An impacted colon, or fecal impaction, can mean the intestine is obstructed by tumor, nerve damage or just constipation. Chronic inability to pass stool may mean a serious underlying problem. Repeated bouts of impacted colon may indicate poor fluid intake. It may mean dietary and lifestyle changes are needed. Chronically ill individuals may be more prone to experience abdominal pain, bloating and inability to pass stool because of pain medications. Inactivity from illness and recent surgery resulting in bed rest can contribute to impacted colon or fecal impaction. Diabetes that causes nerve damage can also contribute due to decreased peristalsis (wavelike action of the intestine).
Recognize and understand impacted colon. Another name is fecal impaction, or impaction of the bowels. It is different from an intestinal obstruction caused by tumor or other serious causes, though technically feces does obstruct bowel movements and can cause damage to the intestine if not removed. Fecal impaction results from chronic constipation. Stool (feces) collects in the rectum, making it extremely difficult to have a bowel movement. Liquid stool may seep around the impacted colon. Nausea, bloating and even vomiting can occur, as well as abdominal pain. Straining can lead to bleeding from hemorrhoids.
Understand the causes of impacted colon. Chronic constipation results in fecal or colon impaction. Medications that slow peristalsis or are drying (antihistamines, anticholinergic drugs) can contribute to the cause. Taking medicines to stop diarrhea can also result in difficulty with bowel movement and cause fecal impaction. Narcotic medications are a common cause of inability to have normal healthy bowel movements. Lack of fiber, activity and adequate hydration also contribute to the cause. Adhesions from past surgery can also affect colon health, making constipation and fecal impaction problematic.
Make lifestyle changes. Remaining active can prevent stool from becoming impacted in the colon. Frequent position changes during illness, leg raises, abdominal contractions, and food with fiber can help prevent fecal impaction among chronically ill individuals. Healthy people should find time for daily exercise. Bedridden individuals should be closely monitored.
Eat a high fiber diet, and maintain adequate hydration. Foods high in fiber include whole grains, fruits, vegetables and bran. Avoid beverages, such as coffee and tea, that can contribute to dehydration and constipation that causes fecal or colon impaction.
Take medications. Your doctor might suggest an over-the-counter fiber product, such as Metamucil, or prescription stool softener, depending on the cause of frequent impacted colon. For less severe colon impaction, mineral oil enema or glycerin suppositories might soften hardened feces enough to pass stool. Large fecal masses should be gently and slowly manually broken up and removed and should be performed by health care personnel to avoid complications, such as rectal tears and bleeding from fecal impaction.
If manual extraction of impacted stool is necessary, a health care professional should perform it.
Inserting a gloved finger with lubrication can identify the presence of an impacted colon. Sometimes X-ray or colonoscopy is needed to discover underlying causes of fecal impaction.
The intestine can become enlarged and suffer damage if colon impaction is not removed, resulting in surgery.
Consult your health care provider if you have a history of or suspect a colon impaction.
Bleeding, abdominal pains, sudden onset of constipation, bloating or inability to pass gas are cause for concern and mean medical attention should not be delayed.