When Is It Dangerous to Not Poop?  ---
What Science Says
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July 7, 2017
By Susan Callahan, Contributing Columnist

Pooping is one of those things that our bodies do so often and so
naturally that we never even think about it --- until it stops happening.
Chances are, by the time you actually notice that you haven't pooped,
you have probably been constipated for quite awhile. And yet, this
most basic of human biological functions actually is quite a complex
process, involving multiple organs and body systems, including your
digestive system, muscular system and your central nervous system.

When is it dangerous to not poop? How long can you go without
pooping before it's a medical emergency?

How Often Should You Normally Poop?

The surprising truth here is that there are not many scientific studies on
the normal frequency of bowel movements in healthy adults.  One of
the few in this area was
published in 1992 in the British Medical Journal
by a team of doctors in the United Kingdom. The team, led by Dr. K. W.
 examined the bowel habits of 838 men and 1059 women from
East Bristol
, UK.

The participants were asked to keep track of 3 consecutive bowel
movements and to note the shape, texture of the movements.

Here is what they discovered about bowel frequency. Only 40% of men
and 33% of women had one regular bowel movement every 24 hours.
Let that sink in. Only 40% of men had bowel movements they could
count on like clockwork. About 53% of men often had no --- zero ---
bowel movements for days on end.  Another 7% of men actually had
bowel movements two or more times per day.

In other words, abnormal is the new normal. As the scientists
concluded, "Most defecations occurred in the early morning and earlier
in men than in women. We conclude that conventionally normal bowel
function is enjoyed by less than half the population..."

Going to Extremes -- How Long Can You Go Without Pooping


Once you eat food, your digestive process begins. Chewing food
activates the production of saliva from saliva glands in your mouth, to
assist in the early breakdown of food into an easy to swallow size.
Down your esophagus it goes, then into the acid bucket of your
stomach, where it is broken down even further, then into the 30 feet or
so of large intestines, small intestines, nutrients extracted, bulk passed
along, into the rectum and out.

If you eat food with fiber and have enough fluids, the entire journey
can take 2 hours for vegetables, a few days for certain types of meat.

Unfortunately, not many people have ideal bowel frequency. Many of us
are chronically constipated.

Scientists have defined criteria for chronic constipation. Under these
tests, called the Rome III diagnostic criteria,  you are functionally
constipated if 25% of your bowel movements are associated with at
least two of the following symptoms:

  • straining;

  • hard or lumpy stools;

  • a sense of incomplete evacuation;

  • a sense of a rectal obstruction;

  • the need for manual manoeuvres;

  • or fewer than three defecations per week in the previous three
    months with an onset of symptoms longer than six months.

Can being chronically constipated kill you?

Chronic constipation, while not ideal, is not a medical emergency,
--- and this is a Big Exception ---- it leads to intestinal blockage
or impacted bowels.

With fecal impaction, your stool dries out and sticks to the walls of your
colon. Chronic constipation is a precondition of fecal impaction.  Your
risk for fecal impaction appears to increase as you get older. One 2014
study from Hospital Clinico San Carlos, Universidad Complutense in
Madrid, Spain found that 70
.7% of all people in nursing homes suffer
chronic constipation and 47.3% suffers from fecal impaction.

Fecal impaction is a dangerous condition.
The stuck, hard mass of stool  
can kill the tissues of the colon around it, a condition known as
"necrosis".  The stuck fecal matter can also cause ulcers in your colon.
Fecal impaction can lead to bacteria passing from your colon to your
blood stream, where you can develop sepsis (blood poisoning) and
eventually, die.

But how long you have to have chronic constipation before
experiencing fecal impaction is an unanswerable question. Many people
suffer from chronic constipation for decades without developing fecal

As a general rule, however, you should strive to move your bowels
once every 24 hours.

If your bowels have not moved in 24 ho
urs, you should try to
encourage the passage by eating more fiber
, drinking more water and
moving around.
 The fiber part of that equation is the one that is often
failed. Try adding fibrous fruit such as apples, nuts, and plenty of green
vegetables( broccoli, collard greens, string beans, bok choy, cabbage).

Meats travel slowest through your intestinal track. If you're prone to
constipation, you should try to speed up the transit time by choosing
your protein carefully.  For protein, avoid slow-transit meats mike steak
and other forms of beef. Eat fast-transit protein such as oily fish
(salmon, tuna, mackerel)

You should also avoid opioids. Use of opioids and NSAIDs such as
ibuprofen increase your risk for fecal impaction.

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