Obstipation vs Constipation

This article reveals the differences between obstipation and constipation:


Obstipation, also known as obstructive constipation, is a type of severe form of constipation that results from an obstruction in the intestines.

It is usually caused by an accumulation and hardening of the stool due to infrequent bowel movements.


Common symptoms include:

  • increased bowel sounds that may later progress to diminished sounds;
  • abdominal distension;
  • increased heart rate;
  • a sensation of fullness;
  • loss of appetite;
  • vomiting;
  • constipation;
  • fever;
  • abdominal pain;
  • nausea.


Strangulated bowel and peritonitis (inflammation of the peritoneum) are two complications that can occur in people who suffer from obstipation.


Common causes may include:

  • Hirschsprung’s disease – it prevents bowel movements to pass through the intestines due to missing nerve cells in the lower part of the large intestine;
  • untreated constipation – if left unmedicated for a longer duration, constipation will result in obstipation;
  • inflammatory bowel disease – it may lead to fibrosis and hypertrophy of the intestinal walls;
  • diverticulitis – it is a painful disturbance in the digestive tract;
  • a tumor – it is caused by abnormal mass growth in the abdominal area;
  • intussusception – a medical condition in which a part of the intestine folds into the section next to it;
  • volvulus – it is a result of an intestine twisting leading to ischemic damage;
  • adhesions – it results in the formation of scar tissues;
  • a hernia – it leads to swelling of organs, causing the intestine to choke;
  • intestinal blockage – an obstruction in the small or large intestine can contribute to the condition.


Some of the tests which healthcare professionals can perform to diagnose the condition are:

  • barium enema;
  • blood tests;
  • ultrasound;
  • bowel test;
  • colonoscopy;
  • CT scan;
  • X-ray.


Most cases are treated with an increase in fluids and dietary fiber. Severe cases may require to be corrected via different surgical procedures.


It is a condition in which you may have:

  • a feeling that not all stool has passed;
  • fewer than 3 bowel movements every 7 days;
  • stools which are difficult or painful to pass;
  • stools that are dry, hard, or lumpy.


It is the reason for over 2.5 million physician visits per year in the US. In adults, it occurs more frequently in women and African-Americans. Also, it is more common in people of low education levels and low socio-economic status.

Around 33% of Americans over age 60 experience the condition every year, according to a recent survey done by the American Gastroenterological Association.

The number of individuals admitted to the hospital mainly for constipation has more than doubled in the last 2 decades. According to statistics, the annual expenditure of OTC laxatives in the United States is about $850 million.


Common symptoms may include:

  • general stomachache;
  • having less than 3 bowel movements in a week;
  • abdominal cramps;
  • little or no appetite;
  • bloating;
  • abdominal pain without or with bloating;
  • straining to have a bowel movement;
  • feeling the need to press on the abdomen to help empty the bowels;
  • inability to completely empty the bowels;
  • stools that are lumpy, hard, and dry.


Common complications may include:

  • diverticular disease;
  • hemorrhoids;
  • fecal impaction (a solid, immobile bulk of feces that can develop in the rectum);
  • anal fissure;
  • rectal prolapse.


It may result from several causes, including:

  • problems in the elimination of stool;
  • poor bowel habits;
  • a poor diet;
  • low fluids intake;
  • medications, like – painkillers, narcotics, antispasmodic drugs, antidepressants, iron tablets, or antacids.

Note – when no particular disease is the cause of constipation, it is called idiopathic constipation.

Risk Factors

Risk factors are:

  • non-European ancestry;
  • being a female;
  • low-income;
  • age 65 or older;
  • if you just had surgery;
  • if you just gave birth;
  • if you are pregnant.

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Some of the tests which healthcare professionals can perform to diagnose the condition are:

  • MRI defecography;
  • blood tests;
  • an X-ray of the rectum during defecation;
  • evaluation of anal sphincter muscle speed and of the anal sphincter muscle function;
  • examination of the entire colon and rectum.


Your doctor may recommend using a laxative for a short time. Types of laxatives include:

Other treatment options include:

  • drinking plenty of water, about 6 to 8 glasses per day;
  • physical movement – at least three times per week, such as – brisk walking, cycling, running, or swimming;
  • high fiber foods – brown rice, red kidney beans, broccoli, lentils, chickpeas, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, oatmeal, oat bran, carrots, walnuts, almonds, bananas, blueberries, blackberries, garlic, onions, cabbage, radishes, mangoes, papayas, pineapples, apples, pears, prunes, plums, or navy beans.

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When To See Your Doctor?

  • you are losing weight without trying;
  • you are still constipated after increasing your fluids intake and changing your diet;
  • you have abdominal pain or bloating;
  • there is blood or slime in your motions;
  • you have constipation for a week or more.


There are a few simple steps to prevent the condition:

  • avoid highly processed foods as they may cause constipation;
  • eat more fibrous food, like – fruits, vegetables, and legumes;
  • do not take too many laxatives;
  • allot plenty of time for a relaxed bowel movement;
  • never ignore an urge to have a bowel movement;
  • avoid caffeine and alcohol as they deplete the body of water content;
  • exercise regularly;
  • drink plenty of fluids.

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Bottom Line – Obstipation vs Constipation

Obstipation is a term that is used to describe a severe form of constipation. The condition usually results from a blockage or obstruction in the intestines.

Constipation is a very common disorder that is experienced by the majority of people at some time during their lives. It is caused by not taking in sufficient liquids and a diet low in fiber as well as from mechanical problems.

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