Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention

Definition

Fecal impaction is when stool cannot exit the body.

The Digestive Pathway

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Causes

Stool may not be able to exit the body if it is too large, hard and dry, and/or the intestinal muscles are too weak.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chances of fecal impaction:

  • Long-term constipation
  • Withholding bowel movements—a common cause in children
  • The use of certain medications such as pain medication or medications used to treat diarrhea
  • Long-term use of laxatives, especially if they are stopped too quickly
  • Inactivity
  • A diet that is low in fiber
  • Medical conditions that make bowel movements difficult

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • Having to push harder or inability to have a bowel movement
  • Having fewer bowel movements than usual that may consist of small amounts of hard, dry stool
  • Pain in the back and/or abdomen
  • Leaking stool or sudden episodes of watery diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Urinating more or less often
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Lightheadedness
  • Confusion

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. A digital rectal exam may also be done.

Your bodily fluids may be checked. This can be done with blood tests.

Your bodily structures may need to be viewed to determine the severity of the impaction. This can be done with:

An anorectal manometry may also be done to test anal sphincter tone

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:

Your doctor may initially advise medications to help you pass the stool. These may include:

  • Stool softeners
  • Glycerine suppositories
  • Laxatives

Your doctor may advise long-term use of laxatives while your bowel function slowly returns to normal

The impacted stool may be removed through:

  • Manual removal by a healthcare provider
  • An enema
  • Surgery—rarely

Prevention

To help return your bowel function to normal and prevent future fecal impaction problems:

  • Eat plenty of fiber-rich foods.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Take stool softeners as advised by your doctor.
  • Try to train your bowels by trying to have a bowel movement at the same time each day.
  • Go to the bathroom as soon as you have the urge.
  • Keep track of your bowel movements so you know if you are becoming constipated.