Think back to the last time you were constipated—the bloating, the abdominal pain, the feeling that you gotta go but you just can't. Now imagine feeling that way for 22 years.
That was one Chinese man's reality until doctors removed nearly 30 inches of his swollen large intestine which weighed 13 kilograms, or 28.6 pounds, and was filled with feces which had been collecting there since birth.
Inverse reports that the anonymous man was diagnosed with Hirschsprung's disease, a congenital condition caused by missing nerve cells in the bowel, which results in, ahem, movement issues. In a healthy digestive tract, food and waste move through the intestines by peristalsis, or involuntary muscle contractions. But in someone with Hirschsprung's disease, peristalsis stops in affected parts of the large intestine, aka the colon. The waste ends up just sitting there, causing the organ to swell and, if left long enough, it can turn into an aptly named "megacolon." If the colon were to perforate, or tear, the release of bacteria could lead to life-threatening shock or sepsis. So this surgery may have saved the man's life.
Hirschsprung's disease is typically seen in infants and diagnosed when they fail to have a bowel movement within 48 hours after birth. It's rare—occurring in about one in 5,000 newborns—and can be treated by surgically removing the part of the colon that has no nerve cells. Even more infrequently, older children can also be diagnosed after showing symptoms like a swollen belly, chronic constipation, and malnutrition. (Hirschsprung's is more common in men and in children with Down syndrome and other congenital defects.)
But this poor man was well past childhood and was admitted to the hospital in bad shape: he was weak, he could barely talk, he was moaning in pain and had trouble breathing. According to doctors, his abdomen was so distended that he looked nine months pregnant.
The man told doctors he had suffered from constipation his whole life, finding only minor relief from laxatives. (Any type of laxative—bulk-forming, saline, hyperosmotic—won't work properly if your intestines don't). Still, his parents never deemed his issues serious enough to warrant medical attention.
"It looked like it could explode at any time," said Yin Lu of Shanghai Tenth People's Hospital, where the surgery was performed. The surgery took three hours; at the end, doctors had successfully removed the affected part of his colon—along with the fecal buildup. He's expected to fully recover.
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