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Obstipation – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Updated on March 24, 2014

Obstipation is an abnormal condition characterized by loss of ability to pass gas or stool which in turn arises due to some obstruction or blockage in the intestines. It is basically a type of chronic or extended constipation which has progressed to a persistent and difficult to manage disorder. Obstipation is also referred to as obstructive constipation. Untreated cases of obstipation can lead to other deadly health complications such as tachycardia, strangulated bowel, peritonitis, body malaise, etc.

Obstipation versus Constipation

The basic difference between constipation and obstipation pertains to the duration for which stool is retained and the seriousness of loss in bowel movements. Obstipation is the persistent form of constipation and can progress or develop over a period of one year or more.

People affected by constipation face problems in elimination of feces, wherein patients may experience bowel movements just 3 or less times per week. On the other hand, obstipation patients do not have any bowel movements at all leading to a loss in the ability to defecate.

It is easy to manage and treat almost all cases of constipation. However, as obstipation can be caused due to varied causes and/or is associated with other disorders, its treatment is more problematic.

Symptoms of Obstipation

Some of the signs and symptoms of obstipation are listed below:

  • Abnormal symptoms of the abdomen include:
    • Constipation
    • Bloating, feeling of fullness, or abdominal enlargement
    • Abdominal distention
    • Increased sounds from the bowel, which is medically termed as borborygmi
    • Chronic pain or cramping
    • Abdominal tenderness
    • Anorexia
    • Abdominal discomfort
    • The physical symptoms include:
      • Dehydration
      • Fever
      • A foul odor to the breath
      • Vomiting
      • Nausea
      • Tachycardia or rapid heart beat

The above listed symptoms of obstipation can increase the risk to other health complications like strangulated bowel, which in turn can result in malfunction of the bowel, nausea, low blood pressure, dehydration, vomiting, and a rapid pulse. Patients are also at great risk to developing peritonitis which causes infection of the intestinal wall linings.

Causes of Obstipation

  • The largest percentage of the digestive system is made up of the intestines. Hence, obstipation is primarily caused due to obstruction of the intestines. It can arise due to blockage of the large intestine/colon, or of the small intestine/bowel.
  • Untreated or chronic cases of constipation can also cause obstipation. Constipation can arise due to low intake of water, decreased fiber content in the diet, and lack of physical activities.
  • Obstipation can also be caused due to structural defects such as incorrect development of the rectal wall. Colon blockage can arise due to tumors, hernias, and/or structural anomalies and inflammation of the intestines eventually leading to obstipation.
  • Other causes of obstipation include anal fissure, colorectal cancer, fecal impaction, presence of foreign matter, twisted bowels or volvulus, proctitis, hypothyroidism, intestinal atresia, dysfunction of pelvic bone, and Hirschsprung’s disease which is a neurological condition.
  • Causes of obstipation in children: In some cases, bowel movements cause discomfort in children. Such children often suffer from constipation because they try suppressing defecation to avoid the accompanying pain. This causes the body to adapt to increased abdominal pressure thereby allowing withholding of stool for longer periods. Eventually, chronic and prolonged instances of constipation result in obstipation.
    • Decreased water intake and low-fiber diet can also cause obstipation in children.
    • Obstipation in children may also be caused due to congenital or neurological conditions like Hirschsprung’s disease. It is a disorder that arises due to failure of some nerve bodies to get to the colon during development of the fetus, thereby causing loss of colon activity regulation. A section of the colon does not contract leading to creation of anobstacle for easy defecation.

Obstipation Treatment

The treatment of obstipation is dependent on its cause. However, treatment of all cases of obstipation require diet changes. Patients have to significantly increase their water intake as well as consumption of foods rich in fiber.

Patients may be asked to undergo an enema wherein liquids are inserted into the colon and rectum via the anus. This results in expansion and increase in the available space in the lower intestines, thereby enhancing peristalsis and cramping and eventually facilitating the excretion of stool.

Patients need to avoid milk, coffee, fruit juices, and alcohol. Doctors will suggest regular exercising for improving circulation of oxygen to the intestines and peristalsis. Patients may also need to undergo fecal impaction wherein the stool is manually removed.

Children may be asked to go for toilet breaks at scheduled intervals. Doctors may also recommend varied laxatives including milk of magnesia, walnuts, polyethylene glycol, etc.

Severe cases of intestinal obstruction that cause obstipation may need to be corrected via different surgical procedures such as laparoscopic surgery or colonoscopy.

One of the best ways to prevent obstipation is by having regular bowel movements and preventing constipation. Obstipation can also be avoided by consuming a fiber-rich diet, intake of lots of water, and regularly exercising.


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    • louiseelcross profile image

      Louise Elcross 

      2 years ago from UK

      I have just been diagnosed with blocked small intestine even though I have never been constipated so this was an interesting read. I have bloating when I eat and pain and discomfort under left breast. Xray showed up the blockage in the small intestine and now I am waiting to see consultant. I have been seeing same consultant for years and complaining of problems but it has never been resolved so I am hoping this time with the xray I will get help. Thanks again.

    • Sahanadas73 profile image


      2 years ago from India

      A very informative post.

    • medicalhub profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago


      Thank you for appreciating. Do read my other posts.

    • erorantes profile image

      Ana Maria Orantes 

      5 years ago from Miami Florida

      Thank you medicalhub. Usually birds have this problem. They die because their seeds get stuck in their small intestine . A small quantity of oil fix this problem. For humans , the Doctors know the medicine. Thank you for the information.


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