Surgeons in China removed a large part of a 22-year-old man’s large intestine, nearly three feet of colon packed with almost 30 pounds of compacted fecal matter.
He was diagnosed with a rare condition that involved a prolonged period of constipation. Medical experts believe he had been constipated for years and looked ‘like he was about to explode’.
The unidentified male patient is believed to have been born with the congenital condition known as Hirschsprung’s disease, also known as ‘HD’. Hirschsprung’s disease is a condition that affects the large intestine (colon) and causes problems with passing stool. The condition is present at birth (congenital) as a result of missing nerve cells in the muscles of the baby’s colon. A newborn who has Hirschsprung’s disease usually can’t have a bowel movement in the days after birth. In mild cases, the condition might not be detected until later in childhood.
Uncommonly, Hirschsprung’s disease is first diagnosed in adults. Hirschsprung’s disease occurs when nerve cells in the colon don’t form completely. Nerves in the colon control the muscle contractions that move food through the bowels. Without the contractions, stool stays in the large intestine.
This meant that the man was not able to defecate because of a lack of nerves in some muscles inside his colon. Medical experts claimed that chronic constipation led to piling up of degenerative worth of faeces and waste, creating what is known as a form of ‘megacolon’.
If not treated early, a person can develop sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication in which toxins get mixed with the bloodstream caused by the body’s response to an infection. However, this man’s diagnosis was delayed until adulthood as his parents considered it a ‘small ailment’, the media reported. As a result, the man’s abdomen began to bulge and swell at a very young age, to the point where people around him thought he appeared heavily pregnant.
He had to rely on laxatives and other constipation medicine to force bowel movements to happen, which did not work properly and the man had not been able to attain a significant degree of relief. In short, it didn’t work because laxatives aren’t meant to replace the natural peristaltic movement of the intestines.
So why didn’t laxatives work? Well, there’s a few classes of them, each of which has its own way of making you defecate. Bulk-forming laxatives, saline laxatives, and hyperosmotic laxatives all work a little differently, but basically they pull more water into your poop to help stimulate your intestines to move it more quickly. Lubricant laxatives like mineral oil work under the same basic principle, preventing water loss and helping the faeces move. Stimulant laxatives activate peristalsis. Here’s the thing, though: None of these laxatives work if your intestines aren’t working properly.
Doctor Yin Lu and his team of experts from the 10th People’s Hospital of Shanghai, in East China, claimed they were stunned by the size of the man’s abdomen, noting that ‘it looked like it could explode at any time’.
They did not say why he chose to finally seek medical attention, but reports suggested it was because of intense discomfort. He was operated in a three-hour surgery to have 76 centimetres (30 inches) of his large intestine removed. It was stitched closed at either end to prevent his stool from falling out and was in the end measured at some 13 kilogrammes (28 lbs).
The patient is stable and is expected to make a full recovery.
Dr Lu has advised parents not to neglect if a child is suffering from constipation, and it’s important to eat healthy in order to prevent constipation:
- It’s essential to include fibre in your diet.
- Keep yourself hydrated and intake of at least 3 litres of water every day is necessary for the body.
- A daily run or workout can help you prevent constipation.
Story first published: 15th June 2017