When we think of chronic constipation, the all too familiar symptoms come to mind – stomach aches, nausea, bloating, abdominal pressure, and discomfort.
But chronic constipation can lead to some more serious health issues in some cases…
1) Anal Fissures
Anal Fissures are a painful split or tear in the skin of the anus or anal canal. They usual occur when a large (oversized) and hard stool is passed.
These fissures can occur in infants, children, and adults.
For children, typical signs might include: painful stool passing, crying from severe pain, and rectal bleeding. You may notice some blood in the toilet, or on the toilet paper.
Anal fissures can be difficult to heal, and a trip to your doctor or pediatrician should be considered.
Itching and irritation are likely to result, and relief can be found by sitting in a warm bath, applying a cool compress, and soothing with petroleum jelly.
You must take steps, at this point, to soften stool, and prevent any further constipation.
Chronic constipation can also cause hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids are swollen, irritated veins in the rectal area. They also can occur at any age.
Symptoms include: pain, itching, and possible bleeding.
Hemorrhoids may be internal or external, and are usually the result of pressure and straining (think woman in labor).
Once hemorrhoids develop, they are likely to go through periods of remission and exacerbation. Which just means they will come and go…
It is possible for the veins to shrink back to their normal size and condition – if they are not strained repeatedly.
Severe cases may require specialized treatments such as: laser, banding, and surgery.
Relief from the pain and discomfort can come from taking a warm bath, using a cool compress, or applying hemorrhoid ointments (consult your doctor).
The pain from hemorrhoids will likely increase fear of passing stool in children, and may spark the stool withholding cycle.
3) Fecal Impaction
Fecal Impaction occurs when so much stool is backed up in the colon, that it becomes physically impossible to pass stool.
This condition requires an immediate trip to the doctors or emergency room, where urgent (and unfortunately invasive) treatment will need to take place.
Signs of fecal impaction may include: soiling of clothes, distended abdomen, discomfort, loss of appetite, vomiting, or fever.
Impactions are treated by removing the blockage of stool. This can be done by enemas, suppositories, or the gentle manual removal by a lubricated finger.
Treatment will need to be followed up by a disimpaction or “clean out” process at home. This is likely to include more enemas, suppositories, and laxatives.
You can expect this clean out to take a couple of days, as all of the waste is removed.
4) Mega Colon
Mega Colon is the condition of having an abnormally over-sized intestine. This complication often results from stool withholding over an extended period of time.
The continued accumulation of stool in the colon causes it to stretch beyond it’s normal size and shape. Colons that are stretched for longer periods of time (months or years) run the risk of not returning to their original size.
This can result in the inability to sense when it is “time to go.”
The colon muscles can actually lose their ability to contract – which is how they move stool along. If this happens, incontinence (loss of bowel control) can occur.
Treatment options for Mega Colon can vary, and will be best addressed by a gastroenterologist.