It happens to everyone at some point in time—maybe you’re out hiking a trail, and there’s nowhere to go “number two.” Perhaps you’re at a party and don’t want to excuse yourself, knowing that you’ll be in the bathroom for a few moments. Maybe you’re traveling, stop at a rest stop, and the line for the bathroom is a long wait. We’ve all been in situations where we couldn’t have a bowel movement.
According to most doctors, if it happens occasionally, it’s not really something you should worry about. However, if this has become a habit or if it happens too often, it can cause some unwanted (and sometimes dangerous) side effects. Read on to learn why it’s unhealthy to hold in your bowel movements and what could happen if this becomes a regular occurrence.
What Happens to the Body When You Hold in Your Poop?
The most common issue related to frequently holding in poop is constipation. Some studies suggest that this may be a habit transferred from childhood when children begin to hold in their poop to avoid painful bowel movements. No matter the reason, if you regularly hold in your bowel movements, you will likely cause constipation.
What Is Constipation?
Constipation is described as having less than three bowel movements per week. Constipation is also associated with dry, hard stools, stools that are hard to pass, and painful stools. Everyone has a different “pooping schedule,” and everyone’s body is different. If you’re having three or more bowel movements per week, and they are not dry, hard to pass, or painful, this isn’t considered constipation. Some people may have bowel movements three times a day, while others may have bowel movements three times per week. Both are okay and normal.
Holding in poop causes constipation in part because you are using your anal and rectal muscles to push the stool back into the colon (large intestine). When this happens, all the water that was inside the stool (which is what makes it easier to pass) comes out of the stool, and the stool becomes dry and hard.
Other issues that can appear with constipation include abdominal pain and bloating. Constipation is typically treatable with over-the-counter remedies, such as stool softeners and laxatives, but holding in your poop can cause more severe problems also.
More Dangerous Side Effects from Poop Withholding
Holding in your bowel movements can also cause impaction, which is a more serious issue that requires medical intervention. This is when stool becomes stuck in the colon or rectum and is impossible to pass, even with over-the-counter treatments or remedies. This warrants a visit to your gastroenterologist or the emergency room, depending on the severity of the impaction. Impaction also means you run the risk of perforating the gastrointestinal tract, known as gastrointestinal perforation. Because of the risk of fecal bacteria getting into the GI tract, this can be very dangerous and also requires immediate medical intervention.
Holding in poop can also cause distention of the rectum. Repeatedly using your muscles to push stool back into the rectum and colon can cause you to lose a sense of feeling in the rectum. This can lead to fecal incontinence, which means you are unable to hold in your poop at all.
Another side effect of bowel withholding is hemorrhoids. These are swollen veins that can form on the inside or outside of your rectum and anus. Internal hemorrhoids may be hard to notice and are rarely painful, but external hemorrhoids can be caused by straining when going to the bathroom (a side effect of constipation). External hemorrhoids can be itchy and very painful, and while they are often cured with over-the-counter medicines, sometimes they need medical intervention.
While rarer, some studies have linked holding in poop to inflammation of the colon, which is a precursor to the development of colon cancer. The bottom line is—it’s not a good idea to hold your poop in often.
How Long Can a Person Go Without Pooping?
Because everyone’s body is different and on a different bowel movement schedule, how long one can go without pooping varies. If you are a person that only has three bowel movements per week, you can easily go without pooping for a day or two (or even three), and it likely won’t be an issue. Those who have bowel movements more regularly may find it difficult to comfortably hold in their poop for more than a day—everyone is different.
There are more severe reports when it comes to holding in poop. The BBC reported that a girl died after eight weeks of not having a bowel movement, because it caused her intestines to enlarge, which ultimately caused her to suffer a heart attack. Other people have developed paralysis due to severe constipation from holding in their bowel movements. The healthy answer to this question is to listen to your body and always follow through with a bowel movement unless you’re in a situation where it’s impossible at that moment.
What Are the Treatments for Constipation?
Sometimes the habit of withholding bowel movements comes after a painful bout of constipation. However, most cases of constipation are easily treatable with over-the-counter medications. One of the first things you may want to target is what is causing constipation in the first place. Constipation can be caused by:
- Certain medications, such as opioids
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Colorectal cancer (in rare cases)
If you find that over-the-counter medications aren’t doing the job and constipation frequently returns, it’s wise to contact your healthcare provider. At GI Associates we offer a solution to chronic constipation that is painless and private. The HyGiRelief system is a perfect solution to a chronic constipation issue. One visit to the HyGIeaCare Center inside GI Associates can give relief in less than an hour in a private, professional environment.
Often, there could be an underlying issue, such as diabetes or IBS, causing constipation. Once your doctor is aware and can provide the correct treatment—because the answer isn’t always laxatives—you can get rid of constipation more easily. A good rule of thumb is always to act on it if you feel the urge to go and don’t wait.
Gastroenterologists in Flowood, MS are Ready to Help
If you need more information about holding in your poop or the problems associated with it, such as constipation and hemorrhoids, or if you need to be seen by a physician, contact us at GI Associates today. Our friendly and knowledgeable team of physicians in 3 locations treats the full spectrum of gastrointestinal disorders, including constipation, diarrhea, and hemorrhoids.