Obstipation

Obstipation develops when you become so constipated you cannot have a bowel movement. You may feel like you need to have a bowel movement. You may have abdominal or rectal pain. You may also have bloating, nausea, or vomiting.

What increases my risk for obstipation?

Anything that causes constipation will also cause obstipation:

  • Not enough water or high-fiber foods
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Medicine used to treat depression, pain, or high blood pressure
  • Medical conditions, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, or multiple sclerosis
  • Pregnancy
  • A mass in your abdomen, such as a tumor

How is obstipation diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your medical history. Tell him or her if you are taking any medicine. He or she may ask how often you use laxatives, suppositories, or enemas to pass a bowel movement. Your healthcare provider will also do a physical exam of your rectum or vagina. He or she will check muscle tone and look for bleeding or damage to your rectum. You may need any of the following tests:

  • Blood tests may be used to find signs of infection, or to check thyroid and kidney function.
  • An ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures of your intestines on a monitor. The pictures may show the location and cause of your obstipation.
  • An x-ray or CT scan may be used to take pictures of your intestines. The pictures may show the location and cause of your obstipation. You may be given a dye to help healthcare providers see your intestines better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.
  • A barium enema is used to help your colon show up better on the x-ray. A tube is put into your anus, and a liquid called barium is put through the tube. Then x-rays are taken.
  • A colonoscopy may be needed so healthcare providers can see if you have tissue damage inside your intestines. A long, thin tube with a tiny camera on the end is put into your rectum. A small tissue sample may be taken from your bowel and sent to a lab for tests.
  • A bowel function test is used to check for muscle tone and nerve sensitivity of your intestines and anus.

How is obstipation treated?

  • Medicines can keep moisture in your bowel movement and increase the motion of your intestines.

A suppository may be used to help soften your bowel movements. This may make them easier to pass. A suppository is guided into your rectum through your anus.

  • Laxatives can help stimulate your bowels to have a bowel movement. You will only take laxatives for a short time. Long-term use may make your bowels dependent on the medicine.

An enema is liquid medicine used to clear bowel movement from your rectum. The medicine is put into your rectum through your anus.

  • Manual removal is a procedure to take out your impacted bowel movement. Your healthcare provider will use a gloved hand to remove the impaction. He or she will use lubricant to make the removal easier.
  • Surgery may rarely be needed to remove your impaction or to repair damage caused by your obstipation.

How can I prevent obstipation?

  • Drink liquids as directed. Liquids will help keep your bowel movements soft so you pass them with less pain. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.

Eat high-fiber foods or take fiber supplements. Fiber adds bulk to your bowel movement and makes it easier to pass. Raw fruits, fresh vegetables, whole grains, and beans are examples of high-fiber foods. Adults should eat at least 20 grams of fiber a day. Your healthcare provider or dietitian can help you plan meals.