It sounds like an urban legend, but tragically for the Titterington family of Cornwall, England, it was anything but.

Earlier this week, the County Hall of Truro, Cornwall held an inquest into the death of 16-year-old Emily Titterington on February 8 2013. Titterington died from a cardiac arrest, which was later discovered to be the result of such chronic constipation that it had distended her organs and compressed her chest cavity — Titterington had apparently not made a bowel movement in eight weeks.

As the Cornish Guardian reported, Emily, who was also mildly autistic, had suffered from bowel issues throughout much of her life, though a definitive cause was never pinpointed. Pathologist Dr Amanda Jeffery testified that she may have been going through a constant cycle of  "stool withholding", a phenomenon that often occurs — and usually passes — in younger children.

"Most toddlers withhold stool because they have had a painful experience with passing stool," explained pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. Rayna Grothe of the Mayo Clinic in a 2012 Chicago Tribune article. "Children often respond and learn to relax when they receive reassurance and positive reinforcement."

Emily’s primary physician, Dr. Alistair James, testified that he was aware of her bowel troubles and had recently prescribed her laxatives. However, he hadn’t personally examined her abdomen. "Had I done so, we would be having a different conversation," he said, according to the Cornish Guardian. "Her death could have been avoided with the right treatment at the right point."

Emily had refused any medical examination even when paramedics first arrived to her home that fateful day. On their second visit in the wee hours of the night at 4 am, they were urgently rushed to the bathroom where Emily laid unconscious. "I could see that her abdomen was grossly extended. Her lower ribs had been pushed out further than her pubic bone — I was shocked," said paramedic Lee Taylor. She would later be pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

Further interviews with her family revealed that throughout the years they had turned to various, and arguably implausible, home remedies to treat her chronic constipation. These included homeopathic pills, a Reiki method known as "distance healing", and silent audio recordings that supposedly had healing powers. Despite this, Dr. James never felt that the family unnecessarily endangered Emily’s life, and remarked that her mother, Geraldine Titterington, had repeatedly tried to get Emily to see a doctor.  

Though Dr. Jeffery was reported as saying that she had never come across a case like Emily’s, the circumstances of her tragic death are keenly reminiscent of a rare condition known as megacolon. Though simply defined as an abnormally dilated (wide) large intestine, megacolon often results in a growing paralysis of the peristaltic muscles which normally relax and contract to move feces along the colon. This then leads to worsening attacks of constipation, which if severe enough, require surgical extraction of the feces and the removal of the colon itself.

It can be acute or chronic and its known causes include certain medications, conditions like Crohn's disease, and genetic mutations. It can also, even more rarely, emerge spontaneously without explanation.  

In 1977, a musician by the name of Elvis Aaron Presley is now believed to have died from a heart attack that was triggered, in part, by his well-known chronic constipation. Much like Emily Titterington, his colon upon autopsy was discovered to be several times larger than it should have been.