Obstipation: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment


What is Obstipation? – The normal bowel movement frequency is about once a day and is considered normal. Passing stool, not more than three times a week is medically termed as constipation.

Obstipation or Obstructive Constipation is the condition where irregular bowel movements occur. This is caused due to obstruction in the intestines leading to the inability of the individual to pass stool.

What causes Obstipation?

The causes vary from patient to another that depends on their lifestyle choices, food habits and age. Following are some of the primary causes that lead to obstipation:

In Children
  • Continuous retention of stool
  • Application of pressure on the abdomen to keep the stool in
  • Regular intake of low fiber food items
  • Excessive consumption of processed food & fast food items
  • Inadequate intake of fluids and water
  • Congenital or neurological causes such as Hirschsprung’s disease
In Adults
  • Anal fissure
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Fecal Impaction
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Volvulus (or twisted bowels)
  • Pelvic bone dysfunction
  • Hirschsprung’s disease (neurological)
  • Adhesions
  • Hernia
  • Intestinal atresia
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Foreign body
  • Intussusception
  • Tumors
  • Diverticulitis
  • Proctitis


Difference between Constipation & Obstipation

The difference lies in the duration period for which stool is retained in the bowels and the severity of the loss of bowel movements. An obstipation is a severe form of constipation that progresses over time.

Individuals suffering from constipation face difficulty in the passing of stool due to reduced frequencies of bowel movements. On the contrary, obstipation patients suffer from total loss of bowel movements that make them lose the ability to defecate.

Treatment and management of constipation are quite easy in comparison to cases of obstipation. Most of the time constipation can be cured by simply changing the diet or lifestyle, whereas, obstipation poses serious problems as it involves medications and even surgical procedures.

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Symptoms of Obstipation

Symptoms can be both visible to the examiner or can only be revealed by thorough internal examination of the patient. Both the scenarios are discussed below:

Abdominal Symptoms
  • Chronic Constipation
  • Abdominal distension
  • Bloating of the stomach
  • Persistent cramps in the abdomen
  • Pain in the lower abdomen
  • Borborygmi (or increased bowel sounds)
Physical symptoms
  • Bad breath
  • Tachycardia (rapid pulse)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Dehydration

Abnormal bowel movements are typically considered as a case of constipation. Given below are some procedures that can substantiate the conclusion.

  • Physical examination of the rectum for the exclusion of obstruction due to foreign object
  • Assessment of the muscle tone of the rectum
  • Examination of the rectum walls for bleeding

After the completion of the aforementioned examinations, the following procedures and tests can be carried out:

  • Blood Test: For inspection of the thyroid gland for possible signs of infection or some other disorder
  • Ultrasound: For the in-depth visualization of the site or cause behind the obstipation
  • X-ray/CT Scan: To get hold of an image of the patient’s obstructed bowels
  • Barium enema: Injection of a liquid substance in the colon which is followed by an X-ray scan of the bowels
  • Colonoscopy: Insertion of a fiber optic camera in the colon to look for possible obstructions
  • Biopsies: Extraction of tissue samples for assessment and to look for possible cases of colon cancer
  • Bowel function test: For checking the muscle tone of the anus and intestines

Though the change in lifestyle and food habits could have a positive effect on cases of obstipation, the more chronic ones need medical attention.

Medical treatments

  • Nasogastric suctioning: Ideal for removing blockages from the large and small intestines.
  • Medications: Lactulose, polycarbophil, sorbitol and related osmotic laxatives that aid in defecation
  • Surgery: For the removal of blockages, tumors or foreign objects from the bowel
  • Narcotic Pain Medication: Given to patients exclusively under medical supervision in cases of severe cases of pain.
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Natural Remedies for Obstipation & Herbal Medications

If surgery and strong medications are not preferable, following are some natural remedies that can be opted only if the symptoms are mild enough. For serious conditions, it is recommended to seek medical help.

  • Aloe Vera is ideal to use as a mild laxative.
  • Elderflower should be used only when an individual is unable to defecate
  • Licorice acts as a gentle laxative and is one of the most popular home remedies for constipation
  • Papaya, Orange & Guava are good remedies to ease the pressure on the bowels
  • Inclusion of fiber-rich food items like oranges, almonds, apples, oats, whole grain, brown rice, brown bread and green leafy vegetable
  • It is recommended to drink at least 5 liters of water each day
  • Inclusion of physical exercise for 30 minutes or more on a regular basis
  • It is recommended to avoid processed food items like chocolate, ice cream pizza and other fast-food items. This is essential as these food items are low in dietary fiber content

When to visit a doctor?

In case any of the following symptoms are present for more than a week, it is recommended to seek medical help as soon as possible:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Inability to pass gas
  • Severe fits of vomiting or chronic vomiting
  • Bloating of the stomach
  • Obstructive bowel syndrome
  • Pain during passing of stool

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