When it comes to pooping frequency, everyone is unique.
The human body takes out the nutrients from food and accumulates the remaining ‘waste’ in our colons, to be excreted from the anus as soon as possible. Some people pass stools every day while others go less frequently.
If you poop very infrequently, it must have crossed your mind how long a person can go without pooping. Well, the answer is: it depends.
When it comes to poop, everyone is different, so there is no specific number of days a person can go without pooping.
Some people develop horrible complications after some days of not pooping while others may go on for several weeks or months without any additional complaint.
How often should you poop?
This is a very common question everyone loves to ask, but the truth is that there is no ‘magic number’. Everyone is different. There is, however, an acceptable range.
The normal poop frequency range is 3 times a day to 3 times a week.
What does this mean?
If a person poops more than 3 times a day, doctors classify that as diarrhea, while if a person poops less than 3 times a week, that is constipation.
So, if you poop once or twice a day or every other day, you’re within the normal range, but if you poop once a week, you’re constipated. Many people who are constipated, don’t even recognize that they are, and so don’t seek help till it becomes chronic.
Another thing to note is that everyone has a pattern. Even if you poop within the normal range, let’s say once a day but you notice a significant change in how often you poop or an alteration in the texture of your poop, it should be a warning sign for you to seek help.
How long can you go without pooping?
While we can’t say for sure because many cases of extreme or chronic constipation often go unreported, we found a shocking one.
A Chinese woman went 75 days without pooping. The 55-year-old woman was noticed to even have observable swellings on her abdomen and pain that showed how much feces she had retained in her digestive tract. The feces was so hard that it had blocked the passageway in her intestines, making her unable to defecate. She eventually passed stool after many procedures and went on to make a full recovery, defecating once a day for the next two weeks.
Now, this doesn’t mean everyone can survive that long without pooping. Some cases of constipation are really bad, they could lead to life-threatening complications after just a few days.
Why can’t I poop?
There are several causes of constipation. We’ll try to run through some.
1. Inadequate dietary fiber:
What you eat or don’t eat can affect your pooping habits. Eating meals lacking in fiber is a major reason why people get constipated.
Common sources of dietary fiber are fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fiber adds bulk to the stool, making it larger and easier to move around in your intestines, hence preventing constipation. If your diet is devoid of fiber, you’re very likely to be constipated.
2. Inadequate water intake:
It’s no secret that water makes up a significant portion of our poop. As a matter of fact, 75% of poop is made up of water. So, not taking in enough water can make your stool a lot harder than normal and consequently difficult to move around by the muscles of your intestines.
Also, one of the functions of the large intestine is to absorb water from the digestive tract. So, if you are dehydrated, your large intestine will try to conserve water for the body’s use by absorbing any extra water from the food waste, making poop harder and difficult to pass.
3. Resisting the urge to poop:
Pooping can be voluntarily controlled. While this control is good when you have important events and meetings and don’t want to be interrupted, it can be bad if you persistently disregard ‘nature’s call’. There are many factors that make people not want to poop, like being in an uncomfortable environment or when an unsanitary toilet is the only option available.
4. Overuse of laxatives:
Isn’t it ironic that laxatives that help you pass stools can cause constipation? Well, yes they do. Some theories suggest that excessive use of laxatives can damage the nerves and muscles of the digestive system, leading to constipation.
A lot of people take medications without asking about potential side effects. One common side effect of many medications is constipation. In many circumstances where the cause of constipation isn’t clear, a simple review of the medicines a person often reveals one of the medications taken as the possible culprit. Once the medication is discontinued, the person’s poop frequency should return to normal. Examples of popular drugs that can cause constipation are:
- Iron supplements
- Antidepressants like amitriptyline
- Anticonvulsants like phenytoin
- Opioids like codeine and morphine
- Calcium supplements
Other causes of constipation are:
- Intestinal obstruction
- Diabetes mellitus
Now that we have gone through some common causes of constipation, let’s go on to its dangers.
What are the dangers of being constipated?
Constipation can lead to increased pressure in the intestines which can cause several problems like a painful poop. Here are some conditions that are linked to chronic constipation:
- Fecal impaction
- Anal tears (fissures) with bloody stools
- Rectal prolapse
- Diverticular disease
Chronic constipation can lead to the formation of hemorrhoids.
Bottom line? It’s important to seek help early if you are passing stools less than three times every week, so you could prevent the development of these complications.
Also, because constipation is often a symptom of another disease, it can be deadly if the underlying problem isn’t taking care of. For example, someone whose intestines are obstructed can present with constipation as a symptom, whereas the obstruction can be fatal if left untreated.
7 Practical tips to prevent constipation
We have discussed several causes and dangers of being constipated, so how then can you prevent constipation. Here are some important strategies you can use:
- Drink plenty of water every day. Be deliberate about increasing your fluid intake and avoid being dehydrated.
- Don’t habitually suppress your urge to poop.
- Increase your dietary fiber intake by eating more fruits, vegetables, grains, and cereal.
- Increase your physical activity. Regular exercises help you poop more often and prevent constipation.
- Avoid taking laxatives unnecessarily or excessively. Use them sparingly to help your constipation.
- Cut down on your coffee and alcohol intake, they can cause constipation.
- Go visit the doctor if your constipation persists or if you have other symptoms like abdominal pain, abdominal swelling, bloody stools, vomiting or weight loss.
Going a long time without pooping can lead to many unwanted complications. While there is no defined answer to how long a person can go without pooping, it is not advisable to test the limits.
You can prevent constipation and its sequelae by adding adequate fiber-containing food to your diet, drinking enough water and using medications only when very necessary.
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