Fecal Impaction

What is Fecal Impaction

Fecal impaction is a large, firm amount of stool (feces) that will not pass out of the body.

A fecal impaction usually occurs in the end of the large intestine (rectum). It can block the large intestine and cause significant problems.

What are the causes?

This condition may be caused by anything that slows down bowel movements, including:

  • Long-term use of medicines that help you have a bowel movement (laxatives).
  • Constipation.
  • Pain in the rectum. Fecal impaction can occur if you avoid having bowel movements due to the pain. Pain in the rectum can result from a medical condition, such as hemorrhoids or anal fissures.
  • Narcotic pain-relieving medicines, such as methadone, morphine, or codeine.
  • Not drinking enough fluids.
  • Being inactive for a long period of time.
  • Diseases of the brain or nervous system that damage nerves that control the muscles of the intestines.

What are the signs or symptoms?

Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Breathing problems.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and dehydration.
  • Dizziness.
  • Confusion.
  • Rapid heartbeat.
  • Fever.
  • Sweating.
  • Changes in blood pressure.
  • Not having a normal number of bowel movements.
  • Changes in bowel patterns. This may include going to the bathroom less often or not at all.
  • A sense of fullness in the rectum but being unable to pass stool.
  • Pain or cramps in the abdominal area. These often happen after meals.
  • Thin, watery discharge from the rectum.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition may be diagnosed based on your symptoms and an exam of your rectum. Sometimes X-rays or lab tests are done to confirm the diagnosis and to check for other problems.

How is this treated?

This condition may be treated by:

  • Having your health care provider remove the stool using a gloved finger.
  • Taking medicine.
  • A suppository or enema given in the rectum to soften the stool, which can stimulate a bowel movement.

Follow these instructions at home:

Eating and drinking

  • Drink enough fluid to keep your urine clear or pale yellow.
  • Include a lot of fiber in your diet. Foods with a lot of fiber include fruits, vegetables, and oatmeal.

If you begin to get constipated, increase the amount of fiber in your diet.

General instructions

  • Develop bowel habits. An example of a bowel habit is having a bowel movement right after breakfast every day. Be sure to give yourself enough time on the toilet. This may require using enemas, bowel softeners, or suppositories at home, as directed by your health care provider. It may also include using mineral oil or olive oil.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.

Contact a health care provider if:

  • You have ongoing pain in your rectum.
  • You need to use an enema or a suppository more than 2 times a week.
  • You have rectal bleeding.
  • You continue to have problems. The problems may include not being able to go to the bathroom and long-term (chronic) constipation.
  • You have pain in your abdomen.
  • You have thin, pencil-like stools.

Get help right away if:

  • You have black or tarry stools.
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