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Pooping regularly is a sign of a healthy digestive tract. Everyone’s bowel habits are slightly different, but going too long without pooping can be a sign of an underlying health condition that may require medical attention.
There is no specific number of times a person should poop per day, since everyone’s bowel habits are different.
People who go more than a week without pooping may have severe constipation and should talk with a doctor.
Bowel habits depend on many factors, so it is hard to determine precisely how long it is safe to go without pooping.
However, it is generally best for a person to decide whether or not to seek medical attention for changed bowel habits based on their range of symptoms rather than just how long they have gone without pooping.
If any, or a combination, of the following symptoms accompany constipation, a person should seek medical care:
- severe stomach swelling or bloating
- severe, worsening stomach pain
- nausea and vomiting
- blood in the stool or rectal bleeding
- inability to pass gas
- lower back pain
- unintentional weight loss
- hard, lumpy stool
- feeling as though the bowels will not fully empty
- a change in stool size, especially when stool is narrow like a ribbon or pencil
Older adults who usually have regular bowel habits and suddenly become unable to poop or have trouble pooping should also seek immediate medical care.
People who are unsure about why they are suddenly unable to poop or have difficulty pooping should also talk with a doctor. They should also talk to a doctor if they have any of the symptoms listed above for 3 consecutive months.
Severe or long-lasting constipation can cause or increase the risk of developing several health complications, including:
- Anal fissures: These are small tears in the anus.
- Hemorrhoids: These are swollen, painful veins around the lower rectum and anus.
- Fecal impaction: This is a serious complication wherein hard, dry poop fills the rectum and intestines so tightly that the colon cannot push it out of the body.
- Rectal prolapse: This occurs when the rectum drops down and falls through the anus.
- Increased risk of mortality: A study from 2016 found that when the large intestine is not functioning at optimum levels, it may contribute to oxidative stress, thereby increasing the risk of mortality.
Experiencing short periods of constipation occasionally does not typically cause any complications, though it can be frustrating, stressful, and uncomfortable.
People who are finding it difficult to poop can usually treat the issue at home by trying a few natural remedies:
Eat fiber-rich foods or take a fiber supplement
Fiber helps make stool soft so it can pass through the colon more easily. Fiber-rich foods include beans, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and oats.
Moisture helps make stool soft and easier to pass. Everyone needs different amounts of liquid each day depending on factors such as age and activity level. However, many people require somewhere between 1.5 and 2 liters per day.
Get regular exercise
Regular physical activity can aid regular bowel movements. As little as 30 minutes of brisk walking daily may help.
Train the bowels
To maintain a regular habit, try pooping at the same time or times every day. For example, it may be best to try to poop around 15–45 minutes after breakfast, as eating helps the colon pass stool.
Stop taking certain dietary supplements
Some dietary supplements can cause constipation. Reduce the dosage of the supplement if symptoms occur and stop using it altogether if symptoms become severe.
Talk to a doctor about medication usage
Many medications contribute to constipation. If symptoms occur, people should talk with a doctor about changing the dosage or trying alternative medications.
Never stop taking a medication unless a doctor advises it or if symptoms are extremely severe.
Try taking laxatives
Laxatives loosen stool in the colon, encouraging it to pass.
Types of laxative include fiber supplements (FiberCon, Metamucil), lubricants (Fleet), stimulants (Dulcolax, Correctol), osmotic agents such as milk of magnesia, and stool softeners (Colace, Docusate).
A doctor or pharmacist can help a person determine the laxative that is best for them. In many cases, stimulants are only necessary as a last resort. This is because they can lead to electrolyte imbalances and dehydration, especially among pregnant women.
Many laxatives are available to buy online.
Avoid foods that increase the risk of constipation
Some foods, especially those with little or no fiber, can contribute to constipation. Foods to avoid include prepared and processed foods, red meat, fast food, most snack foods, candies, and sweets.
Try herbal remedies
More research is needed, but it seems that a variety of herbal remedies may reduce constipation by acting as a bulking agent or laxative. These include Ficus carica, senna, aloe, cascara, and rheum officinale.
Many herbal laxatives are available to buy online.
Try medical treatments
Doctors may prescribe medications to treat severe or ongoing cases of constipation. These medications may include lubiprostone, linaclotide, plecanatide, and prucalopride.
Doctors may also advise that people with constipation due to muscle control issues undergo biofeedback therapy to retrain their muscles.
People with an anorectal blockage and those whose colons do not work properly may require surgery.
Many factors can influence a person’s bowel habits. However, certain risk factors, including some supplements and medical conditions, may cause a person to poop less often.
These risk factors — including lifestyle choices, medications, and conditions — include:
- eating too little fiber
- not exercising enough
- getting older
- being pregnant
- having recently given birth
- dietary changes
- overusing laxatives
- resisting the urge to poop
- antacids with aluminum and calcium
- calcium channel blockers
- iron supplements
- narcotic medications
- some depression medications
- medications for Parkinson’s disease
- gastrointestinal conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome
- pelvic floor conditions
- neurological, hormonal, and metabolic conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease and diabetes
- anatomical problems with the gastrointestinal tract
- intestinal obstructions
- spinal cord and brain injuries
- colon or rectal tumors
Pregnant women may poop less often than normal or have a hard time pooping, especially during the last months of pregnancy. Women may also have a harder time pooping for a few months after giving birth.
This is because pregnancy causes changes in the gastrointestinal tract that predispose constipation. These changes include:
- higher progesterone levels and lower motilin levels, which increases bowel transit time by relaxing intestinal muscles
- higher intestinal water absorption, which dries out the stool and makes it harder to pass
- an enlarging uterus late in pregnancy, which can slow stool movement
Pregnant women are also prone to constipation because they tend to get less physical activity and usually take supplements that have links to constipation, such as calcium and iron.
Lifestyle and dietary changes are common first-line remedies for constipation during pregnancy. However, if symptoms do not resolve with at-home care, pregnant women should talk with their doctor.
Pregnant women should also talk with their doctor if they have been pooping less than three times weekly for a few weeks or are experiencing severe symptoms.
Newborns with constipation always require medical attention. However, occasional, moderate constipation is not usually a cause for concern in children with otherwise normal bowel habits.
It is important to note that constipation has a different definition for children: fewer than two bowel movements per week.
Children also experience changes in their bowel habits as they age. An infant’s bowel movements may change significantly within their first weeks and months of life.
Knowing a child’s normal bowel habits makes it more obvious when symptoms may require medical attention.
People should seek medical attention if their baby or child poops less than twice per week.
They should also seek medical care if the symptoms do not respond to at-home care, last more than 2 weeks, or occur alongside any of the following more serious symptoms:
- lumpy, dry, or hard stools
- pain or difficulty while passing stool
- abdominal swelling or bloating
A person should talk with their doctor if they go more than a week without pooping, if the constipation lasts for more than 3 consecutive months, or if it does not respond to at-home treatment.
Children and pregnant women should receive medical care if they experience bowel symptoms for more than a few weeks. Babies and older adults also usually require medical attention if their bowel habits suddenly change significantly.