- Fecal Impaction
What is constipation and fecal impaction?
Talking about your bowels can be an awkward conversation to have. However, when it comes to diagnosing complications with your bowel movements, it’s important to address issues before they get worse. But how can you tell the difference between constipation and fecal impaction, and which one is worse?
While the two conditions are similar, they have some differences that can lead to severe complications.
What is constipation?
Constipation is described as having infrequent bowel movements, usually less than three a week. Occasional constipation is a normal occurrence, but chronic constipation can lead to further complications and signal underlying problems. Chronic constipation is recurring and can inhibit your day-to-day tasks.
Symptoms of constipation and fecal impaction
The symptoms of the two conditions are very similar. Keeping an eye out for the different symptoms is important for diagnosis and seeking further assistance.
Symptoms of constipation
If you are having less than three bowel movements each week, you may also need to check for the following additional symptoms:
- Your stools are dry, hard, or lumpy.
- You feel bloated or nauseated.
- You have frequent stomach aches or cramps.
- When you do have a bowel movement, you don’t feel completely emptied afterward.
- When you do have a bowel movement, you have to strain, and the stool is difficult to pass.
Symptoms of fecal impaction
The symptoms of fecal impaction are similar to constipation. Here are a few of the unique symptoms that differ:
Causes of constipation and fecal impaction
The causes of constipation and fecal impaction are similar since fecal impaction is a severe form of constipation.
Causes of constipation
When food passes through your digestive system, the colon absorbs water from it. However, if the colon’s muscle contractions are sluggish or slow, the colon absorbs too much water. This causes the stool to become dry and hard by the time it reaches the end of the digestive tract.
This slow process of moving dry stool through the digestive system causes constipation.
Constipation can be caused by:
- Reactions to certain medications
- Lack of exercise
- Lack of fiber in your diet
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Delaying your bowel movements
- Major lifestyle or habit changes
- Previous problems with the digestive system
- Excessive use of laxatives
Causes of fecal impaction
Because fecal impaction is an advanced form of constipation, the causes are similar. You are at risk of fecal impaction when you have constipation for a long time.
Additionally, if you are taking laxatives and suddenly stop, your digestive system may “forget” how to process stool on its own and put you at a higher risk for fecal impaction.
Latest Digestion News
Daily Health News
Diagnosis of constipation and fecal impaction
Diagnosing constipation or fecal impaction requires similar examinations:
- A physical exam to check your general health
- A digital rectal exam (DRE) to examine the rectum for any abnormalities
- X-rays of your abdomen to check for any abnormalities and isolate the blockage
Certain examinations can be performed to test for specific causes of constipation:
- Proctoscopy: an examination of the rectum using a proctoscope for viewing and removing tissue to be examined for disease.
- Colonoscopy: similar to a proctoscopy. The doctor will use a colonoscope to check for abnormalities, such as polyps or cancer.
- Fecal occult blood test (FOBT): tests for the microscopic presence of blood in your stool.
Diagnosing fecal impaction
Slightly more invasive tests may be performed to check for fecal impaction:
- Sigmoidoscopy: an examination of the rectum and lower colon to locate abnormalities or fecal impaction.
- Blood tests: these will isolate signs of disease, antibodies, tumor markers, or to check on treatment progress.
- Electrocardiogram (EKG): an EKG can help determine abnormal conditions related to the heart and electrolytes.
Treatments of constipation and fecal impaction
Preventing constipation and fecal impaction requires lifestyle and dietary changes. However, removing the initial blockage is the first step.
Because constipation is less severe than fecal impaction, taking the time to change your lifestyle and diet can provide relief. Good lifestyle habits to reduce constipation include:
- Eating a well-balanced diet with fiber-rich foods.
- Drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
- Exercising regularly to promote intestinal activity.
Be careful when taking laxatives as they can potentially worsen symptoms. Consult your doctor if you find that lifestyle changes are not helping and your current laxatives aren’t working.
Treating fecal impaction
The first step in treating a fecal impaction is to remove the blockage. This is typically done with an enema to soften and lubricate the stool. However, further steps may be required to manually remove the stool. Surgical procedures are rarely needed.
Once the fecal impaction is removed, your doctor will discuss what may have caused the blockage and recommend lifestyle and dietary changes. Keeping a record of your diet, activity, and bowel movements can help you and your doctor determine a regimen that works for you.
Subscribe to MedicineNet's General Health Newsletter
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Clinics in Colon and Rectal Surgery: "Fecal Impaction: A Cause for Concern?"
John Hopkins Medicine: "Constipation."
Mayo Clinic: "Constipation: Symptoms & causes."
Mount Sinai: "Fecal Impaction."
University of California San Francisco Health: "Constipation Treatments."
University of Florida Health: "Fecal Impaction: Overview."
University of Minnesota Health: "Patient Education: Gastrointestinal Complications."
Winchester Hospital: "Health Library: Fecal Impaction."
Top Difference Between Fecal Impaction Constipation Related Articles
Boost Digestive HealthUpset stomach? Some foods may be the culprits, and bad habits may be to blame. Treat your body right with these simple nutrition tips on how to deal with with diarrhea, gas, reflux, and more digestive ailments.
Can You Still Poop With Impacted Feces?Digestion is the process of breaking down food in the gut so that it is in easily absorbable forms. The food travels from the mouth to the food pipe, stomach, small bowel, and large bowel to be finally eliminated through the anus. The small bowel (small intestine) absorbs nutrients from the food.
ConstipationConstipation is defined medically as fewer than three stools per week and severe constipation as less than one stool per week. Constipation usually is caused by the slow movement of stool through the colon. There are many causes of constipation including medications, poor bowel habits, low-fiber diets, laxative abuse, and hormonal disorders, and diseases primarily of other parts of the body that also affect the colon.
Constipation Myths and FactsConstipation results in fewer bowel movements. Laxatives, home remedies, and diet changes may bring constipation relief. Change habits that constipate you and adopt lifestyle changes to benefit your intestines and bowel. Bloating and chronic constipation are treatable with the right interventions.
Constipation: Foods to Eat, Foods to Avoid QuizTake this quiz to find out what foods to eat, and what foods to avoid to prevent or relieve constipation.
Home Remedies for ConstipationConstipation is usually an easily treatable problem. A few changes in diet, lifestyle, and making use of certain over the counter products can help relieve it. Here are seven natural home remedies to relieve constipation.
How Can You Tell if Your Baby Is Constipated?Constipation is a common issue that affects many infants. Learn the signs of constipation in babies, what causes it, how doctors diagnose it, and what you can do to treat it.
Is Impacted Stool an Emergency?Impacted stool caused by chronic constipation can cause emergency complications, but treatment for mild cases is straightforward.
Laxatives for ConstipationLaxatives types for treatment of constipation include over-the-counter (OTC) preparations, for example, bulk-forming laxatives, stool softeners, lubricant laxatives, stimulant or saline laxatives, enemas, and suppositories. Some OTC laxatives are not recommended for people with specific diseases or conditions (for example, people with diabetes). Some laxatives may have negative side effects if taken over a long time. Laxatives are not recommended for weight loss.
What Are Some Home Remedies I Can Give My Child for Constipation?What are some home remedies for children with constipation? Learn what causes constipation and how to relieve your child’s symptoms.
12 Foods to Eat to Relieve ConstipationConstipation is a common problem, and almost everyone has been constipated at one time or another. There are foods that can help prevent constipation and also provide relief, for example, kiwi, prunes, beans (your choice of type), berries, certain seeds, potatoes, and popcorn.
15 Foods That Cause ConstipationConstipation or the decrease in frequency and/or difficulty in passing stools (bowel movements) can be caused by a variety problems. Check out these top 15 foods to avoid because they cause constipation. Some foods to avoid include, white rice and breads, caffeine, bananas, alcohol, processed foods, and frozen dinners.
What Helps Constipation Fast?Learn what medical treatments can help ease your constipation symptoms and speed up your recovery.