Should you be pooping every day? Experts weigh in
Everyone poops, and our bowel movements can tell us a good deal about our overall health. Defecation is a daily routine for some people, but it can come less easily — or smoothly — for others. So how often should you poop?
It's probably the number one question asked about going number two, according to experts, but there isn't one correct answer. Simply put, it depends on the person.
"Everyone's different and everyone's digestive tract is different," Dr. Anju Malieckal, a board-certified gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Hospital—Brooklyn, tells TODAY.com. Factors like age, lifestyle, diet, stress, medical conditions (like irritable bowel syndrome), and medications also play a big role, she adds.
How often should you poop a day?
While people should aim to be on some kind of regular schedule, what that schedule looks like will vary between individuals. "Our bowel movements can be anywhere from several times a day to once a day or once every two or three days," says Malieckal.
It's not true that everyone needs to poop once a day, she adds. So if you don't, there's no reason to be concerned.
Our bowel habits can also change throughout adulthood. “As we get older, our metabolism and motility (contraction of the muscles in the GI tract) slows down ... so the length of time stool stays in your colon and the transit time gets longer,” Dr. Christine Lee, a gastroenterologist at Cleveland Clinic, tells TODAY.com. As a result, constipation can become more frequent as we age, Lee adds.
Comfort level is another big factor. "We call it a home field advantage, some people just can’t poop away from home," Jena Casper, a nurse practitioner in gastroenterology at the Mayo Clinic Health System, tells TODAY.com. It's not abnormal for people's bowel habits to change depending on their environment — for example in a new bathroom, at work or school, or when traveling.
Instead of focusing on how often you go, the experts encourage people to pay attention to other aspects of their pooping habits.
A healthy poop schedule is about quality over quantity
More is not always better. "It's really not about how often you go to the bathroom ... what's more important is how well you got the job done," says Lee, people should pay attention to their body during and after pooping.
"Unfortunately, the size and consistency and shape won’t give you an idea of how much is left behind," says Lee, adding that the best cue of a complete bowel movement is how you feel afterward. "If you feel good, empty, relieved ... and you have no pressure or pain, that's a pretty good indication," Lee adds.
Generally speaking, stool should come out easily and you shouldn't have to strain too hard, TODAY previously reported.
If after a bowel movement you still feel like there's stool left or a sensation of heaviness and pressure in the pelvis, says Lee, chances are you did not get the job fully done. This is also known as an incomplete bowel movement or incomplete evacuation, Lee adds.
"If you have discomfort or gas or bloating, or you feel sluggish, those can also be the body telling you that the quality (of your bowel movements) is poor," says Lee.
Going multiple times a day doesn't necessarily make someone a super-pooper — in fact, it could mean the opposite, Lee explains. "You may not be a good defecator ... so it takes three attempts to get the job done of one bowel movement," says Lee.
The goal should be to have consistent, quality bowel movements rather than going a certain number of times per day, the experts note.
If you notice any significant changes in your bowel movements or habits, it's time to see a doctor to rule out more serious causes, the experts note. Issues like pain while pooping, blood in the stool, or more frequent diarrhea could be signs of colon cancer, which is the third most common cancer in the U.S., says Casper.
How long can you go without pooping?
It depends on the individual, and some people can go longer without a bowel movement than others. Generally, after about three days it's time to try to get things moving, the experts note.
“I think after 48 to 72 hours of no bowel movements, if you’re starting to feel abdominal discomfort, but it’s not an urgent situation, you can take an over-the-counter laxative or stool softener," says Malieckal, adding that people should not use these over-the-counter constipation medications for more than 24 hours and always consult their doctor with questions.
"Sometimes just a fiber supplement like Metamucil can help you empty your colon ... and always make sure you're drinking extra water," says Casper. Drinking prune juice, warm liquids or stimulants like coffee can also get things moving, Casper adds.
After about three days or if a person starts to experience severe symptoms, it's time to see a doctor, the experts note. “If you’re unable to eat because there’s so much (bloating) ... or you’re having severe pain, vomiting, and the abdomen is very tender, then seek more urgent care at the emergency room,” says Malieckal.
Going too long without a bowel movement can increase the risk of complications like fecal impaction, diverticulosis, or irreversible damage to the colon, says Lee. "There's a difference between how long you can go without a bowel movement versus how long you should let yourself go," says Lee.
How to poop regularly
If you feel like you aren’t going often enough, you’re not alone. About 4 million people in the United States experience frequent constipation and it's the most common gastrointestinal complaint to doctors, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.
If you want to try to have more regular bowel movements, the experts recommend moving, fiber and water.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends getting 28 grams of dietary fiber per day. "A lot of people don’t get that much fiber," says Casper, so eating more fruits and vegetables or taking a fiber supplement can help boost your fiber intake.
It's very important to drink enough water, the experts note. "Make sure you avoid a prolonged state of dehydration by hydrating throughout the day rather than waiting until the end of the day and chugging a liter of water, for example," says Lee.
Regular exercise and managing stress levels can also help keep your bowel movements regular, the experts add.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com