How Long You Can Go Without Pooping

These symptoms should signal you need to see a healthcare professional for constipation.

If you're like most people, you've probably been there a time or two: having fewer bowel movements than normal. That's because constipation will usually affect everyone at some point. Hard or dry stools and even pain when you're pooping can also accompany constipation.

So, if constipation is pooping less than normal, you may wonder how often you should be pooping and whether there is anything to be concerned about if you're not on your regular poop schedule. Here's what to know about the frequency of your bowel movements and when to get medical attention.

How Often Should You Poop?

In general, constipation is when a person poops three or fewer times a week, according to MedlinePlus, the medical information service from the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

But, really, there's no one correct answer to this question. Instead, a "normal" pooping schedule is determined on a case-by-case basis, Rabia De Latour, MD, a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Health, told Health. Being "regular" can mean pooping twice a day for some people. Meanwhile, pooping three times a week can be normal for others, according to NIH's National Institute on Aging.

You should ideally be having a bowel movement every single day if you drink enough water, Dr. De Latour explained. That said, many Americans don't drink enough and are dehydrated. Furthermore, even if you are doing everything you can to stay hydrated, you might not go to the bathroom every day.

This means an abnormal pooping schedule can vary depending on how often you usually have bowel movements. Not pooping for even three days might be extremely atypical, or unusual, for some people. Generally, however, Dr. De Latour stated that eight days without pooping is concerning for most people.

When Should You See a Healthcare Professional About Not Pooping?

When you should see a healthcare professional about constipation depends on your normal bowel movement schedule. For example, if you usually poop every four days and you haven't pooped for five, you might not need to seek medical help yet. However, if you usually go once a day, not pooping for five days could be cause for concern.

If you are constipated and have other symptoms, you may need emergency medical help. The NIH National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) recommends getting emergency medical help right away if you have constipation with any of the following symptoms:

  • Blood in your stool
  • Constant abdominal pain
  • Bleeding from your rectum
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Not being able to pass gas
  • Unexplainable weight loss
  • Lower back pain

Otherwise, if you do not have any of those symptoms, try reflecting on your recent lifestyle habits, Christine Lee, MD, a gastroenterologist at Cleveland Clinic, told Health. If you went on a new diet on Sunday and did not poop until Thursday, that might be a sign you are not getting enough fiber. You should also consider whether you started any new medications within the past few days. Many medications can cause constipation, including some blood pressure and pain medications.

However, if you haven't changed anything in your normal routine, it may be time to contact a healthcare professional. At your appointment, you can discuss what may have caused your constipation and the best treatment option.

If you do go to see a healthcare professional, you may also want to have answers to the following questions from the NIDDK prepared. The healthcare professional will likely want to know these answers to help figure out what is going on:

  • How often do you poop? Once or more a day? Several times a week?
  • How long have you had symptoms?
  • What kind of stools do you have? What do they look like? Do they float or sink?
  • What color are your stools? Do they have red streaks in them?
  • Is there blood on the toilet paper when you wipe?
  • What types of foods do you eat?
  • How much physical activity do you get?
  • What medicines or supplements are you taking?

It can help to keep a record of your bowel movements and take this to your visit. And it's also nice to know what your regular schedule is for your own purposes. Use the questions above to help get you started tracking your bowel movements.

What Can Happen if You Go Too Long Without Pooping?

Several dangerous scenarios can play out if you ignore your constipation and don't seek medical help, Dr. De Latour warned. Your constipation could cause bowel perforation, which occurs when stool is so backed up that it pokes a hole through your bowel wall. However, bowel perforations typically do not occur in healthy young people, Dr. De Latour added.

Being constipated can also result in an intestinal obstruction, also known as a bowel obstruction. According to MedlinePlus, this condition can cause severe pain, abdominal swelling, bloating, and vomiting. If the obstruction is complete, meaning nothing can get through the intestines, it is a medical emergency and may require surgery.

Untreated constipation can also cause diverticulosis, which can develop into diverticulitis, Dr. Lee said. In this condition, people develop little bulges in their colon wall called diverticula. While you do not need treatment for diverticulosis, this condition can cause diverticulitis, where the diverticula become swollen and infected. Infected diverticula can cause severe pain if not treated promptly.

What Can You Do if You're Having Trouble Pooping?

If you do not have any symptoms besides constipation, you can try several at-home treatments for constipation. For example, consider changing your diet to include foods that can help you poop, Dr. Lee recommended. Some examples include prunes, bran, and high-fiber foods like broccoli, raspberries, and apples.

It's also important to steer clear of the foods that can cause constipation. These can include chips, fast food, meat, prepared foods (like frozen meals and snack foods), and processed foods (like hot dogs), according to the NIDDK.

Drinking plenty of water is also important, per MedlinePlus. If drinking plain water doesn't excite you, try adding a squeeze of lime or lemon or a slice of cucumber. It'll give your water some flavor, and it's better than drinking sugary beverages. Sugary beverages can contribute to type 2 diabetes, disease, and obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

You might also want to try some over-the-counter laxatives. Make sure you take the correct amount and avoid "stimulant" laxative drugs like Dulcolax and Senna. Instead, try osmotic laxatives, which are gentler on your body.

And if you've started a new medication or switched medications recently, this could also be causing constipation. If you've noticed changes in your pooping schedule after taking a new medicine or starting a new dose, contact a healthcare professional to ask about the medications you're taking.

Another thing to remember is your activity level—being sedentary can cause constipation. Therefore, if you're having difficulty using the bathroom, consider going for a walk or taking the stairs to get things moving.

If you are constipated and in severe pain, there is no question: You should get emergency medical help. A healthcare professional may suggest changing medicines if you suspect your medication caused your constipation. Alternatively, they may indicate an enema, a treatment that involves inserting a tube into your anus and flushing out your bowels. You may need to undergo surgery if you have a bowel injury or disorder caused by constipation, such as the ones mentioned above.

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