Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Constipation and Bowel Obstruction

Constipation is when a person has a problem having bowel movements. Passing stool may also be very difficult if an individual is constipated. Although, how often people pass stool varies greatly, you are usually considered constipated if you have a bowel movement less than three times a week. A bowel obstruction is when there is a blockage in the small intestine or large intestine. This blockage stops any liquid or food material from passing along the gut. An obstruction can occur because of severe constipation but it is often also due to other problems, such as tumors or adhesions. A complete bowel obstruction is dangerous and should be treated promptly.

In short, constipation is when the bowels do not empty often enough or there are issues with passing stool. A bowel obstruction is when these is some type of blockage in the small or large intestines.

What is Constipation?


Constipation is difficulty in having a bowel movement. It may include straining and passing very little stool. It also may be that the person passes stool less than three times a week. The condition of constipation is common and can lead to complications like rectal prolapse, anal fissure, hemorrhoids, and even bowel obstruction.

Symptoms and treatment:

The signs of constipation include very infrequent bowel movements, struggling to pass stool, a feeling of bloating and fullness, pain in the belly, and nausea. There are various types of laxatives and enemas that can help treat constipation. There are several types of laxatives including stimulant or bulk-forming laxatives. Your doctor can advise you on the best type of laxative for your situation. Changing your diet to include more fiber and water can be helpful in trying to remedy the problem and prevent further episodes of constipation. 

What is Bowel Obstruction?


A bowel obstruction means that some part of the small intestine or large intestine is either partly or totally blocked. This can be due to a tumor that is blocking the lumen, but it can also result from having a condition like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or diverticulitis. Surgical adhesions can sometimes also cause an obstruction. Adhesions can happen after abdominal surgery.

Symptoms and treatment:

The signs of a bowel obstruction include pain in the gut, swelling of the abdomen, inability to pass feces, liquid, or gas, and nausea and vomiting. Vomit may contain feces and produce a foul odor; this is common where obstruction is severe. Treatment may include an enema or using a nasogastric tube to remove contents. The person may even need surgery if the obstruction is complete.

Difference between Constipation and Bowel obstruction?


Constipation is when bowel movements are not frequent enough or the person has problems in defecating. A bowel obstruction is when there is a blockage somewhere in the intestines.


The causes of constipation include a lack of fiber in the diet, not drinking enough, certain medications, and some medical problems. Bowel obstruction can be due to volvulus, adhesions, a tumor, or IBD.


Symptoms of constipation include a sore abdomen, bloating, belly pain, and nausea. Symptoms of bowel obstruction include severe abdominal pain, swelling, nausea, and vomiting.


Possible complications of constipation include hemorrhoids, fecal impaction, anal fissures, and bowel obstruction. Possible complications of bowel obstruction include severe belly pain, vomiting, and a swollen belly.


Treatment of constipation includes enemas, laxatives, change of diet, and drinking more water. Treatment of bowel obstruction includes enemas to empty the large bowel, a nasogastric tube to remove stomach contents by suction, and surgery.

Table comparing Constipation and Bowel obstruction

Summary of Constipation Vs. Bowel obstruction

  • Constipation and bowel obstruction are both conditions that can affect the intestines.
  • Constipation affects most people at some stage of their lives, but it should be corrected to avoid further complications.
  • Bowel obstruction is dangerous, with a total blockage having complications like necrosis and even death.


How do I know if I have bowel obstruction or constipation?

A bowel obstruction causes more severe pain and vomiting, while with constipation there may be some discomfort and nausea. Only a doctor can diagnose which condition you have. It is important to seek treatment since complications of both conditions are unpleasant or even dangerous.

How can you tell the difference between constipation and impaction?

With impaction, no stool can be passed, while often some stool can still be passed with constipation.

Can you still poop if you have a bowel obstruction?

It depends on the type of bowel obstruction. If the bowel is only partially obstructed, then feces can still be passed. If a bowel obstruction is complete, you will not be able to pass stool or gas.

How do you rule out a bowel obstruction?

A doctor may have you undergo tests like X-ray, barium enema, or ultrasound to make sure you don’t have a bowel obstruction.

What does the start of a bowel obstruction feel like?

One of the first signs is pain in the middle of your belly. This may become severe over time, followed by vomiting. 

What simple trick empties your bowels immediately?

Using an enema is usually the fastest way to empty your bowels. 

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References :

[0]Ansari, Parswa. “Intestinal obstruction”. Merckmanuals. Merck & Co., 2023, https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/acute-abdomen-and-surgical-gastroenterology/intestinal-obstruction

[1]Ansari, Parswa. “Intestinal obstruction”. Merckmanuals. Merck & Co., 2023, https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/acute-abdomen-and-surgical-gastroenterology/intestinal-obstruction

[2]Gotfried, Jonathan. “Constipation”. Merckmanuals. Merck & Co., 2022, https://www.msdmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/symptoms-of-gastrointestinal-disorders/constipation

[3]Mayo Clinic. “Intestinal obstruction”. Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation, 2024, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/intestinal-obstruction/symptoms-causes/syc-20351460

[4]Image credit: https://www.canva.com/photos/MACzMjKUyT4-woman-feel-pain-with-constipation/

[5]Image credit: https://www.canva.com/photos/MAFYTwbzY2Y-intestinal-inflammation-highlighted-intestines-irritable-bowel-syndrome-abdominal-pain-man-large-intestine-on-man-body-stomachache-diarrhea-symptom-or-food-poisoning-copy-space/

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