Written by an Anonymous RDEB Patient
I have had these issues since birth and have tried a myriad of medications that have been prescribed or suggested by prior physicians. The list includes mineral oil, senna products (liquid and herbal tea) ex-lax, milk of magnesia, dulcolax, docusate sodium, Metamucil, Miralax, Benefiber and many others that I don’t remember the names of. Ultimately, none of them worked in a manner that was consistent, or the side effects were to severe so outweighed the benefits, or they didn’t help at all.
For anyone who may not understand why constipation and fecal hoarding is such a prevalent problem for EB patients it is because our skin does not have the same elasticity that others do. Therefore, during a bowel movement, the skin of the rectum/anal area is stretched which causes blistering, tearing, splitting, shearing and detaching of many layers of skin. This is EXCRUCIATINGLY painful.
Generally, what happens is the fear and anxiety of having a bowel movement causes a behavioral habit called fecal hoarding which is when a patient deliberately avoids going to the bathroom when the body is trying to naturally expel the matter in an attempt to avoid the pain. What happens then is the matter becomes impacted and the intestines become stretched as more and more matter becomes impacted, thereby causing the size of the feces to become too large to be expelled naturally, as the skin simply would not be able to accommodate its passing. Because of the impaction, the matter becomes very hard and gas builds up in the body, causing painful cramping, as the gas cannot be released from the body, as it has no room to move past the matter.
At this point, the only thing that is going to alleviate the impaction is a series of laxatives, stool softeners and enemas. This is a painful and humiliating process that can sometimes take a few days to complete. The best way to keep this from happening is to make sure that you are ingesting enough fiber and water to allow the fecal matter to be soft so there is less pain when having a bowel movement.
What can also happen is some of the matter can become fluid and is able to slip past the harder matter so there are small bowel movements that are generally very messy but do help relieve some of the painful pressure of the matter that is bearing down on the inside of the intestines and rectum. This can give a false sense of security as one may think that they are having a bowel movement regularly; however, the case may be that only a small amount is being released during these loose movements.
It is a trial and error process of trying different medications or fiber supplements. Either they don’t help, or they help a little but not enough or you spend all your time running back and forth to the bathroom, an sometimes not quite making it there in time, which is humiliating for a person of any age.
When I was in my late 20’s I decided to try something different as I was frustrated by the lack of control I had over my bowel’s and it angered me that this skin disorder was making such a simple action so complicated. I decided to try a more natural approach of simply increasing my fiber and liquid intake. I began eating prunes and drinking more water every day, and it worked! After a day or two, I began having regular bowel movements that were very soft, and while it was still painful, it was not as painful or traumatic as I had been enduring.
After a few weeks, I got tired of prunes so I started looking for other foods or products that would have the same effect. The other benefit of eating foods high in fiber was that there were no side effects like when I was taking the medications.
Please remember that I am simply relaying information that helped ME. I strongly recommend discussing any diet change with your or your child’s doctor before making any serious changes. Also, continue taking medications until discussing any changes with the prescribing physician.
Below is a list of high fiber fruits and veggies and snacks
Please remember that FRESH fruits and veggies have much more fiber, vitamins and minerals than canned.
Prunes – Peaches – Cantaloupe – Watermelon – All green veggies
– Plums – Nectarines – Grapes – Grapefruit – Honey Dew Melon –
Apricots – Apples – Pears – Oranges – Mandarin – Oranges
- Salad (darker lettuce and baby spinach has more fiber, vitamins and minerals than iceberg lettuce)
- Pretty much ALL forms of BEANS are high in fiber (they are effective although they do create more gas)
- Whole wheat bread (Brownberry whole wheat has 3 grams per slice and is the best tasting whole wheat I’ve found…It has a sweet taste and is yummy : )
- Weight watcher brand muffins and dessert cakes (generally found in the bread aisle)
- Slim fast brand muffin bars
- Polaner all fruit with added fiber
- Shredded wheat cereals (Fiber One brand has a shredded wheat cereal with a higher fiber content than regular brands)
- Oatmeal (several brands have many flavors with more fiber or added fiber)
- Fiber One pop tarts
- Fiber One brownies
- Boost Plus supplement shakes
For infants and those that are not crawling or walking, it is helpful to massage the abdomen as well as pushing the legs up towards the abdomen area (as if riding a bicycle). This helps move the fecal matter through the intestines. If the matter is firm or hard it can hurt as it moves through the intestines (cramping) as the tissue is sensitive. It best to limit milk intake as it does not provide as much hydration as water or juices. You can water milk down or add ice to it and add a touch of sweetner to make it taste better. I recommend using stevia or Agave Nectar sweeteners as they are all natural, do not raise blood sugar levels or cause chemical reactions (mood swings, hyperactivity etc…)
It is imperative that you increase your water intake (fluid) if you increase your fiber intake as the body pulls the water into the intestines to allow the fecal matter to soften. If you don’t drink enough water then your body is not hydrated enough to complete this process and the matter will become harder.
Below is a photo of the rectum of an RDEB patient. It depicts the trauma caused to the rectal area by the stretching of the skin from passing fecal matter. There is a permanent tear in the rectal wall from repeated ripping of the tissue during bowel movements.