Fecal Impaction



Fecal impaction is when dry, hard stool cannot exit the body.

The Digestive Pathway
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Stool may not be able to exit the body if it is too large and/or the intestinal muscles are too weak.

Risk Factors

Certain factors may increase your risk of fecal impaction, such as:

  • Long-term constipation
  • Withholding bowel movements—a common cause in children
  • The use of certain medications such as pain medication or medications used to treat diarrhea
  • Long-term use of laxatives, especially if they are stopped too quickly
  • Inactivity
  • A diet that is low in fiber
  • Medical conditions that make bowel movements difficult



Symptoms may include:

  • Being unable to have a bowel movement
  • Pain in the back and/or abdomen
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Urinating more or less often
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Lightheadedness
  • Leaking stool or sudden episodes of watery diarrhea
  • Confusion


You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. A digital rectal exam may also be done.

Your bodily fluids may be checked. This can be done with blood tests.

Your bodily structures may need to be viewed to determine the severity of the impaction. This can be done with:

  • X-rays
  • Sigmoidoscopy



Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:


Your doctor may initially advise medications to help you pass the stool. This may include:

  • Stool softeners
  • Glycerine suppositories
  • Laxatives

Your doctor may advise long-term use of stool-softeners while your bowel function slowly returns to normal

Removing the Impacted Stool

The impacted stool may be removed through:

  • Manual removal by a healthcare provider
  • An enema
  • Surgery—rarely


To help return your bowel function to normal and prevent future fecal impaction problems:

  • Eat plenty of fiber-rich foods.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Take stool softeners as advised by your doctor.
  • Try to train your bowels by trying to have a bowel movement at the same time each day.
  • Go to the bathroom as soon as you have the urge.
  • Keep track of your bowel movements so you know if you are becoming constipated.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.


American Gastrointestinal Association https://www.gastro.org 

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians http://familydoctor.org 


Canadian Association of Gastroenterology https://www.cag-acg.org 

Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca 


Constipation in children. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T900171/Constipation-in-children . Updated June 2, 2016. Accessed October 3, 2016.

Fecal impaction. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/constipation/gi-complications-pdq#link/%5F15. Updated May 12, 2015. Accessed November 10, 2015.

Fecal impaction (child). University of Minnesota Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.uofmmedicalcenter.org/HealthLibrary/Article/512029EN. Accessed November 10, 2015.