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Home arrow Health arrow Gut Health arrow When Is Constipation an Emergency and What Should You Know About It?

When Is Constipation an Emergency and What Should You Know About It?

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: July 18, 2023
5 min read 2177 Views 0 Comments
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Even though constipation isn’t generally life-threatening, if you have symptoms like bloating, blood in your stool, fever, or severe pain, things could be serious.

When Is Constipation an Emergency

So, you’re constipated and have trouble using the bathroom?

More often than not, mild constipation is completely normal and part of everyone’s life. Just eat a bit more fiber, exercise, and drink lots of fluids to get back on track. 

That said, if you find yourself having additional symptoms, from abdominal pain to fever to vomiting, you may need immediate medical attention. 

Keep reading to find out how to identify those symptoms and learn what they mean for your health.

How to Know When Constipation Is an Emergency?

#1 You feel nauseous
#2 You are constantly bloated
#3 You see blood in your stool
#4 You have a fever
#5 You have no bowel movements in a week

What Is Constipation?

Constipation is when your stools are difficult to pass or you have less than three bowel movements a week. It occurs due to lack of fiber, dehydration, changes in your diet, health conditions like diabetes, hypothyroidism, etc.), or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Sometimes, not getting enough physical exercise could also lead to constipation. 

According to a study from the American College of Gastroenterology, over 2.5 million Americans visit the doctor for constipation-related visits. Therefore, constipation shouldn’t be taken lightly, as it might hide more severe symptoms. 

What to Do if Constipated?

For starters, don’t wait until it becomes an emergency, and take a fiber supplement when you feel the first symptoms of constipation. 

You can take these supplements before or after a meal. Then, let them do their magic and help you fight constipation and bloating, cleanse your gut, and detoxify your body. 

When Is Constipation an Emergency?

Constipation could become an emergency when you’re feeling severe abdominal pain or have some of the following symptoms:

Constipation and nausea or vomiting

If you vomit when constipated, it could be a sign of fecal impaction. Fecal impaction happens when a usually large but hard stool mass is stuck in the colon and cannot be pushed out. This is a dangerous situation and shouldn’t be taken lightly; it requires urgent medical treatment. 

Constipation and constant bloating

Painful and constant stomach bloating could be a sign of a serious bowel issue. Chronic constipation and constant bloating require medical attention. On top of this, stomach bloating could be caused by:

Gastroparesis: A chronic (i.e., long-term) condition where the stomach cannot be emptied in the normal way, as food passes through the stomach very slowly. It’s believed to be the result of an issue with the nerves and muscles that control the way the stomach empties. 

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): IBS is a group of symptoms that usually occur together, including changes in your bowel movement and repeated pain in your abdomen, which could be constipation or diarrhea. Even though you may have IBS, it doesn’t mean there are visible signs of disease or damage to your digestive system.  

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO): SIBO occurs when there’s a large increase in the bacterial population in your small intestine, specifically bacteria not found in that part of the digestive system. Sometimes, this condition is known as blind loop syndrome. 

Constipation and blood in your stool

If you see small amounts of bright red blood on the toilet paper after wiping and fewer bowel movements than usual, it could be hemorrhoids or a scratch in the rectal area. These are not worrying conditions and are easy to treat.

That said, if you notice more blood than just a few red streaks on the toilet paper or the stool, or if you have black stools, seek urgent medical treatment. 

Blood in your stool may indicate:

Crohn’s disease: An inflammatory bowel disease that could become terminal. Crohn’s disease causes inflammation in your digestive tract, which leads to diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, weight loss, fatigue, bleeding, and malnutrition, among others. 

Peptic ulcers: These are open sores that develop inside the lining of your stomach and the upper portion of your small intestine. By far, the most common peptic ulcer system is stomach ache. 

Anal fissures: An anal fissure is a small tear in the thin tissue that lines the anus. It can occur when you remove large stools from your body during a bowel movement. Anal fissures cause pain and, perhaps, bleeding. 

Cancer, including anal cancer or colon cancer: There’s not much to say about cancer. If you are diagnosed with it, your doctor should help you treat it as best as possible. 

Constipation and fever

Mild constipation is OK. However, severe constipation and pain accompanied by a fever could mean you’re facing health issues that may require surgery to treat. From appendicitis to diverticulitis, constipation and fever is seldom a good sign. 

Appendicitis: This condition involves the appendix becoming infected and inflamed. Common symptoms include fever, lack of appetite and energy, and abdominal pain in the lower right part of your stomach. If you have severe appendicitis, you would need to undergo surgery to avoid peritonitis, which can lead to fatal complications like sepsis. 

Diverticulitis: This is about small pouches, also known as diverticula, located in the intestines that become inflamed or infected. Symptoms include vomiting, nausea, fever, and severe pain in the left part of the stomach. 

Strangulated hernia: A hernia can be either stuck or incarcerated, and if it happens, the area can feel very painful and firm. Also, a hernia can quickly become strangulated, meaning that if the bowel isn’t getting enough blood flow, it will lead to constipation and abdominal pain. Yes, this is a medical emergency!

No bowel movements in a week

If you eat regularly but still go to the bathroom less than 3 times per week, you may have a severe problem. When you have no bowel movements, the stool becomes backed up, and sometimes, this backup has to do with issues with the intestines, like cancer or scarring. For example, a tumor can press on a specific area of the bowel, leaving little to no room for stool to pass.

This condition is called bowel obstruction, can affect any part of the intestines, and is considered a medical emergency. On top of that, a backed-up stool could cause the intestines to rupture. This can be life-threatening. 

A Word From MD

Constipation shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially if followed by symptoms of severe pain. If there aren’t any symptoms and the only issue is bowel obstruction, then a healthy diet and plenty of exercise could be the solution.

Some sample foods you could eat to help your constipation are yogurt (including kefir), clear soups, wheat bran, and prunes. In fact, most dairy products contain microorganisms known as probiotics, which improve gut health and soften stools.

Besides these, broccoli, apples, and pears also help. Broccoli, for instance, contains a substance that eases digestion, while apples and pears contain compounds that improve it.

Here are some more foods that battle constipation:

  • Grapes
  • Kiwis
  • Berries
  • Olive oil
  • Sauerkraut

Remember: Apart from a good diet, you’d need to stay hydrated, exercise, and avoid stress, too. Additionally, you could also consider taking certain medications to help you with bowel movements (always ask your doctor before taking any, though).


Constipation, including chronic constipation, could mean nothing, or it may indicate more severe conditions. In every case, if there’s no bowel movement and constipation is accompanied by intense abdominal pain, fever, or some other symptom, you’d want to call your doctor the soonest. 

To prevent constipation, you need to follow a diet high in fiber, drink lots of fluids, get regular exercise, and eat low amounts of processed foods. Doing so, you’ll change your bowel habits and ensure your bathroom visits are regular and pleasant. 

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
The article was fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: July 18, 2023
5 min read 2177 Views 0 Comments

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