What Really Happens to Your Body If You Don't Go to the Bathroom Every Day
We asked doctors how often we should be pooping, and what happens if we don't.
Have you ever known someone who disappears into the bathroom at the same time every morning, like clockwork? Or are you that person? When we talk about "staying regular," generally what we're talking about is pooping every day—or at least, using the bathroom on some sort of predictable schedule. Most of us probably think it's important to have a daily bowel movement—that's what our grandmothers told us, anyway. But is it true? And what happens to our bodies if we don't? We decided to put the question to some experts in the field.
"No matter how frequently or infrequently we go, what we all have in common is that we are thinking about our poop!" Colleen Cutcliffe, PhD, CEO at Pendulum Therapeutics and a gut health expert, tells Best Life. "Deep in the recesses of our caveman and cavegirl brains, we know our poop is telling us whether we are healthy." As she points out, however, only half of people in the U.S. go once every day.
Read on to find out what it means if you're a member of the more infrequent group.
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Not everyone needs to poop every day.
It turns out grandma was wrong about needing to have a daily bowel movement, according to Joseph Shami, MD, of Gastroenterology Associates of New Jersey. "Some people can go days or weeks without pooping," he tells Best Life. "The Guinness Book of World Records reports an Englishman in the 1800s who did not go for one year!"
Does that sound excruciating? While a whole year is certainly far beyond the bounds of normal—please go to the doctor if this happens to you—Shami says pooping frequency varies, and that's OK.
"There is no exact number of times a person has to poop. For some people every other day is normal, and for others three times a day is normal," he says. "The important thing is how a person feels if they do not go. As long as there are no other symptoms … they are normal."
Listening to your body will help you know what's normal for you.
"It is important to remember that everyone is different, and what is considered normal for one person may not be normal for another," says gastroenterologist Kenneth Brown, MD, host of the Gut Check Project podcast. "The most important thing is that you are comfortable with your bowel movements, you feel fully evacuated, and you do not have discomfort."
What signals will your body send you if you're not pooping often enough? Brown lists abdominal pain or cramping, bloating or a feeling of fullness, and swollen hemorrhoids as signs that you need to do a number two ASAP.
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Constipation can have serious complications.
Poop jokes may be funny, but chronic constipation is no joke. "Retaining all that stool can lead to abdominal pain, loss of appetite, a general feeling of sickness because of toxic substances released by fermenting bacteria, and even a blockage," says Shami, adding that, "this, of course, is after not going for several days to weeks."
Brown says that when constipation goes beyond the cramps and bloating stage, it can result in "anal fissure (a small tear in the anus), fecal impaction (a hard dry stool that cannot be passed), and even overflow diarrhea (liquid stool leaking around hard dry stool)."
He adds, "If constipation becomes too severe, it can lead to an emergency known as bowel obstruction."
These tips can help you maintain healthy bathroom habits.
If you're struggling with chronic constipation, Brown has a few suggestions for you. "Don't ignore the urge to go," he cautions. "When you feel the need to have a bowel movement, try to go as soon as possible. If you delay or ignore the urge, your stools can become harder and more difficult to pass."
He also emphasizes the importance of not straining too hard. "Straining during bowel movements can lead to hemorrhoids and fissures," Brown warns.
Using a stool in the bathroom to change the angle you're sitting at can also help, he says. "Use a Squatty Potty or stool to get your knees above your hips and lean just slightly forward," Brown suggests. "This is a more natural position to defecate and helps the stool evacuate."
His last tip, however, may be the toughest one for some of us to abide by: "Leave your phone out of the restroom," he says. "Many people can become distracted searching social media, and this can lead to extended time on the toilet."