When is constipation an emergency?

Constipation is a very common bowel condition that normally goes away on its own. It is estimated that one out of every five Australians will experience it at one point in their lives. However, if you experience constipation along with other symptoms particularly for an extended period of time, it’s best to seek medical assistance right away.

Boy with pain from constipation

Severe constipation symptoms

A visit to your doctor is in order if your constipation is accompanied by any of the following:

Bloating and severe abdominal pain

Constipation with bloating and intense pain in the stomach could mean that whatever it is that is preventing the passage of stool is also pushing against your internal organs. It might also be a sign of a more serious condition that requires expert care as soon as possible, such as:

  • Appendicitis – inflammation of the appendix
  • Diverticulitis – infected or inflamed diverticula (tiny intestinal pockets)
  • Pancreatitis – inflammation of the pancreas
  • Mesenteric ischemia – the restriction of intestinal blood flow
  • Strangulated hernia – the constriction of a herniated tissue
  • Tears in the lining of the stomach or intestines

Surgery may be needed for the more critical conditions.

Other medical disorders that have a similar combination of symptoms include:

These are not as critical as the previously mentioned conditions but can be better managed with early diagnosis and treatment.


Throwing up while you’re constipated might be caused by the accumulation of food, fluids, gastric acids, and gas in your stomach and intestines. If your vomit has a brownish colour and gives off a smell of faeces, you may already be coughing up stool. On the other hand, if it has a greenish or yellowish colour, you may be expelling bile.

A medical professional may need to perform stomach decompression using a nasogastric tube to clear your intestinal obstruction. This is done by inserting a small tube into your nose and all the way to your stomach to draw out the contents causing the blockage.

Vomiting that comes with the difficulty of passing stool may also be a result of faecal impaction. This happens when digested food that becomes waste hardens and gets stuck in your colon. Use of certain medications such as opioid painkillers and antacids as well as iron and calcium supplements may affect gastrointestinal motility or the movement of food through your GI tract. Dehydration and dependence on laxatives can also make you more susceptible to faecal impaction.

Relieving faecal impaction may require a trip to the emergency room for a disimpaction procedure by a medical expert using anal suppositories and enemas. This is a process of getting fluid into your rectum to soften the clustered mass of waste so you can excrete it safely.

Bloody stool

Bright red blood in your stool or toilet paper may be a sign of haemorrhoids. While this condition is relatively common and easy to treat using natural home remedies, painful haemorrhoids may need the immediate attention of your doctor.

Similarly, black or tarry stool may require emergency care and assistance as this could mean that there is bleeding inside your gastrointestinal tract. This may be a symptom of a more serious health issue such as Crohn’s disease, stomach ulcers, colon cancer or anal cancer. The advanced detection of these diseases and timely administration of appropriate treatment may give you better results and higher chances of recovery.

Chronic constipation

Aside from experiencing constipation that comes with bloating, intense abdominal pain, vomiting, and blood in your stool, having less frequent bowel movements (i.e., fewer than thrice each week) despite eating regularly could be due to a permanent obstruction in your stomach, intestines or colon. A scarred tissue or a tumour may be blocking the passage of stool.

See your doctor immediately if your bowel movements have been few and far in between or if you have been passing very little stool.

Manage your constipation before it becomes an emergency

If you’re experiencing difficulty in passing stool, consider increasing your fibre and water intake and making lifestyle changes to improve your bowel movement. However, constipation may not always be a result of poor habits and nutrition; it may also be a symptom of an undetected health issue.

Our team of dietitians and nutritionists can help keep your constipation under control. We have been assisting individuals like you identify the root cause of their constipation and other gut and bowel disorders for years. After determining the cause of your condition, we will help you develop a specialised lifestyle plan and dietary program that will allow you to cope better with your constipation. Book an appointment now, so you can be well on your way to long-term rectal relief.