Occasionally, a person may need or wish to hold in poop for a short period. They may need to do this if they do not have immediate access to a toilet or prefer to use a private bathroom rather than a public restroom.
Holding in poop occasionally is unlikely to cause any issues. Regularly withholding bowel movements, however, can contribute to constipation and more serious complications.
In this article, we list tips to help people hold in their poop, and we discuss the possible risks.
To withhold a bowel movement, it is necessary to control the anal muscles.
Contracting certain muscles in the anus helps stop the release of stool, whereas relaxing them facilitates a bowel movement. To contract these muscles and hold in poop, people should squeeze their buttocks tightly together.
Another tip is to stand or lie down instead of sitting. Being in the seated position or squatting is a more natural position for passing stool. This position applies pressure to the stomach, which aids bowel movements. Standing or lying down, on the other hand, alleviates pressure on the stomach.
Certain dietary choices may also help a person hold in poop. For instance, they can avoid high fiber foods before and during times when it is not possible or desirable to poop.
Where possible, if a person knows that they will not have access to a toilet for a while, it is a good idea to poop before leaving home.
Potential risks associated with holding in a bowel movement include:
The National Institute on Aging advise that holding in bowel movements can lead to constipation if people delay going to the toilet for too long. Doctors typically define constipation as having fewer than three bowel movements per week or stools that require a lot of straining to pass.
Constipation can cause pain or pressure in the abdomen and lead to hard or lumpy stools forming. A person may need to strain to have a bowel movement.
If constipation persists for several weeks, it is known as chronic constipation.
People who continue to hold in stool while also eating as normal risk fecal impaction — a serious condition in which a hard, dry mass of poop becomes stuck in the colon or rectum.
A gastrointestinal perforation is a tear that occurs in the intestines. It is very painful and a medical emergency. It may occur as a result of the pressure of large amounts of withheld stool due to fecal impaction.
If a person does not receive medical attention quickly, the perforation will cause fecal matter to flow into the abdominal cavity, leading to a bacterial infection that may be life threatening.
Some research indicates that holding in poop may increase the risk of other issues, such as:
It may also lead to damage to the nerves and muscles in the rectum, causing the body to stop responding to the urge to pass stool.
Fecal incontinence, or bowel incontinence, is the inability to control bowel movements. It may result from continually holding in poop, which leads to muscle or nerve damage.
Chronic constipation can also contribute to its development, as can hemorrhoids, rectal prolapse, and other rectal problems.
Some people with fecal incontinence may experience occasional stool leakage, while others have a complete loss of bowel control.
There are two types of fecal incontinence: urge incontinence, where a person has a sudden urge to poop that they cannot stop, and passive incontinence, where they are unaware of the need to poop.
People with fecal incontinence may have other bowel symptoms, including:
Treatment for fecal incontinence can improve a person’s symptoms and quality of life. Options include:
- Medications: The type of medication that a person requires depends on the underlying cause. Options include antidiarrheal drugs and laxatives.
- Dietary changes: A doctor or dietitian may recommend increasing the intake of high fiber foods or drinking more water. Specific dietary changes depend on the underlying cause of the issue.
- Exercise: Strengthening exercises may help reverse muscle damage that contributes to fecal incontinence. A doctor or physical therapist will recommend a specific exercise program.
- Other treatments: Depending on the underlying issue, other treatments may also be appropriate. These may include bowel training or sacral nerve stimulation.
- Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary. Surgery can correct rectal prolapse or issues resulting from childbirth, for example.
A person should see a doctor if they experience persistent changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or difficulty passing stool. It is also important to seek medical help if any symptoms of fecal incontinence present.
In addition to alleviating symptoms, prompt treatment can reduce the risk of complications.
Sometimes, it may be necessary to hold in poop for short periods. To do this, individuals can contract the muscles in their buttocks and avoid seated and squatting positions. It may also be helpful to avoid certain foods and beverages.
However, regularly withholding bowel movements can cause complications, such as constipation, fecal impaction, or more serious issues. People who have questions or concerns about their bowel movements should speak to their doctor.