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Constipation

Updated 04 March 2019

This is what can happen when constipation gets serious

Constipation is common, but in some cases it can turn into a medical emergency.

Constipation is an unpleasant condition, experienced by most people at some stage. While it can usually be remedied by a laxative, more water, or slight changes to the diet, it can also signify an underlying digestive problem.

For one patient, constipation turned into something more than unpleasant when he had to have his entire bowel removed. According to reports, the man developed a so-called “megacolon” (an abnormal dilation of the colon) after a rare condition left him constipated for nearly three months.

'Uncomfortable with distension'

The 36-year-old man from a rural village in Sri Lanka suffers from a condition called multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2B (MEN2B), a rare genetic condition that causes the endocrine glands to become overactive, causing growths in the gut that lead to constipation.

The man arrived at the hospital, suffering from severe discomfort, saying that he had been constipated for a while.

He arrived at hospital "ill looking" and uncomfortable with distension – the medical term for a "ballooning effect", wrote Dr Ashan Rabinath Fernando – a surgeon at the National Hospital of Sri Lanka, according to BMJ Case Reports.

After examining him, the doctors confirmed that he had sluggish bowel movements caused by the megacolon.

Unfortunately, because of the MEN2B, the patient didn't respond to medication and it was decided to remove his entire colon and fit him with a colostomy bag. X-rays revealed that his colon measured 7cm across (generally considered dilated when more than 6cm in diameter).

According to reports, this is a rare case as most people who suffer from MEN2B experience symptoms such as growths and chronic constipation as infants. MEN2B should, however, be considered as a cause when adults present with severe chronic constipation.

When is my constipation a medical emergency?

While most cases of constipation clear up with time, changes in diet and a mild laxative, it can signify a serious underlying digestive problem. Seek medical help immediately if you:

  • Suffer from severe abdominal cramps
  • Have blood in your stool when you do manage to have a bowel movement
  • Experience nausea and vomiting
  • Are constipated for more than two weeks despite home remedies and/or dietary changes
  • Experience unexplained weight loss.
  • Are anaemic
  • Experience some or all of the above symptoms and have a family history of bowel cancer

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