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Gastrointestinal Complications

Impaction

Description and Causes

Five major factors can cause impaction:

Patients with impaction may have symptoms similar to patients with constipation, or they may have back pain (the impaction presses on sacral nerves) or bladder problems (the impaction presses on the ureters, bladder, or urethra). The patient's abdomen may become enlarged causing difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, and low blood pressure. Other symptoms can include explosive diarrhea (as stool moves around the impaction), leaking stool when coughing, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and dehydration. Patients who have an impaction may become very confused and disoriented with rapid heartbeat, sweating, fever, and high or low blood pressure.

Assessment of Impaction

The doctor will ask questions similar to those in the Assessment of Constipation section and do a physical examination to find out if the patient has an impaction. The examination may also include x-rays of the abdomen and/or chest, blood tests, and an electrocardiogram (a test that shows the activity of the heart).

Treatment of Impaction

Impactions are usually treated by moistening and softening the stool with an enema. Enemas must be given very carefully as prescribed by the doctor since too many enemas can damage the bowel. Some patients may need to have stool manually removed from the rectum after it is softened. Glycerin suppositories may also be prescribed. Laxatives that stimulate the bowel and cause cramping must be avoided since they can damage the bowel even more.

Current Clinical Trials

Check NCI’s list of cancer clinical trials for U.S. supportive and palliative care trials about constipation, impaction, and bowel obstruction that are now accepting participants. The list of trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.