Constipation Emergencies: Recognizing Serious Complications

Constipation Emergencies: Recognizing Serious Complications

April 1, 2024

Constipation is the infrequent bowel movements or difficulty passing stools, leading to discomfort and other health issues. It is prevalent health issue, can sometimes escalate into a critical condition requiring immediate attention. This blog discusses the importance of recognizing constipation emergencies, understanding their causes, and identifying when to seek help, particularly focusing on the availability of emergency medical services for such conditions in Houston. 

Identifying Constipation Emergencies

Constipation can lead to emergencies that necessitate prompt medical intervention. Recognizing these signs is crucial for timely care:

  • Serious Complications: These include fecal impaction, bowel obstruction, and anal fissures, which are conditions that can cause significant discomfort and require immediate medical attention.
  • Emergency Room Near You: For residents in Houston experiencing a constipation emergency, our emergency room provides urgent care and support to address severe complications effectively. 

Symptoms of Serious Complications

Serious constipation complications can lead to various symptoms that should not be ignored. Here are some of the most common symptoms and potential complications of severe constipation:

  1. Fecal impaction: When stool becomes too hard and dry, it can get stuck in the rectum or colon, leading to a condition called fecal impaction. This can result in causing severe abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, and even vomiting. Fecal impaction can also lead to bowel obstruction, which is a medical emergency.
  2. Rectal bleeding: Straining to pass hard stools can cause tiny tears in the anus and rectum, leading to rectal bleeding. This can be a sign of hemorrhoids or a more serious condition like an anal fissure or rectal prolapse.
  3. Abdominal pain and cramping: As the colon becomes stretched and distended by the buildup of stool, it causes severe abdominal pain and cramping. The pain may be intermittent or constant, and it can be accompanied by bloating and a feeling of fullness.
  4. Nausea and vomiting: Severe constipation can cause nausea and vomiting due to the buildup of stool and gas in the intestines, as well as the pressure it puts on other organs.
  5. Loss of appetite: Constipation can cause a loss of appetite due to the discomfort and fullness it creates in the abdomen.
  6. Fatigue and weakness: The strain and discomfort associated with constipation can lead to fatigue and a general feeling of weakness.
  7. Urinary incontinence: In some cases, severe constipation can put high pressure on the bladder, leading to urinary incontinence or difficulty urinating.
  8. Rectal prolapse: Chronic straining can cause part of the rectum to protrude from the anus, a condition known as rectal prolapse.
  9. Bowel obstruction: If constipation is left untreated, it can lead to a complete bowel obstruction, which is indeed a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment.

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is essential to seek medical attention, as severe constipation can have serious consequences if left untreated. 

Causes and Risk Factors for Constipation Emergencies

Constipation emergencies, such as fecal impaction and bowel obstruction, can arise due to various underlying causes and risk factors. Understanding these factors can help prevent or manage severe constipation and its potential complications. Here are some common causes and risk factors for constipation emergencies:

  1. Medications: Certain medications, including opioid painkillers, antidepressants, calcium channel blockers, and iron supplements, can slow down bowel movements and contribute to constipation.
  2. Diet: Low fiber diets and fluids can lead to hard, dry stools that are very difficult to pass, increasing the risk of constipation emergencies.
  3. Lack of physical activity: A sedentary lifestyle along with lack of exercise can slow down the digestive system and contribute to constipation.
  4. Neurological disorders: Conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injuries can affect nerve function and disrupt normal bowel movements.
  5. Colorectal cancer: Tumors or growths in the colon or rectum can obstruct the passage of stool, leading to constipation emergencies.
  6. Pregnancy and childbirth: The range of hormonal changes and physical pressure during pregnancy, as well as the strain of childbirth, can increase the risk of severe constipation.
  7. Older age: As people age, they may experience a slowdown in digestive function, leading to an increased risk of constipation emergencies.
  8. Chronic conditions: Conditions such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, and irritable bowel syndrome can contribute to constipation and its complications.
  9. Frequently avoiding the urge to have a bowel movement: Repeatedly ignoring the body’s signals to have a bowel movement can buildup stool and increase the risk of constipation emergencies.
  10. Structural abnormalities: In some cases, congenital or acquired structural abnormalities in the colon or rectum can obstruct the passage of stool and increase the risk of constipation emergencies.

It’s important to address any underlying medical conditions, make dietary and lifestyle changes, and seek medical attention promptly if experiencing severe constipation symptoms to prevent potential emergencies. 

Seeking Immediate Care

For anyone in Houston experiencing symptoms of a constipation emergency, timely intervention is critical:

Our Emergency Room in Houston Offers specialized care for constipation emergencies, ensuring prompt and effective treatment to prevent serious complications. 


While constipation is a common issue, awareness of its potential to escalate into an emergency is crucial. Recognizing the signs that require immediate medical intervention can save lives. For Houston residents, our emergency room stands ready to provide the necessary care for those facing serious complications related to constipation. Remember, prioritizing your health and responding swiftly to emergency symptoms are key steps toward maintaining well-being.


What are the risks and complications associated with severe or frequent constipation?

If you often have trouble going to the bathroom, you might end up with some uncomfortable problems like painful tears around your bottom (anal fissures), swollen veins in your anus (hemorrhoids), or even a condition where your bowel gets blocked by hard poop (fecal impaction). It’s important to manage constipation early to avoid these issues.

How long does constipation last?

Constipation doesn't have a set time frame. It can be a brief bother for a few days or a persistent problem that lasts for weeks. If your constipation clears up in a few days, it’s usually nothing to worry about. But if it drags on, you might need to see a doctor.

How long can adults go without having a bowel movement and still be healthy?

Everyone is different, but generally, it's normal to go up to three days without a bowel movement. If you go longer than that, you might start to feel uncomfortable, and it could be a sign of constipation.

How can diet and lifestyle changes help prevent constipation and avoid reoccurrence?

Think of your digestive system like a well-oiled machine—it needs the right fuel and regular use to run smoothly. Eating plenty of fiber (like from fruits, veggies, and whole grains), drinking lots of water, and staying active can keep things moving and prevent constipation.

How can quitting smoking reduce the risk of constipation?

Smoking can mess with the muscles that help you go to the bathroom and slow everything down. Kicking the habit can help your guts get back to normal and reduce bathroom troubles.

What are the common signs and symptoms of chronic constipation?

If you find yourself going to the bathroom less than three times a week, feeling like you still need to go after you’ve just gone, or if it’s tough to pass stool, you might be dealing with chronic constipation. Other signs include needing to help things along with your hands or having hard, dry stools.

When should a person seek emergency medical attention for changes in bowel habits?

If sudden changes in your bathroom habits come with severe pain, blood in your stool, unexpected weight loss, or vomiting, it’s time to seek emergency help. These could be signs of a serious underlying issue that needs immediate attention.

How is appendicitis diagnosed?

To find out if you have appendicitis, doctors usually check where it hurts, look at your symptoms, and might run some blood tests or take images like an ultrasound or a CT scan. This helps them see if your appendix is inflamed and rule out other problems that might feel similar.

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