Fecal impaction is characterized by a severe buildup of hardened feces, known as a fecaloma, in the colon or the rectum that will not pass, nor will it allow a normal bowel movement. Although fluids may still pass through the rectum, a fecaloma can result in severe pain as well as cause damage to the rectal tissue. Also known as chronic constipation, bowel obstruction or intestinal obstruction, fecal impaction is a treatable condition.
Fecal impaction commonly occurs as a result of chronic constipation. A fecaloma, or a hardened mass of stool, is usually discovered during a gastroenterology exam. Sudden diarrhea may also occur at the same time as an impaction due to fluids moving around a fecaloma.
Symptoms of fecal impaction include stomach bloating, abdominal pain and discomfort, bloody stools, and pencil-shaped stools. A person may also experience a sudden onset of liquid-like stools. In more severe cases of bowel obstruction, an individual may experience intense abdominal pain with an inability to pass gas or have a bowel movement. Doctors recommend that anyone experiencing these symptoms seek medical attention right away.
Besides chronic constipation, a bowel obstruction may be caused by a variety of other factors including, but not limited to, hemorrhoids, cancer, a poor diet, aging, depression, intentionally avoiding bowel movements, and a general lack of mobility. In some, it is attributed to prescription medications, which may cause chronic constipation. Bowel obstructions commonly occur in patients who are bedridden or who are being treated for another condition or disease, such as cancer or a condition known as volvulus in which the intestines have become abnormally twisted. Another condition, known as intestinal pseudo-obstruction, may mimic the symptoms of impaction even when there is no fecaloma or other physical obstruction in the intestines or the rectum.
Most people use an enema, a stool softener or a laxative to treat a bowel obstruction. The buildup of feces can be so severe and painful, however, that some form of medical intervention may be needed. Changes in dietary habits, such as an increase in high fiber foods, also helps to relieve the symptoms of fecal impaction. In rare, but severe cases, impaction may require surgery in order to remove immobile human feces.
Fecal impaction can be life threatening if not properly treated. When symptoms of this condition are recognized, doctors recommend that it be treated immediately and not allowed to linger with the expectation that it will go away on its own. In order to avoid its onset, experts suggest regular physical activity, a well-balanced diet and adequate hydration.