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Signs & Symptoms of Impacted Bowels

author image Leigh A. Zaykoski
Leigh Zaykoski has been a writer and editor for six years. Her medical writing has appeared on dozens of websites. Zaykoski attended the University of Pittsburgh and Keystone College, studying microbiology and business administration. She is currently pursuing a medical writing certification.
Signs & Symptoms of Impacted Bowels
Signs & Symptoms of Impacted Bowels Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

Impacted bowels is an uncomfortable condition that can result from chronic constipation. Also known as fecal impaction, this condition is the presence of solid masses of dry stool in the rectum. These masses block the rectum and make it difficult to have normal bowel movements. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of impacted bowels can help patients get diagnosed more quickly and receive treatment to restore normal bowel function.

Rectal Bleeding

Because a fecal impaction consists of dry, hard stool, rectal bleeding may occur during a bowel movement. This is because the hard stool may cause someone to strain and tear the rectal tissues while moving the bowels. Rectal bleeding can indicate several serious medical conditions, so it is important to seek medical attention if this symptom develops.

Small Stools

When the bowels are impacted, there may be difficulty in eliminating stool from the body because the impaction is blocking the rectum. The stool that is able to pass out of the body may be small because of the limited space it had to pass through the rectum. These small stools may also be hard or followed by watery diarrhea.

Watery Diarrhea

When a fecal impaction is so severe that solid stool cannot be eliminated from the body, watery diarrhea may occur. Because the rectum is blocked by the large impaction, only fluid and small pieces of loose stool are eliminated. This diarrhea may be explosive in nature and cause episodes of fecal incontinence if a fecal impaction is present.

Frequent Straining

Fecal impaction results in difficulty passing stool through the digestive tract and out of the body. As a result, someone suffering from impacted bowels may frequently strain while they make a bowel movement. Straining to eliminate hard, dry stool can cause hemorrhoids or anal fissures and may also cause great discomfort.

Abdominal Cramping

Impacted bowels can cause abdominal cramping due to distension of the abdomen and the presence of dry, hard stool in the rectum. As impacted bowels become more severe, the cramping may worsen and increase the pressure within the abdomen. According to physicians from the National Cancer Institute, this increased pressure can result in the leakage of stool from the body.

Back Pain

An impaction that presses on the sacral nerves can cause back pain as a symptom of the condition. Severe impaction may compromise the movement of the diaphragm with breathing, leading to left ventricular dysfunction and oxygen deprivation. These symptoms may be followed by chest pain or rapid heartbeat.

Urinary Changes

Urinary urgency, increased or decreased frequency of urination and urinary retention can be symptoms of impacted bowels. When an impaction presses on the bladder, urethra and ureters, it can cause these urinary changes to develop. Urinary incontinence may also develop as a result of an impacted bowel.

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