Everyone, everywhere has bowel movements. You may even have read books to your child about how everyone poops. However, for many people, it can still be an embarrassing subject to broach. You may be at work and don’t want your colleagues to know you’re going “number two,” or perhaps you’re out on the road, and there’s absolutely nowhere to go. So, you hold your poop in until you feel ready to go or find a place to go. But is this healthy? Read on to learn more about if holding in your poop is bad and the risk factors associated with it. 

What Happens When I Hold in My Poop?

If you find yourself in one of those situations where you’re embarrassed to poop or can’t find a suitable location, you hold in your poop. But what happens to your body when you do this? You use the muscles in your rectum, particularly the puborectalis muscle, which is between the anal canal and the rectum. This muscle pushes the poop away from the rectum and sends it back into the colon (also known as the large intestine). However, when you do this, the water contained in the stool becomes absorbed back into the body, drying out the poop. This can make it harder to go when you’re able because now your stools are dry. Doctors say it’s okay to do this once in a while when you find yourself unable to go, but holding in poop on a regular basis can lead to constipation because all the water that lubricates the stool is no longer there. Holding in your poop can also lead to more serious medical problems.

Some of the medical problems associated with frequently holding in bowel movements include:

  • Hemorrhoids and fissures. Holding in poop is associated with anal fissures (which is a tear in the anal canal) and hemorrhoids, which are swollen veins that can develop inside of the anus and rectum or outside (internal and external). Both anal fissures and hemorrhoids can be painful. 
  • Gastrointestinal perforation. When this happens, the poop is pushed so far back into the gastrointestinal tract that it causes a perforation. If bacteria from the poop makes their way into your stomach, this can be life-threatening. 
  • Colon cancer. A study found that people who regularly held stool in the colon permanently inflamed the inner lining of the colon and had an increased bacterial count. Both of these are risk factors for developing colon cancer. 
  • Fecal impaction. If stools are extremely dry, they can become stuck in the rectum and impossible to pass. This often requires medical intervention.
  • Distention. Your rectum can overstretch if you hold in poop regularly. If the rectum is stretched too far, this can lead to fecal incontinence, which means when you have the urge to go, you are unable to hold in your poop. 
  • Appendicitis. Holding in poop is associated with a higher risk of developing appendicitis. 

What Is Constipation?

Constipation is very common, and most people experience this type of gastrointestinal distress at some point in their lifetime. It’s estimated that about 4 million people experience constipation regularly. It’s important to remember that not everyone is on the same bowel schedule, and everyone’s body is different. Some people may pass stool two or three times a day, while others may only go once every other day. Both of these scenarios are healthy and are completely normal. 

Constipation is defined as having bowel movements fewer than once every three days. So, if you’re only pooping once or twice a week, this is a sign of constipation. Other signs include:

  • Straining when sitting on the toilet 
  • Consistently passing a hard, dry stool 
  • Feeling as if the bowels have not completely emptied 

If you have an isolated case of constipation, this is entirely normal and is no cause for concern. For most, stool softeners combined with over-the-counter laxatives should cure occasional constipation. However, chronic constipation may be indicative of a more serious problem, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

How Long Can a Person Go Without Pooping?

It’s firmly unadvisable to hold your poop in for too long because of the many risks associated with doing so. Most people will simply develop a bad case of constipation, coupled with bloating and abdominal pain. However, the other risk factors remain if this is a regular occurrence. The answer is—it is different for every person, as the pooping cycle varies from person to person. There is a case study where a woman held in her poop and had a fecal impaction for 75 days—but obviously, this is not recommended. 

Children and Poop Withholding

When a child is an infant, heading into the toddler years, they involuntarily poop. Once toilet training is completed, children know to hold in their poop and how to have a bowel movement on the toilet. However, just like adults, children may be embarrassed to poop or may hold their poop in after they’ve experienced a problem such as constipation. It’s important to keep an eye on your child’s bowel movements to ensure that they are pooping as often as they should. When a child holds in poop too often, this can lead to loss of rectal sensation. At the very least, this can cause irregularities in bowel movements, but loss of sensation could also cause fecal incontinence in children, as they don’t feel the proper sensation when they have to poop. Your pediatrician can help when it comes to tools and tricks to help pooping be easier for your child. However, anyone who’s lost rectal sensation should see a healthcare provider immediately (both children and adults). 

Carolina Digestive Is Here to Help, Serving Several Locations in North Carolina

If you need more information on holding in poop, or have concerns about fecal incontinence, loss of rectal sensation, constipation, or any other GI disturbances, please contact us today. We provide complete and comprehensive care when it comes to all types of gastrointestinal issues and concerns. Find us at one of our many locations.