Signs That Your Constipation Warrants A Trip To The ER

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Constipation involves fewer than three bowel movements a week. Generally, it's easy to treat, but certain symptoms need you to head to a hospital. Severe abdominal pain, bloating, and vomiting might indicate a bowel obstruction. Inability to pass gas through the rectum is a sign of fecal impaction. Bloody stools and severe abdominal pain indicate hemorrhoids or strangulated obstruction of the intestine. These conditions might need surgery and hence need immediate medical attention.

Is your stool hard and do you have a tough time in the bathroom every day? You might be suffering from constipation. And, if you’ve been going through this for long enough, it can get extremely frustrating.

Most of the time, you can get through an episode of constipation with the help of a few laxatives. But, certain symptoms that could accompany constipation might make it important for you to seek emergency services. And, before we get to exactly what these symptoms are, it’s important to reflect on what causes constipation.

What Causes Constipation?

You know you’ve got constipation if you’ve got fewer than normal bowel movements, stool that’s difficult to pass, and abdominal bloating. Common causes of constipation include

  • Infrequent bowel movements
  • Change in diet
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Not eating enough fiber-rich food
  • Not getting enough exercise
  • Certain medications
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) tract problems
  • Certain diseases (Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord or brain injuries, diabetes, or hypothyroidism)

Management of constipation is crucial, and early diagnosis ensures preventive measures are taken to avoid risk later. Some symptoms might warrant a trip to the ER.1

Symptoms That Need Medical Attention

1. Severe Abdominal Pain, Bloating, And Vomiting

Pain, bloating, and vomiting indicate bowel obstruction

Generally, constipation is a minor annoyance. But, sometimes it could be a sign of a life-threatening disorder. Cramping, stomach pain, vomiting, and distension along with constipation could be signs of a bowel obstruction.2

Bowel obstruction involves a blockage which prevents the contents of the intestines from passing normally through the digestive tract. This problem could be inside or outside the intestine itself. In the former, a tumor or swelling might fill and block the passageway of the intestine. In the latter, an adjacent organ or area of tissue might compress or twist a segment of bowel.

Bowel obstruction is diagnosed with the help of X-rays and colonoscope. Once diagnosed, you might need surgery and a few days of stay at a hospital before you recover.3

2. Inability To Pass Gas

Inability to pass stool and gas indicates fecal impaction.

In children and the elderly, constipation could bring with it, difficulty in passing gas through the rectum. This might be a sign of fecal impaction.

In this disorder, hard stool packs the intestine and rectum so tightly that the normal pushing action of the colon isn’t hard enough to push the stool out. It also causes difficulty in passing gas.

Treatment for fecal impaction includes an enema and oral administration of a mineral oil to loosen up the stool. This entire process requires a trip to the hospital.4 5

3. Bloody Stool

Strangulated obstruction of the intestine causes bloody stool.

Persistent, severe pain and bloody stool along with constipation could indicate strangulated obstruction of the intestine. This obstruction is a part of bowel obstruction. In it, strangulation occurs when a part of the intestine becomes trapped in an abnormal opening.6

Strangulation can be fatal and increases the morbidity rate significantly. Early surgical intervention is essential to avoid death and poor outcomes.7

Hemorrhoids could be another cause of bloody stools. They are the result of swollen and inflamed veins around your anus or in your lower rectum. However, they can be treated with the help of dietary changes, warm baths, and over-the-counter hemorrhoid creams.8

Other health conditions such as anal fissures (tears in anus) and rectal prolapse (rectum sticks out of the anus) might need surgery if over-the-counter medications and other conventional treatment options don’t provide any relief.9 At times, complications related to constipation are caused because the colon muscles don’t function well. In such cases, you might need surgery to remove you colon.10

Constipation is generally easy to treat. All that’s required is for you to increase your fluid and fiber intake. Working to set a specific time to head to the bathroom can also help your bowel movements become more regular. And, if the condition is mild enough,  stool softeners and laxatives may provide short-term relief.

However, it’s chronic constipation that causes all kinds of trouble. It brings with it, a host of health problems that require medical attention. And, if you do have any of the above symptoms, it might be a good idea to head to a hospital and get a check up done. After all, a short trip is worth the price and effort, especially when it comes to your health.

References   [ + ]

1.Symptoms & Causes of Constipation. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
2.Intestinal Obstruction. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
3.Bowel Obstruction. Harvard Health Publishing.
4.Definition & Facts for Constipation. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
5.Treatment for Constipation. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
6.LEFFALL, LaSALLE D., JOSEPH QUANDER, and BURKE SYPHAX. “Strangulation Intestinal obstruction: a clinical appraisal.” Archives of Surgery 91, no. 4 (1965): 592-596.
7.Totten, Harold P. “Early diagnosis of strangulation obstruction of the small intestine.” California medicine 72, no. 5 (1950): 365.
8.Treatment for Constipation. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
9.Rectal prolapse. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
10.Anal fissure. US National Library Of Medicine.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

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