Why It Might Hurt When You Poop

Figuring out what's causing your painful poops can help you find relief.

From constipation to diarrhea, sometimes pooping can be painful. So what gives? We talked with gastroenterologists about why it sometimes hurts to poop—and what you can do about it.

Not Drinking Enough Water

Bowel movements are made up of waste products that are being excreted from your body. And the waste comes from both food and water.

"The body requires a certain amount of water to be absorbed before it eliminates excess in the stool. So if you do not drink enough water—or you need more water because of water loss for other reasons like sweating while you have a fever—bowel movements can become very hard and brittle," Carolyn Newberry, MD, a gastroenterologist at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medical Center, told Health.

"This lack of water leads to difficulty with stool passage and common symptoms of constipation, including straining, cramping, abdominal pain, and bloating," Dr. Newberry said.

What You Can Do About It

Drinking enough water or eating foods with high water content, like cucumbers, can help you stay hydrated. This will help make your bowel movements easier to pass.

"Aim for six to eight cups of water per day, and make sure to limit beverages that can cause excessive water loss, like alcohol, coffee, and sugary beverages, which act as diuretics," said Dr. Newberry.

Food Intolerance

"Sometimes abdominal discomfort and painful pooping may be caused by food intolerances such as lactose, fructose, or gluten," Christian Stevoff, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Digestive Health Center at Northwestern Medicine told Health. "They can lead to abdominal distension and discomfort," added Dr. Stevoff.

What You Can Do About It

Some of these intolerances can be diagnosed with tests, which can help you avoid problematic foods and therefore prevent the pain. "Others require trial-and-error elimination diets to determine the offending agents," said Dr. Stevoff.

Not Eating Enough Fiber

Fiber is indigestible plant matter that's an important part of a healthy diet—and healthy bowel movements.

"There are two types, soluble—the kind that dissolves in water—and insoluble—the kind that doesn't dissolve in water," Dr. Newberry said. "Soluble fiber helps stool retain water and keeps stools soft. Insoluble fiber helps bulk stool and makes it easier to pass. Both are important for your gut health and should be consumed daily," explained Dr. Newberry.

What You Can Do About It

"If pooping is painful, try increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains," Dr. Newberry suggested.

"Most adults don't meet the recommended daily fiber goals of 21 to 25 grams per day for women and 30 to 38 for men," said Dr. Newberry. The healthiest way to add fiber to your diet is by eating fiber-rich foods, Dr. Newberry explained. "If you have trouble getting all your fiber from food, try adding a daily supplement in the form of a powder, capsule, or bar," added Dr. Newberry.

Lack Of Exercise

"Getting moving stimulates your muscles, and it also can make your gut move, change the way your stool absorbs water, and beneficially alters important hormone signals that regulate gut health," Dr. Newberry said.

What You Can Do About It

"Incorporating aerobic exercise into your daily routine may alleviate the uncomfortable side effects of constipation, and keep your heart and your whole body healthy in the process," Dr. Newberry said. "Any activity that gets your heart rate up counts, so even if you don't have time to get to the gym, you should still try to take a brisk walk or climb a flight of stairs," advised Dr. Newberry.

Medications That Cause Constipation

"Some commonly prescribed medications can alter the way your bowel movements are passed by changing water absorption, hormone secretion, or motility of the gut itself," said Dr. Newberry.

Culprits can include antacids, narcotic pain medications, iron tablets, certain blood pressure medications, and antidepressants.

What You Can Do About It

Understand the common side effects of your medications, and if there is a concern they may be causing your constipation, talk to a healthcare provider about trying something else or using a stool softener.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) commonly causes abdominal pain and bloating, "but there are many different ways for IBS to present," said Dr. Stevoff. Some people with IBS may have bowel spasms and diarrhea, while others have constipation.

What You Can Do About It

"Treatment is based on the symptoms you exhibit," Dr. Stevoff said. Besides lifestyle changes like diet, stress management, and exercise, there are also some medications approved for IBS treatment.

A Serious Medical Problem

If none of these other scenarios sounds familiar, it's possible you could have an underlying medical problem that's decreasing your ability to pass bowel movements easily and effectively.

"These include blockages in your intestines from twisting or masses, damage to the muscles in your gut from surgery or childbirth, damage to the nerves in your gut from nervous system diseases like Parkinson's, or inflammation in the colon from a number of causes," said Dr. Newberry.

What You Can Do About It

Talk with your healthcare provider about your symptoms. "Any gastrointestinal bleeding (in the stool, in the toilet, or on the paper) should be evaluated by a healthcare provider," Dr. Stevoff said. "Likewise, other alarming features—such as unintentional weight loss, fevers or chills, nausea or vomiting, and abdominal pain that is severe and unremitting—should be evaluated right away," added Dr. Stevoff.

A Quick Review

Not drinking enough water, food intolerance, not eating enough fiber, lack of exercise, some medications, IBS, or a serious medical condition can all contribute to painful bowel movements. 

If you suspect one of these is causing pain when you’re pooping, try to take some of the suggestions listed here. If the symptoms persist, or if you experience bloody stool, unintentional weight loss, fevers or chills, nausea or vomiting, or abdominal pain that is severe and unremitting, make an appointment to see a healthcare provider right away.

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