Digital disimpaction is when a person uses their finger to remove stool from the rectum. This procedure may be a last resort when other methods of passing the stool are not working.

Sometimes, it is necessary to have a doctor or nurse perform stool disimpaction. While it is typically safe to remove stool this way, there are some safety precautions to be aware of.

This article covers why a person may need digital disimpaction, how to do it safely, risks, and more.

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A person may need to perform digital disimpaction when other methods of passing stool are not working. This may be necessary due to fecal impaction, which can result from acute or untreated constipation.

Fecal impaction is when stool becomes hard and dried in the rectum. Typical peristalsis of the intestines cannot move the stool, so it builds up in the intestines, which adds to the constipation.

A person with fecal impaction may have rectal pain, abdominal pain, and abdominal distention. Some people also lose their appetite or have nausea and vomiting.

There are several reasons why a person may develop a fecal impaction:

  • Lifestyle factors: Several lifestyle factors may put a person at higher risk for fecal impaction. Examples include dehydration, insufficient fluid and fiber intake, and immobility.
  • Structural disorders: Several colon, rectum, or anus disorders may cause fecal impaction, such as hemorrhoids, narrowing of the rectum, colon, or anus, and previous anal surgery.
  • Neurologic or metabolic disorders: Having a neurologic or metabolic disorder may put a person at higher risk of fecal impaction. Examples include:
  • Medications: Some medications cause constipation, placing a person at higher risk for stool impaction. Drugs that can cause constipation include:

To perform digital disimpaction, a person can perform the following steps:

  1. Wash hands with soap and water, and wear clean gloves.
  2. Apply a lubricant to the index finger, such as lubrication jelly or a body-safe oil.
  3. While sitting on the toilet, gently insert the lubricated finger into the rectum. If performing digital disimpaction on someone else, have the person with the fecal impaction lie comfortably on their left side for this procedure.
  4. Using a side-to-side scissor motion, move the finger back and forth to break up the hard stool. Then, slightly bend the finger and move it in a circular motion around the inside of the rectum while trying to remove stool.
  5. Repeat this process until the rectum is clear of stool.
  6. Dispose of the gloves, gently clean the anal area, and wash the hands with soap and water.

People often feel immediate relief after digital disimpaction, and the procedure is generally safe. However, several risks and considerations are important to note.

Although rare, complications may include:

In even rarer cases, some older adults have experienced fatal arrhythmias during digital disimpaction.

If someone performs a digital disimpaction on themselves or someone else, monitoring for any possible complications and knowing when to contact a doctor is important.

People should contact a doctor if they experience significant bleeding or signs of infection.

If constipation or fecal impaction symptoms persist or return shortly after the stool removal, contact a doctor for further evaluation.

Constipation is a common concern during pregnancy. Due to changes in hormone levels, stools may travel slower through the intestinal tract, causing constipation.

If a person who is pregnant is experiencing constipation or possible fecal impaction, it is best to seek the advice of a healthcare professional. They should not try to digitally remove their stool without discussing it with a doctor.

Several alternative methods may help a person pass an impacted stool:

  • Enema: An enema is an injection of fluid, typically water, into the rectum to moisten the rectal tissues and soften the stool to make it easier to pass.
  • Suppositories: These are small medication inserts that go into the rectum to soften stool and stimulate a bowel movement.
  • Laxatives: Over-the-counter or prescription laxatives can help soften stool and promote bowel movements.
  • Splinting: This is where a person inserts a clean finger into the vagina to press on the wall the vagina shares with the rectum to help push a stool out.
  • Rectal surgery: In severe cases, a person may need to undergo rectal surgery to correct what is causing the fecal impaction.

How to promote healthy bowel movements

There are several ways to avoid fecal impaction and encourage healthy bowel movements. These include:

Digital disimpaction is a procedure a person may use to relieve severe constipation or fecal impaction when other methods have not worked.

It involves using a gloved and lubricated index finger to remove stool from the rectum. The procedure is typically safe, but it is important to use caution to avoid tearing or perforating the rectal tissues.

A person should contact a doctor if they experience bleeding, signs of infection, or persistent symptoms of constipation or fecal impaction. A person who is pregnant should consult a doctor if they cannot pass stool.

Alternatives to digital disimpaction may include an enema, suppository, or taking a laxative.