Complications with constipation 

Constipation rarely causes any complications or long-term health problems. Treatment is usually effective, particularly if it is started promptly.

However, if you have chronic (long-term) constipation, you may be more at risk of experiencing complications.

Rectal bleeding

If you continually strain to pass stools, it can cause pain, discomfort and rectal bleeding.

In some cases, bleeding is the result of a small tear around the anus (anal fissure), but it is more often the result of  haemorrhoids (piles). Haemorrhoids are swollen blood vessels that form in the lower rectum and anus.

As well as bleeding, haemorrhoids can cause pain, itching around the anus, and swelling of the anus.

Haemorrhoid symptoms often settle down after a few days without treatment. However, creams and ointments are available to reduce any itching or discomfort.

You should see your GP as soon as possible if you experience any rectal bleeding.

Faecal impaction

Chronic constipation can increase the risk of faecal impaction, which is where dried, hard stools collect in your rectum and anus.

Once you have faecal impaction, it is very unlikely that you will be able to get rid of the stools naturally.

Faecal impaction worsens constipation because it makes it harder for stools and waste products to pass out of your anus as the path is obstructed.

If you experience faecal impaction, it can lead to a number of other complications. These include:

  • swelling of the rectum
  • losing sensation in and around your anus
  • bowel incontinence, when you uncontrollably leak soft or liquid stools
  • bleeding from your anus
  • rectal prolapse, when part of your lower intestine falls out of place and protrudes from your anus (this can also occur as a result of repeated straining caused in people with chronic constipation)

Faecal impaction is usually treated with laxative medication, although suppositories (medication inserted into the anus) and mini enemas (where medicine in fluid form is injected through your anus) may sometimes be used.

See treating constipation for more information about this.

Page last reviewed: 08/01/2014

Next review due: 08/01/2016