A normal bowel habit is usually associated with ease of passing stool at least 3 times a week or more frequently but not exceeding 3 times in a 24 hour period. Difficulty passing stool is a sign of constipation. It is one of the common causes for stuck bowel movement. This feeling may be due to feces stuck in the bowels but can also be a sensation of it being stuck with no difficulty passing out stool.
Why does bowel movement become stuck?
There are several possible reasons why bowel movement may become stuck. However, it is also important to differentiate between an actual bowel blockage and the feeling of the bowel movement being stuck. The latter may be a sensation that can occur despite there being no actual obstruction. It is important to first understand how stool is formed and passed out of the healthy bowel.
Normally stool is formed in the large intestine and specifically in the colon. A fluid mixture of water, bile, undigested and unabsorbed nutrients as well as enzymes and other substances enters the colon. It is known as intestinal chyme. This chyme is gradually converted into stool within the colon as water is reabsorbed and colonic bacteria act on the mixture. Eventually soft firm stool forms and is held within the latter parts of the colon.
As stool accumulates, it stretches the colon wall. This causes the urge to pass stool. The stool fills into the rectum and the urge intensifies. At this point a person needs to defecate and assumes the appropriate position to pass stool. Under normal circumstances, stool passes out with ease from the rectum when the anal sphincters relax and open. It is pushed out by the strong contractions in the rectum.
However, there are situations where any of these processes in normal stool formation and expulsion (defecation) may be disturbed. This can lead to problems with defecation and the stool may become stuck in the bowel. Most of the time this is a temporary problem and eventually the stool is expelled. However, there are instances when the stool can become backed up and cause stretching of the colon with the potential of a rupture.
Causes of Stuck Bowel Movement
There are several related conditions which a person may describe as the stool being stuck. As previously mentioned, in some of these condition the movement through the bowels may be obstructed causing the stool to become stuck in the lower bowels. However, at other times this is a sensation of the stool being stuck and there may be no physical obstruction or problem with passing stool.
Most commonly, the feeling of stuck bowel movement may be a sign of constipation. There is difficulty passing stool and a person strains to have a bowel movement. Often this bowel movement is incomplete meaning that there is a small volume of stool that is expelled. Furthermore constipation causes hard bowel movement which can also make it difficult to pass out and further contribute to the sensation of the bowel movement being stuck.
The other possibility is that the feces may really be stuck in the bowels. This condition is known as fecal impaction. It is usually seen with severe constipation where the stool becomes a large hard and dry mass. As a result it causes stool to become backed up in the bowel. This causes stretching of the lower bowels. It has to be removed manually if an enema does not help and in soe rare cases surgery may even be necessary.
Colon polyps are abnormal growths from the wall of the colon. Most of the time these growths are benign (non-cancerous) but in some cases it can be malignant (cancerous). Some polyps may be small and cause little to no symptoms. Larger polyps are more likely to cause more severe symptoms, even if the polyp is non-cancerous. These polyps can alter bowel habit and contribute to the sensation of urging or stuck bowel movement.
Tenesmus is an urging to pass stool but little or no feces is passed out. It is a common symptom in many conditions including hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), colon polyps, proctitis (rectal inflammation) from various conditions like infections and radiation, and colorectal conditions. Tenesmus may sometimes be mistaken for stool being stuck in the rectum or anal canal.
A foreign object in the rectal or anal canal may also give rise to the sensation of stuck bowel movement. This may occur with suppositories, especially large suppositories. It can also arise after diagnostic procedures like a colonoscopy or with a digital rectal exam that is not done with proper care. Certain sexual practices may result in injury of the anus and rectum thereby causing a stuck bowel movement feeling.
Treatment and Remedies
The sensation of stuck bowel movement is a symptom. It can sometimes be due to serious conditions. There is this sensation is persisting, particularly when no stool is being expelled, or where other symptoms like rectal bleeding, abdominal pain and projectile vomiting occur then it needs to be investigated immediately before any treatment or remedy is commenced.
The treatment for a stuck bowel movement feeling depends on the underlying cause. Therefore treatment options may vary. For example, constipation may require laxatives, stool softeners and fiber supplements whereas polyps may require surgery for removal of these growths. Therefore the sensation of stuck bowel movement or the actual obstruction of stool needs to be investigated by a medical professional.
Read more on how to have a bowel movement.
Some of the following measures may be helpful for some of the more common causes of stuck bowel movement or the sensation:
- Increase daily water consumption to at least 2 liters (68 ounces) or more during hot weather and with strenuous activity.
- Consume more fiber through various high fiber foods and particularly fresh fruit and vegetables as well as whole grains. Fiber supplements may also be helpful.
- Ensure daily physical activity and preferably exercise for 120 to 150 minutes a week in at least 30 minute sessions.
- Avoid sitting on the toilet for long periods as this can contribute to conditions like hemorrhoids which may cause tenesmus.
- Visit a doctor regularly and undergo screening investigations like a colonoscopy if there is a high risk of diseases such as colorectal cancer.
- Tenesmus. NIH.gov
Last updated on September 16, 2018.