How long people can go without pooping before it becomes risky can vary. A person’s size, how much food they eat, and their overall digestive health may play a role.

Many people poop daily, a few times per day, or every couple of days. For others, it is typical for bowel movements to be further apart.

Doctors may diagnose constipation when a person has fewer than three bowel movements per week. If a person has not pooped for more than a week, they may need treatment for constipation, even if they feel fine. Going too long without pooping can be a sign of an underlying health condition.

Read on to learn more about how long you can go without pooping, what the risks of constipation are, treatments that may help, and what could be causing it.

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There is no universal amount of time that can all adults can go without having a bowel movement. Bowel habits depend on many factors, so what is healthy or typical for one person may not be for another.

However, if bowel movements become further apart than usual, or become hard to pass, this could indicate constipation.

If a person has any of these symptoms with constipation, they should seek medical care:

Older adults who usually have regular bowel habits and suddenly have trouble pooping should also seek medical care.

Severe or frequent constipation can increase the risk of several health complications, including:

  • hemorrhoids, which are swollen, painful veins around the lower rectum and anus
  • fecal impaction, which is when hard, dry poop fills the rectum and intestines so tightly that the colon cannot push it out of the body
  • rectal prolapse, which is when the rectum drops down and falls through the anus
  • urinary or bowel incontinence due to weakened pelvic floor muscles

An older study from 2016 also 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.

Stay hydrated

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. Many people require somewhere between 6–8 glasses 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.

Check dietary supplements

Some dietary supplements may cause constipation as a side effect. Check the product labels to see if any vitamins or herbal remedies could be causing this symptom.

Talk to a doctor about medication usage

Similarly, many medications contribute to constipation. If a person keeps experiencing constipation, they should talk with a doctor about changing the dosage or trying alternatives. Never stop taking a medication unless a doctor advises it.

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 people, older adults, and children.

Try medical treatments

Doctors may prescribe medications to treat severe or ongoing cases of constipation. These medications may include lubiprostone (Amitiza), linaclotide (Linzess), plecanatide (Trulance), and prucalopride (Motegrity).

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 include:

Pregnant people may poop less often than usual, especially during the last months of pregnancy. People 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 people are also prone to constipation because they tend to get less physical activity and may take supplements that have links to constipation, such as calcium and iron.

Lifestyle and dietary changes are first-line remedies for constipation during pregnancy. However, if symptoms do not resolve with at-home care, people should talk with their doctor.

Pregnant people 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 older children with otherwise typical bowel habits.

It is important to note that constipation has a different definition for children: it is 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 usual bowel habits makes it more obvious when symptoms may require medical attention. Seek medical care if the symptoms do not respond to home remedies, 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

There is no universal or definitive amount of time a person can go without pooping. However, doctors define constipation in adults as fewer than three bowel movements per week. If a person has not pooped in a week, but they feel fine, they should still seek medical advice.

For some, occasional constipation resolves with a few lifestyle or dietary changes, or by taking laxatives. People with more persistent or severe constipation may need medical treatment.

Children and pregnant people should receive medical care if they experience bowel symptoms for more than a few weeks. Babies and older adults also require medical attention if their bowel habits suddenly change significantly.