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Chronic constipation

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This page has information about chronic constipation (faecal impaction). You can find information on


What faecal impaction is

A faecal impaction means having a large mass of dry, hard stool in the rectum. This happens because you are regularly constipated over long periods of time. Doctors call this chronic constipation.


Overflow diarrhoea

Usually the constipated mass in your bowel is so hard that you can’t push it out. Because of this the bowel begins to leak out watery stools around the mass from much higher up in the bowel. This passes round the blockage and out of your bowel. It causes soiling on your underwear and can appear like diarrhoea. Doctors call this overflow diarrhoea. In this situation you should not 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 impaction


Symptoms of 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 stools 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 impaction

Moistening and softening the stool with an enema or suppositories usually treats impaction. But it is very important that you use enemas very carefully and only as prescribed by your doctor or nurse. Too many enemas can damage the bowel.

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

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

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Updated: 10 September 2012