. Some studies show that over 40 percent of older adults suffer from fecal impaction at some point, but it can happen at any age. When it does strike, it can affect quality of life, so it’s important to address the symptoms promptly.
Related: What your poop (color, smell, and shape) is telling you about your health