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What is 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 if you are taking any medicine. He 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 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 soften your bowel movement and make it easier to pass. They may also keep moisture in your bowel movement and increase the motion of your intestines. Medicines may be taken orally or as a suppository or enema.
  • 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 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.
  • Make time for your bowel movements. You may develop constipation if you ignore the urge or wait too long. Help train your body to have regular bowel movements by setting a bathroom time each day. The best time is after a morning meal, because your colon prepares for a bowel movement when you eat.
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise may help your intestines pass bowel movements more often. Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You are losing weight without trying.
  • You have a change in the color, amount, size, or consistency of your bowel movement.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have severe abdominal pain.
  • You have a bloody or black bowel movement.
  • You vomit more than once.
  • You have a fever and back, stomach, muscle, or joint pain.

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 caregivers 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.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.