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When Is Constipation an Emergency And What Can You Do About It?

Medically reviewed by Regina Victoria Boyles, MD · Pediatrics

Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated May 12, 2022

    When Is Constipation an Emergency And What Can You Do About It?

    Constipation is a fairly common condition. Almost everyone has experienced constipation at one point in their lives. But did you know that it can sometimes be a cause for concern? When is constipation an emergency, and what should you do about it? Find out the answers to these questions and more, below.

    What causes constipation?

    Constipation happens when a person has difficulty passing stool1. One of the most common causes of this condition is not having enough fiber or water in their diet. This results in hard stools, which are difficult or even painful to pass. This can usually be remedied by a change in diet, and by being careful with what foods you eat.

    Constipation can also become a chronic condition. This happens when a person constantly has trouble passing stool, and it’s starting to affect their quality of life. They might find themselves having recurrent stomachache, indigestion, or just general discomfort. Chronic constipation can also be treated, albeit some patients might need to take laxatives alongside making some lifestyle changes.

    While constipation is indeed a problem, it’s usually not a serious concern, and treating it can be very straightforward. Though, there are some situations when constipation is an emergency, and a person would require medical attention.

    When is constipation an emergency?

    If a person is chronically constipated and does nothing about it, there are some possible complications that might arise2.


    First off, they can experience hemorrhoids, or swollen veins in the rectum. These can be very painful, and might even require surgery to fix. Hemorrhoids can also sometimes burst and bleed, which requires immediate medical attention. However, this happens rarely, and usually isn’t a cause for concern so long as the patient seeks treatment before it happens.

    Anal Fissures

    Another possible situation is when hard stool causes tears in the tissues of the anus. These are known as anal fissures and usually go away over time. Though, if someone has chronic constipation, these fissures can eventually get deeper or even fail to heal. There are even cases where these fissures can extend to the muscles controlling the anus. When this happens, medical treatment is necessary to fix the problem.


    Constipation can also lead to a condition known as diverticulitis. This refers to inflammation of the abnormal pockets (called diverticula) that develop in a person’s colon. In some cases, trapped stool can be responsible for this inflammation. If this is the cause of diverticulitis, then it’s important to get it treated as soon as possible since it can lead to systemic infection.

    Stool Impaction

    Stool impaction can be another situation when constipation is an emergency3. As the name suggests, retained stool have accumulated and became so hard that it gets impacted and extremely difficult to move or no longer passes through the digestive tract. If not treated, stool impaction can cause serious problems, or even death. This is because the impacted stool essentially blocks the release of waste from the body, which causes it to build up.

    Other Symptoms

    Other important symptoms to watch out for when you’re constipated is bleeding when you pass stool, vomiting, fever, sudden weight loss, and severe pain in the abdomen4. These are known as “alarm symptoms” and can be sign of a more serious problem.

    What can you do about it?

    Here are some things you can do to help relieve constipation:

    • Eat foods that are rich in fiber such as fruits and vegetables
    • Drink more water
    • Avoid eating red meat or fatty foods
    • Exercise for at least 30 minutes each day, as this can help with your digestion

    Lastly, the most important thing to remember is that if you sense anything wrong, be sure to consult your doctor immediately. This is especially true if you’re suffering from chronic constipation. If you don’t seek treatment, it can get worse or lead to complications.

    Learn more about Constipation here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Regina Victoria Boyles, MD


    Written by Jan Alwyn Batara · Updated May 12, 2022

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