Everyone experiences constipation once in a while. When constipation occurs for an extended period, however, it can lead to an impacted bowel, which is a much more serious condition that often requires disimpaction by a medical professional. It's not possible to cleanse a colon that is already impacted; however, a healthy diet will play a role in preventing a recurrence.
Constipation and Impacted Bowel
Constipation occurs for many reasons — a low-fiber diet, dehydration, sedentary lifestyle, overuse of laxatives, medication side effects and more. It can also be a symptom of a health condition affecting the digestive tract, brain or spinal cord. According to Harvard Health, treatment for constipation is the reason for more than 2.5 million doctor's office visits each year in the United States.
Constipation is uncomfortable, but it's not a serious health risk unless it is left untreated. Eventually, a mass of stool may form that colon contractions can't push through. This leads to a potentially dangerous blocked colon that may require emergency treatment and hospitalization.
Impacted Colon Symptoms
If you have an impacted colon, you will probably know it — or at least know that something more than mere constipation is occurring. Symptoms of fecal impaction may include:
- Pain in the abdomen, especially after eating
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- A persistent urge to defecate
- Liquid stool that is leaking around the impacted mass (may be mistaken for diarrhea)
- A generally sick feeling
If these impacted colon symptoms go untreated, more serious symptoms may develop including dehydration, rapid pulse and breathing, fever, agitation, confusion and urinary incontinence, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
These are significant symptoms compared to those of constipation, which include:
- Having fewer than three bowel movements in a week
- Stools that are small, dry, hard and difficult to pass. as well as being painful
- Feeling like you have to strain excessively to have a bowel movement
- Feeling that your rectum has not been emptied after a bowel movement
Most cases of constipation can be diagnosed and treated at home. Fecal impaction requires a doctor's visit, during which your doctor will confirm the diagnosis with an exam and additional testing if required. Typically, your doctor will manually remove part of the mass, then remove the rest with an enema, Harvard Health Publishing explains. It's important to note that, although enemas are available over the counter, administering one at home to clear a fecal impaction is both ineffective and potentially dangerous.
Preventing Constipation and Impaction
Your digestive system is equipped to "cleanse" itself, and there is no evidence that over-the-counter colon cleanses have any benefits for constipation. The best way to help your digestive system do its job is to eat a healthy diet and adopt healthier lifestyle habits, such as exercising regularly and reducing your stress level.
After fecal impaction, your doctor will likely recommend that you focus on increasing your intake of dietary fiber and fluids. Dietary fiber is the part of plant foods your body can't digest. It attracts water in your colon and swells in size, which makes stool softer, bulkier and easier to pass.
Hydration works with fiber to keep stools moist and easy to pass. According to Harvard Health Publishing, most adults should drink six to eight glasses of fluids — or more — per day. Although plain water is a great choice, you can also get fluids from coffee, unsweetened tea, low-fat milk and milk alternatives or coconut water.