Impacted stool – feces that are so hard they cannot pass readily through the colon – is a problem many suffer. Chronic and unrelieved constipation can lead to abdominal distention and internal injury.
A regular diet, including roughage (dietary fiber) at optimum levels and water in sufficient quantities to soften stool, is what normally keeps the body’s elimination system functioning well. This process of elimination, however, can be temporarily or chronically impaired by many things including irregular eating habits, medications, or illness.
Ordinary constipation is usually a result of diet. Some antidepressant medications cause constipation. In one of life’s greater ironies, excessive use of either laxatives or enemas for constipation may also worsen the problem – the body becomes so attuned to the artificial means of evacuation that it cannot function normally. Finally, another cause of constipation is “holding it” – the body’s natural response to passing feces from the colon into the rectum is to evacuate it. However, the urge to have a bowel movement cannot always be immediately satisfied due to circumstances. Many times people are forced into clenching their sphincter muscles and actively fighting the need to evacuate. Over time repetitious “holding it” can lead to constipation.
Ordinary constipation can generally be handled with dietary changes and by drinking more water. Sometimes, an occasional laxative may be necessary. But when routine constipation turns into an impacted bowel, there are greater health concerns at work. Bowel impactions can result from a strangulated hernia (where a section of the intestine becomes twisted upon itself or wrapped in an underlying muscle). Although such strangulations can work themselves out, they generally do not and require surgery – if untreated death can result as the affected intestine will necrotize from lack of blood flow and will perforate.
A bowel impaction not related to herniation is normally the result of not evacuating regularly. This is a problem with the elderly. It is also a problem for assembly-line workers and others who cannot get away from whatever task demands they cannot leave for a bathroom. Unrelieved constipation can then become an impaction.
Normal functioning is when the undigested or indigestible material, after being stripped of its food value, passes into the large intestine from the small. Here in the colon, the body’s other wastes and toxins along with some mucus are added to the mix. Most of the water is removed – it is at this stage impaction occurs if the material is not evacuated. Over time the water reabsorbs and the feces becomes hardened.
Obstructions that can lead to an impacted bowel may also be physical, such as polyps, tumors, or a foreign object. These can block smooth passage and cause hardened stool. Home remedies, such as laxatives and enemas, rarely work long-term. The best tack if experiencing chronic constipation, stool so hard it causes the rectum to bleed in evacuating, blood clots in the stool, or painful bowel movements is to seek a doctor’s attention. A colonoscopy may be in order – this is a quick means of detecting irregularities in the colon that may lead to impacted stool.