How Long You Can Go Without Pooping

These symptoms should signal you need to see a healthcare provider 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. 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.

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 Provider About Not Pooping?

When you should see a healthcare provider 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 Having Other Symptoms

If you are constipated and have other symptoms, you may need emergency medical help. You should get 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
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Lower back pain

If You Started a New Diet or Medication

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 medications for:

  • Blood pressure medications
  • Diuretics
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Medications that treat Parkinson's
  • Iron supplements
  • Antacids containing aluminum or calcium
  • Antihistamines
  • Painkillers
  • Anesthesia

If You Have a Family History of Colorectal Cancer

If you are experiencing constipation symptoms, and you have a family history of colorectal cancer—meaning cancer in the colon or rectum—you should see a healthcare provider. One in three people who develop colorectal cancer have family members who have had it too. Any change in bowel habits (including constipation) can be symptoms of colorectal cancer. Other symptoms can include:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Blood in the stool
  • Abdominal cramping or pain
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss

If Your Symptoms Don’t Go Away

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

How Can You Prepare for Your Visit With a Healthcare Provider?

If you do go to see a healthcare provider, you may also want to have answers to the following questions. The healthcare provider 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.

Bowel Perforation

Untreated constipation could cause bowel perforation, which occurs when stool is so backed up that it pokes a hole through your bowel wall. Bowel perforations as a result of constipation are rare.

Intestinal Obstruction

Being constipated can also result in an intestinal obstruction, also known as a bowel obstruction. This condition can cause:

  • Severe pain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Bloating
  • Vomiting

If the obstruction is complete, meaning nothing can get through the intestines, it is a medical emergency and may require surgery.

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

If you don't have any symptoms besides constipation, you can try several at-home treatments for constipation.

Change Your Diet

Consider changing your diet to include foods that can help you poop. Some examples include high-fiber foods like:

  • Whole grains (whole wheat bread and pasta)
  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Berries
  • Apples (with skin on)
  • Oranges
  • Broccoli
  • Green peas
  • Nuts (almonds, peanuts, pecans)

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.

Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of water is also important. 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 and obesity.

Adjust Your Medications

You might also want to try some over-the-counter laxatives. Since there are several different kinds of laxatives including Metamucil, Dulcolax, and Colace, consult your healthcare provider for which laxative is best for you.

If you've noticed changes in your pooping schedule after taking a new medicine or starting a new dose, contact a healthcare provider to ask about the medications you're taking.

Go for a Walk

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.

Get Treatment From a Healthcare Provider

If you are constipated and in severe pain, there is no question: You should get emergency medical help. A healthcare provider 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.

A Quick Review

There's no doubt that emptying your bowels is important for your body. But since many people experience constipation, this may not always be easy to do. The amount of bowel movements varies with each person. If you are concerned about constipation and the lack of bowel movements, keep track of how many bowel movements are normal for you. Some people may only poop once a day, others may only poop three times a week—it all varies.

But if you are concerned about constipation—or are experiencing symptoms like blood in your stool, fatigue, or abdominal pain—you should talk to a healthcare provider. They can help to identify the cause and figure out the best course of treatment so you can avoid any complications of untreated constipation, like a perforated or obstructed bowel.

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