What Happens When Constipated For Too Long – Medically Reviewed by Cinthia Tailor Chavoustie, MPAS, PA-C – Rachel Ann Ti-Melegrito – Updated April 17, 2023
Hard stools are common. They occur when stool moves too slowly through the colon, giving the colon time to absorb too much water. The stool becomes so hard and dry.
What Happens When Constipated For Too Long
Hard stools can be attributed to lifestyle factors, such as a person’s diet or activity level or medications they are taking. Hard stools can also occur as a result of certain medical conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and diabetes. In most cases, people can use home remedies to soften the stool and relieve constipation.
Cary Gastroenterology Associates
This article explains what causes hard stools, how to treat constipation, and when to talk to your doctor. We also provide information on the effects of hard stools in children and babies.
The large intestine, or “large intestine,” absorbs water from the food that passes through it during digestion. When food moves too slowly through the colon, the colon can absorb too much water from the stool. This results in stools that are hard, dry and hard to pass.
Most healthy people have bowel movements between three times a day and three times a week. When the body is inefficiently digesting food, the typical pattern of bowel movements can slow down. This can lead to hard stools that are difficult to pass. The longer stool stays in the colon, the harder it can become.
The Bristol Stool Chart can help people identify bowel problems by comparing the shape and consistency of their stools:
Ask The Doc: When Is Constipation An Emergency?
Many babies and children have hard stools. Pain during bowel movements can cause the child to avoid bowel movements, which can make the problem worse.
Severe, chronic constipation in a child or newborn can cause partial intestinal blockage. The blockage can cause pain, which can lead to fecal incontinence. It can also impair a child’s ability to recognize when they need to go to the bathroom.
Parents and caregivers should talk to a doctor before giving their child constipation medicine. Some of these medicines contain ingredients that may not be safe for children and babies.
Not having regular, soft stools and not receiving treatment for constipation can lead to complications, including:
Identifying Types Of Poop With The Bristol Stool Chart And More
Sometimes constipation is common and does not necessarily indicate an underlying health problem. However, a person should talk to a doctor if they experience any of the following:
A parent or guardian should also notify the doctor if the child is unable to have a bowel movement for several days or if the child seems very distressed by hard stools.
Chronic, untreated constipation can lead to complications, so it’s important that a person gets immediate treatment for hard stool.
Hard stool occurs when food moves too slowly through the large intestine. They can be painful and uncomfortable for both adults and children. In children, hard stools can also lead to fecal incontinence and delay toilet training.
What The Color And Consistency Of Your Poop Says About You
Rare hard stools are usually just a nuisance. People who experience this symptom from time to time may find it helpful to drink more water, eat more fruit and fiber, and exercise more.
When hard stools become a chronic problem, it is important to see a doctor. The right treatment can solve the problem quickly and prevent serious complications.
Medical News Today has strict sourcing guidelines and draws only from peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical journals and societies. We avoid using tertiary references. We link to primary sources – including studies, scientific references and statistics – within each article and also list them in the resources section at the bottom of our articles. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and up-to-date by reading our editorial policy. Every time I meet a new patient, I ask them about their bowel movements. Sometimes that puts people off and they say “…but… I’m here for my shoulder” LOL jk, jk– I don’t treat people with primary shoulder problems. Remember, pelvic floor problems are my jam! BUT even when people have a “pelvis problem” (and I put that in quotes because even though I see that I specialize in the pelvis, the reality is that the pelvis is in the body, so the whole body can affect the pelvis), they can have problems they see the connection between their bowel movements and bladder leaks, painful sex, lower back pain, prolapse – and more! However, the reality is that what happens with your bowel movements is ABSOLUTELY important to every pelvic issue we see. And this is especially true if one is struggling with constipation.
The reality is that the pelvis is not as big as you think. A full rectum that does not empty well can press on other structures around it (including the bladder and vagina, pelvic floor muscles and nerves around the pelvis) and can also stretch to an uncomfortable level and affect the lower back. Hard, dehydrated stools are also harder to pass and may require more effort, which puts more pressure on the pelvic organs and the pelvic floor muscles themselves.
Common Causes Of Constipation
This is where things get interesting. Because of how close everything is and how complicated the muscles are associated with poop, people are often shocked at the things their poop can be involved in. Let’s look at a few:
The truth is! Constipation can make pelvic pain worse, or even be the primary cause. There are several reasons for this. First, when the stool is in the rectum, it will put pressure on the puborectal muscle, whose job it is to maintain the angle between the rectum and the anal canal, prevent leakage, and open it to allow stool. Normally, when the rectum fills up, it will cause a sampling reaction where your rectum literally allows a small amount of contents into the anal canal to determine – solid, liquid or gas? This will then trigger a reflex to facilitate bowel movements. If someone has harder stools with less formation together, they cannot empty their bowels very well, which leads to stretching of the rectum. This will put pressure on the puborectal muscle, which can then lead to increased muscle activation (hey, there’s more stool to hold!), and ultimately muscle irritation and overactivity. Excessive activity of the pelvic floor muscles can lead to pain around the pelvis, coccyx and sacrum. And it’s a tough cycle because overactive muscles don’t stretch, making it harder to have a bowel movement, and the harder it is, the more irritated the muscles become.
Prolapse occurs when there is a loss of support around the walls of the vagina and an organ (bladder, rectum, small intestine or uterus) protrudes into the vagina. This can be very irritating and uncomfortable and can lead to a feeling of a lump in the vagina, heaviness in the pelvis or pressure in the perineum or pelvis. Pregnancy and childbirth can be a big factor in prolapse due to loss of connective tissue or fascial support, but increased pressure on the pelvic floor over time can also play a role. I’ve seen it happen with people who have worked in jobs that required extensive heavy lifting, when people do exercises their bodies can’t handle, and yes – in cases of long-term incarceration. Constipation leads to increased pressure on the pelvic floor and a greater effort to void. So when a person is constipated and has to make more of an effort to empty, it can weaken the support around the vagina and can end up being a big factor for people with prolapse. And the great thing – when we help him get better, we’ll usually see prolapse symptoms get better too!
Similar to pelvic pain, overactivity of the pelvic floor muscles can be very involved when a person experiences pain during sex. In addition, if their rectum remains full of stool, it will put pressure on the vagina and reduce the space allowed for the vagina to stretch after insertion. So, you guessed it, optimizing the erection can make a difference for people who experience pain during sex.
How To Know When Constipation Is An Emergency
This one is very interesting! We’ve already talked about how the pelvic floor muscles can become overactive when someone is dealing with constipation, and of course this can be a factor in lower back pain. But the colon itself can also be greatly stretched when the stool recedes, and this will apply to the lower back. It’s surprisingly more common than you think! I have seen many people dealing with chronic back pain who have seen a significant change (if not a cure!) by optimizing their gut health. And it makes sense when we think about how organs can often relate to somatic structures around the body (Remember how a heart attack can manifest as shoulder pain? A kidney stone as lower back pain?).
I had to include PN in this group! The pudendal nerve passes through the pelvis, so it is very close to the rectum. When a person strains and struggles to empty their bowels, this nerve can become stretched and irritated. Prolonged constipation can cause
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