Stomach aches are no fun, especially when you really need to “go” and you just can’t. you know what I mean, right? You probably do: constipation is pretty common and affects people of all ages. The simple definition of constipation is not being able to poop. It can happen for various reasons, such as not eating enough fibre (fibre helps bowel movements), not drinking enough fluids and even due to a change in diet. It can also be a symptom of stress or anxiety, as well as a side effect of certain medication. The causes differ, but the outcome is the same – you can’t poop and it’s uncomfortable.
Imagine feeling that way for years. Last year, one man in China had struggled with stomach pain for up to a decade before checking in to the Second People’s Hospital in Chengdu, capital of south-west China’s Sichuan Province. The 27 year old had seen several doctors who had been unable to diagnose the reason behind his chronic stomach ache until this medical team carried out a series of x-rays and scans which revealed a staggering problem. His colon had grown to twice its normal size due to a condition called ‘congenital megacolon’ which meant he was unable to pass stool. In regular cases, drinking more water, increasing physical activity and eating more fibre can alleviate constipation but in this case, surgery was the only option. Stool weighing 11lbs (5 kg) had become stuck in his colon and had been causing him pain for years – this then had to be removed surgically.
Congenital megacolon is also known as Hirschsprung’s disease or HD. It occurs when the ganglion cells – the nerve cells of the myenteric plexus in the colon’s walls – are absent. These cells make it possible for the colon to push faeces outwards, so their absence means the colon walls do not contract and relax to push faeces through the intestine. As a result, waste becomes stuck and the person becomes constipated. It is more commonly seen in babies, but is a rare disorder thought to affect only one in 5000 people. Among those affected, men are four times more likely to suffer from this disorder than women. The 27 year old patient in Chengdu happened to be one of the unlucky few included in this statistic.Another Chinese man was diagnosed with a similar problem in Shanghai this month. In this separate case, the 22 year old man’s abdomen began to bulge at a very young age and he had to rely on laxatives and other constipation medicine to force bowel movements to happen. He was eventually seen by Doctor Yin Lu and his team of experts at the 10th People’s Hospital of Shanghai, in East China. Doctor Yin Lu has said his team was shocked by the size of the patient’s stomach, which “looked like it could explode at any time”. The doctor suspected this was a case of megacolon, and this was confirmed by tests which showed months’ – possibly years’ – worth of faeces trapped in the patient’s colon. To treat the problem, surgeons had to removed sections of the patient’s intestine, not just his stool. The surgery lasted three hours, and 76 centimetres (30 inches) of his large intestine was removed. It was then stitched closed at either end to prevent his stool from falling out. The removed section weighed 13 kilogrammes (28 lbs). The young man is expected to make a full recovery.