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Prolonged constipation and a sensation of nausea may lead to a condition where patients actually think they are vomiting feces. The vomit smells and even looks like feces. As bizarre as this may seem, it is in fact a medical emergency.

Fecal Vomiting - Intestinal or Bowel Obstruction

The medical term for this condition is "intestinal or bowel obstruction". It may be defined as a complete or partial blockage of the small intestine or large intestine (colon). This blockage obstructs the normal movement of digested food, fluids and gases from passing along the intestines. If not promptly treated, the affected areas of the intestines may die. This process is called necrosis.


The causes of intestinal obstruction can be divided into two categories, depending on the area that is blocked or the underlying cause.

Mechanical Obstruction

A mechanical blockage is one where there is an actual physical obstruction. This can be either in the small intestine or in the colon.

Mechanical Obstruction Of The Small Intestine

This may be brought on by:

  • Hernias: Portions of the intestine tend to project into other parts of the body

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

  • Intestinal adhesions: Formation of bands of fibrous tissue in the abdominal cavity, usually as the result of surgery

  • Tumors

  • Intussusception: Telescoping of a part of the intestine into another

  • Volvulus: A physical twisting and knotting of the intestine

Mechanical Obstruction Of The Large Intestine (Colon)

This may be brought on by:

  • Impacted feces

  • Volvulus: a physical twisting and knotting of the intestine

  • Intestinal Stricture: Narrowing of the colon as the result of scarring or inflammation

  • Colon cancer

  • Diverticulitis: Formation of small, inflamed bulging pouches (diverticula) in the digestive tract

  • Paralytic Ileus: Paralytic ileus is also termed a pseudo-obstruction, since there is no physical cause involved. A nervous or muscular mis-coordination adversely affects bowel movements. This restricts the movement of food and fluids. Causes may include:

  • Abdominal surgery

  • Infection

  • Pelvic surgery

  • Certain antidepressants and pain-relievers

  • A muscular or nerve disorder

Diagnosing The Exact Cause Is Necessary

As it is a medical emergency, it is imperative to find out the exact cause of fecal vomiting as soon as possible. Anyone experiencing this should go to the emergency department of a nearby hospital. The following steps and investigations are performed by the doctor or surgeon to get to the root of the cause.

  • Medical history: The doctor will ask you questions related to this medical condition.

  • General Physical Examination: This can include listening for an obstruction by placing a stethoscope on the abdominal area.

  • Ultrasound Abdomen: To look for any adhesions.

  • X-rays: To see a clear picture of the colon.

  • CT-Scan Abdomen: To detect the exact site and cause of the obstruction.

  • Colonoscopy: This is a gold standard test because the doctor can visually see the inside of the colon.

Is this condition Treatable?

Yes, this is a treatable condition. A delay in treatment can cause fatal complications.

The treatment depends on the cause of the intestinal obstruction. However, the following procedures are performed in almost every case:

  • Nasogastric tube (NG) insertion through the nose into the stomach to help drain gas and fluids. This also relieves pressure and pain.

  • Using air (enemas) or small meshes (stunts) to open the blocked intestinal tubes.

  • In cases of complete obstruction, surgery may become inevitable to remove the dead or decaying tissue.


If left untreated, the following problems may arise:

  • Dehydration

  • Infection and tissue death

  • Jaundice

  • A physical hole (perforation) in the intestine

  • Electrolyte imbalance in blood

  • Blood and lung infections in newborns


The causes determine the preventive steps that may be taken. Appropriate treatment for tumors and hernias can significantly lower the risk for intestinal obstruction. Certain cases are untreatable.

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