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How to Relieve Impacted Bowels

written by: Lashan Clarke • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 4/30/2011

The treatment methods for impacted bowel include noninvasive options, such as medications, and surgical treatment. Learn more about these treatment options to better understand their benefits and side effects.

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    The term bowel refers to the part of the digestive system known as the intestine. The intestine is responsible for functions such as absorption of nutrients and minerals, as well as the breakdown of food. Bowel impaction refers to an inability of solid waste to move through the coils of the intestines. The stool becomes trapped and cannot pass through the rectum and anus. If the situation persists, the person with this condition can die of complications associated with bowel impaction.

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    Causes

    The most common cause of this problem is chronic constipation. Constipation occurs when stool cannot pass through the rectum and anus, resulting in infrequent bowel movements or small, painful bowel movements. Motility disorders also contribute to the development of this condition. A motility disorder involves dysfunction of the motor nerves that supply the muscles in the intestines, resulting in decreased movement of the intestinal wall. Bowel cancer can also lead to an impaction, as cancer can cause intestinal dysfunction and tumors can physically block stool from exiting the body.

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    Nonsurgical Relief Methods

    Regardless of the cause of the impaction, this condition requires treatment with one of the several methods used to provide relief for impacted bowels. The treatment selected depends on the severity of the blockage, the age and general health of the patient, and other factors. The least invasive treatment is diet modification and the addition of exercise to the patient's daily routine. Because constipation sometimes leads to bowel impaction, adding fiber to the diet in the form of fruits, vegetables and whole grains can prevent this type of blockage. Constipation also occurs due to a lack of physical activity, so increased movement and exericse can keep the bowels working properly.

    Laxatives are another treatment option for this condition. Bulk psyllium fiber and glycerin-based laxatives help relieve mild to moderate stool blockages. Warm water and mineral oil enemas soften the stool and help it move through the digestive tract. Use caution if using this tretament method, as too much water or mineral oil can lead to diarrhea and other side effects. Manual disimpaction involves inserting gloved fingers or an instrument into the rectum to break hard stool into smaller pieces.

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    Surgical Relief Methods

    A complete blockage of the bowel is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. In the case of a severe impaction, the patient must undergo surgery to remove hardened feces. Sometimes, the surgeon inserts a stent into the intestine to widen the canal and make it easier for stool to move through the intestinal coils. If the blockage caused death of some of the bowel tissue, the surgeon will remove this tissue and rejoin the healthy sections of the bowel.