Long term or chronic constipation can lead to faecal impaction. Chronic constipation means difficulty having a poo that can last for several weeks or longer.
What is faecal impaction?
Faecal impaction means having a large amount of dry, hard poo (stool or faeces) in the back passage (rectum). The diagram shows the parts of the bowel, including the rectum.
One main symptom of faecal impaction is 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 around the blockage and out of your rectum. The leakage can soil your underwear and appear like diarrhoea.
Causes of faecal impaction
The main causes of faecal impaction are similar to those of constipation. They include:
- side effects from painkilling medicines
- lack of exercise over a long period of time
- a 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 (the sacral nerves)
- a swollen tummy (abdomen)
- high or low blood pressure
- a fast heart rate
- a high temperature (fever)
- severe diarrhoea that you have no control over
- feeling and being sick
- severe tummy pain
- dehydration - you may feel dizzy, light-headed, or tired, or have a dry mouth, lips, and eyes, and pass small amounts wee infrequently (less than three or four times a day)
- swelling around the back passage (rectum)
- a numb feeling around the anus
- bleeding around the anus
Treating faecal impaction
Doctors and nurses 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. Too many enemas can damage the bowel.
If the enema doesn't move the poo, a trained nurse or doctor might need to physically remove the hard poo from your back passage. You should not do this yourself. Understandably, you may find this procedure uncomfortable and embarrassing. But it is very important to clear the bowel.