Decorative image

Chronic constipation

Chronic constipation is also known as faecal impaction. It happens because you are regularly constipated over long periods of time. 

What faecal impaction is

A faecal impaction means having a large mass of dry, hard poo (stool or faeces) in the rectum. Doctors also call this chronic constipation.

Overflow diarrhoea

The constipated poo in your bowel is so hard that you can’t push it out. So your bowel begins to leak out watery stools around the poo. The watery stools pass round the blockage and out of your bowel. The leakage can soil your underwear and appear like diarrhoea. 

Doctors call this overflow diarrhoea. In this situation you shouldn't take anti diarrhoea medicines. So if you’ve had severe constipation and then develop diarrhoea, you must talk to your doctor or nurse before taking anything.

Causes of faecal impaction

The main causes of impaction are similar to those of constipation. They include:

  • side effects from painkilling drugs
  • lack of exercise over a long period of time
  • low fibre diet
  • long term use of laxatives
  • depression and anxiety

Symptoms of faecal impaction

The symptoms of impaction are similar to the symptoms of constipation. But other more serious symptoms can occur. These include:

  • back pain due to the mass of poo pressing on the nerves in your lower back (sacral nerves)
  • a swollen tummy (abdomen)
  • high or low blood pressure
  • a rapid heart rate
  • dizziness
  • sweating
  • a high temperature (fever)
  • confusion
  • explosive diarrhoea or diarrhoea that you have no control over
  • feeling and being sick
  • severe abdominal pain
  • dehydration

Treating faecal impaction

Doctors usually treat impaction by moistening and softening the poo with an enema or suppositories. It is very important that you use enemas carefully and only as prescribed by your doctor or nurse. Too many enemas can damage the bowel.

If the enema does not move the poo, a trained nurse or doctor may need to physically remove it from your back passage. Understandably, you may find this procedure uncomfortable and embarrassing. But it is very important that the poo is removed.

Let your doctor or nurse know if you have any changes in your bowel habits. If you think you have an impaction, don’t take any laxatives without first discussing it with your doctor or specialist nurse. Laxatives that stimulate the bowel can cause severe cramping and may damage your bowel.

Information and help

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.