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Fecal impaction

  • Alternative Names

    Impaction of the bowels


    Treating a fecal impaction involves removing the impacted stool. After that, measures are taken to prevent future fecal impactions.

    Often a warm mineral oil enema is used to soften and lubricate the stool. However, enemas alone are usually not enough to remove a large, hardened impaction.

    The mass may have to be broken up by hand. This is called manual removal:

    • A health care provider will need to insert one or two fingers into the rectum and slowly break up the mass into smaller pieces so that it can come out.
    • This process must be done in small steps to avoid causing injury to the rectum.
    • Suppositories inserted into the rectum may be given between attempts to help clear the stool.

    Surgery is rarely needed to treat a fecal impaction. An overly widened colon (megacolon) or complete blockage of the bowel may require emergency removal of the impaction.

    Almost anyone who has had a fecal impaction will need a bowel retraining program. Your doctor and a specially trained nurse or therapist will:

    • Take a detailed history of your diet, bowel patterns, laxative use, medications, and medical problems
    • Examine you carefully
    • Recommend changes in your diet, how to use laxatives and stool softeners, special exercises, lifestyle changes, and other special techniques to retrain your bowel
    • Follow you closely to make sure the program works for you

    Support Groups

    Expectations (prognosis)

    With treatment, the outcome is good.

    • Tear (ulceration) of the rectal tissue
    • Tissue death (necrosis) or rectal tissue injury

    Calling your health care provider

    Tell your health care provider if you are experiencing chronic diarrhea or fecal incontinence after a long period of constipation. Also notify your health care provider if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

    • Abdominal pain and bloating
    • Blood in the stool
    • Sudden constipation with abdominal cramps, and an inability to pass gas or stool. In this case, do not take any laxatives. Call your health care provider immediately.
    • Very thin, pencil-like stools