Why Can’t I Poop?

Can’t go? You’re not alone. Over 42 million Americans have bowel movements less than three times a week. Or if they do poop, the output is hard, small, and painful to produce. In a word, they’re constipated.

Most of the time your problem will be short-term and easy to fix. To figure out what has you stopped up, ask yourself these questions:

Is it time to fiber up?

Moving your bowels regularly takes dietary fiber -- lots of it. We’re talking about 3 to 5 cups of fruits and vegetables every day. Go easy on meat and dairy and load up on produce. Skip fast and prepared foods. They may be quick and easy, but they’re almost always low in fiber.

Does my diet measure up?

Make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need. You might be blocked up because there isn’t enough vitamin B12 in your diet. In addition to problems in the bathroom, a lack of it can also make you tired, weak, and nervous. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, this could be the issue -- it’s found only in animal foods (or B12-fortified foods). Older adults can also have trouble getting enough B12. Even if none of these apply to you, some medications can make it hard for your body to process and absorb B12. You can get more with fortified cereal or a supplement, but talk to your doctor first.

How are my fluid levels?

To move stool through your intestines, you gotta drink up! If you don’t drink enough water, you can get backed up.

Am I active?

It’s as simple as this: Moving your body helps move your bowels. Too much time sitting can lead to trouble on the throne.

Am I stressed?

When your brain’s stress response systems get flipped on, it causes changes in your body. The gastrointestinal system is especially sensitive to stress, and constipation can be one response.

Whether it’s business or pleasure, travel is stressful. When regular routines, especially eating patterns, are disrupted, your bathroom habits can get off-schedule as well.

Continued

Do I ignore the urge?

Maybe you’re too busy to stop every time your body signals it’s time to go. Maybe you don’t like using public restrooms, or any except your own. Here’s the problem with ignoring the urge: Sooner or later, you may stop feeling the signals.

Does pregnancy play a role?

Overall, women are constipated more often than men. That’s especially true during pregnancy, when hormonal changes can easily disrupt your digestive system. Add the pressure a growing baby puts on your plumbing, and it’s no surprise you have trouble going. Problems are also common after childbirth.

What about my age?

The chance of having trouble moving your bowels increases as you get older, so make a point to get more exercise, drink more water, and eat more fiber.

Are my medications part of the problem?

Pain relievers, iron supplements, some antidepressants, and diuretics are just a few common drugs that can have this effect. Also on the list are meds for diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, plus some blood pressure treatments. Over-the-counter medications like antacids can also stop things up.

Could it be a more serious problem?

It’s rare, but possible. Discuss it with your doctor. If you’ve ruled out other causes, he may want to explore:

  • Problems with the muscles that contract your colon.
  • Hormone diseases like diabetes or an over- or underactive thyroid gland.
  • Diseases that affect the nerves around your colon or rectum, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and spinal cord injury.
  • Colon trouble. Tumors and other things that block your colon or rectum can prevent stool from moving out of your body.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on August 13, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Symptoms and Causes of Constipation,” “Eating, Diet, and Nutrition for Constipation,” “Definition and Facts for Constipation.”

National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements: “Vitamin B12: Fact Sheet for Consumers.” 

Arnaud, M. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, December 2003.

UNC Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders: “Stress and the Gut.”

Mayo Clinic: “Constipation: Causes.”

Linus Pauling Institute: "Micronutrient Information Center."

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