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Fecal Impaction

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is fecal impaction?

Fecal impaction is a buildup of hardened bowel movements that gets stuck in your rectum or colon. Fecal impaction may cause a partial or complete blockage. This can make it hard for you to pass a bowel movement.

What causes or increases my risk for fecal impaction?

  • Changes as you age, such as constipation
  • Not enough liquids, fiber, or calories in your nutrition
  • Not enough movement or exercise
  • Side effects of certain medicines, such as opioids, NSAIDs, or iron
  • Toileting habits, such as ignoring the urge to pass a bowel movement
  • Certain conditions such as depression, hypothyroid, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or multiple sclerosis (MS)

What are the signs and symptoms of fecal impaction?

  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain, bloating, or cramping
  • Straining to pass bowel movement
  • Nausea with vomiting, poor appetite
  • Pain in your rectum
  • Diarrhea or gas that you cannot control, increased urge to urinate, or loss of control of urine

How is fecal impaction diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and what medicines you take. You may need any of the following:

  • A rectal exam may be done by your healthcare provider. He or she will look at, then feel inside your rectum with gloved fingers.
  • Blood and urine tests may show anemia, electrolyte imbalance, or iron levels in your blood.
  • An x-ray or CT may show the impaction. You may be given contrast liquid to help the impaction show up better in the pictures. Tell your healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.
  • A sigmoidoscopy may show what is causing your impaction. 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.

How is fecal impaction treated?

  • Medicines may help soften your bowel movement or increase the motion of your intestines. This can help clear bowel movement from your rectum or help you have a bowel movement more easily. Medicines may be given as a pill, suppository, or enema.
  • Manual removal of your bowel movement may need to be done. Your healthcare provider will use his or her hand to remove the bowel movement. He or she may have to break it into smaller pieces with his or her fingers. Lubricant may be needed to help make the removal smoother.

How can I help prevent fecal impaction?

  • Eat foods that are high in fiber. Healthy high-fiber foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, and beans.
  • Drink liquids as directed. You may need to drink more water than usual. Water helps keep your bowel movements soft and easier to pass. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise helps keep your bowels moving well. It may also help you pass bowel movements more often. Ask about the best exercise plan for you.
  • Set up a regular toileting schedule at the same time every day. Try to pass a bowel movement when you first wake up, or half an hour after you eat. This may help you control your bowel movements and their timing.
  • Try to pass a bowel movement as soon as you get the urge. This will help prevent more constipation.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You feel lightheaded, dizzy, or faint.
  • You have worsening abdominal pain or bloating

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have blood in your bowel movements.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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