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When is constipation an emergency?

Andrew Bellingham

Andrew Bellingham

Pharmacist | 20+ Years | BPharm | Dip Clin Pharm

Constipation is when you have infrequent bowel movements or difficulty passing stools. It’s common and can be caused by factors like a low-fibre diet, not drinking enough fluids, or certain medications. Most of the time, constipation can be managed with dietary changes and over-the-counter remedies.

When to worry about constipation?

While constipation is usually manageable, there are rare instances when it becomes an emergency. It’s important to recognise these signs:

Severe abdominal pain

If you suddenly have intense abdominal pain that doesn’t improve, especially with bloating and inability to pass gas, it could mean a blocked intestine needing urgent medical attention.

Vomiting

Persistent vomiting along with constipation may indicate a bowel obstruction, requiring immediate treatment to prevent dehydration and complications.

No bowel movements or gas

If you can’t pass poo or gas, and feel very bloated, it might indicate a complete bowel obstruction needing urgent medical care.

Blood in poo

While minor bleeding can occur from haemorrhoids, persistent or large amounts of blood in your poo could indicate a serious issue like ulcers or colorectal conditions requiring prompt evaluation.

Fever

Constipation accompanied by fever, especially after recent surgery or cancer treatment, could indicate infection or inflammation in the bowel needing urgent attention.

Recent surgery or cancer treatment

If you’ve had recent abdominal surgery or are undergoing cancer treatment, constipation should be taken seriously due to possible complications like bowel obstruction.

In these situations, don’t delay seeking medical help. Immediate treatment can prevent serious complications such as bowel damage or infection. If you or someone you know shows these signs with constipation, go to the nearest emergency room or call for medical assistance.

Frequently asked questions about constipation

What causes sudden constipation in adults?

Sudden constipation in adults can be caused by factors like diet changes, dehydration, medications (especially opioids), or medical conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or thyroid disorders.

How can you relieve constipation quickly?

Relieve constipation quickly with increased water intake, fibre-rich foods, gentle exercise, and over-the-counter laxatives if needed.

When should you see a doctor for constipation?

See a doctor for constipation if it persists for more than two weeks, is accompanied by severe abdominal pain, bleeding, or significant changes in bowel habits.

A man holds his tummy in pain due to appendicitis

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