All the Reasons You Can't Poop and How to Fix It

reasons you can't poop
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Can't poop? There are several reasons why you may be struggling, all of which I've seen in my practice as a gastroenterologist.

So if you can't seem to keep things moving, here's some reading material to inspire you as you sit atop your porcelain throne.

You don't get enough fiber

If your diet doesn’t include loads of fiber, your digestion suffers. Aim to eat three to five cups of fruits and veggies every day to help your bowels move. On the other hand, meat and dairy products tend to block bowel movements. Limit these in favor of fiber-fortified foods, and your stool will thank you!

You're dehydrated

Your stool will have a hard time moving through your intestines without water to keep things slippery. Keeping your body hydrated is important to your overall health. If you've increased your fiber intake, drinking more water is especially important. Try drinking eight to 10 glasses of water a day.

You aren't very active

If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, you're likely to be blocked up. Regular movement and exercise help move your bowels. Even active people who fall out of their exercise routines tend to become constipated. Increase your heart rate and get your bowels moving!

You're feeling stressed

What's going on in your head will affect what's going on in your gut. The enteric nervous system (ENS) is a division of the body's central nervous system. The ENS innervates the entire gastrointestinal tract, meaning there's a direct connection between your mental state and your digestive activity. If you can't go, it could be because you're stressed out. A healthy diet, exercise, and relaxation techniques help reduce stress -- as well as bowel blockage.

You've been traveling

Part of traveling is eating new foods, but sometimes eating things you're not used to can interrupt healthy bathroom time. The key is to pay attention to how much fiber you're getting while on vacation. Pack fiber-fortified foods when you travel, just in case.

You ignore the urge

You're in a rush. You're too busy. Maybe you're poop shy. Ignoring your need to squat can lead to constipation.

Everyone knows someone who will go to great lengths to avoid pooping in public. If you put on the brakes time after time, though, your body may stop feeling the signal to go altogether. Meanwhile, your gut is still doing its job and will continue to draw out fluid, leaving your stool harder and drier. Schedule your toilet time, or find your own secret station for peaceful pooping.

You suffer from a chronic health condition

Conditions that affect your hormones, the nerves around your colon and rectal areas, or muscle contractions spell trouble for your bowels. These conditions are often responsible for what's called "slow transit constipation," which is kind of what it sounds like: slow gut transit time, or the time it takes for you to eliminate waste.

Thyroid disorders: Your thyroid regulates hormones that help your body perform various processes. A condition called hypothyroidism means fewer hormones are released, which contributes to weakened bowel function.

Diabetes: Approximately one in three diabetics experiences constipation. Diabetes causes nerve damage throughout your body, including your gut, and damaged nerves in your intestines slow down BMs and affect rectal sensation.

Nervous system disorders: Multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, strokes, and spinal cord injuries reduce nerve function, slowing gut performance.

Talk to your doctor if you think any of these conditions are causing your constipation.

You're on medication

Certain medications, especially opioid pain relievers, cause blockage. Some supplements also contribute to constipation by slowing down your gut's motility:

  • Opioids, including codeine, morphine, Percocet, Vicodin
  • Iron or calcium supplements
  • Antidepressants
  • Diabetes and Parkinson's meds
  • Blood pressure treatments
  • Antacids like Imodium and Pepto-Bismol

Laxative dependence can also lead to constipation. The occasional laxative can be helpful, but don't let your body rely on laxatives to poop. If your meds are preventing regular BMs, talk to your doctor.

Other causes

Depression, pregnancy, and digestive disorders may also cause constipation. In these cases, your doctor can help you figure out the best approach to improving your bowel function. Remember, healthy living is the first step to healthy poops! 

How to cure constipation

Knowing what causes your constipation isn't nearly as good as knowing how to cure it. The best fix for constipation is to eat a lot of fiber, drink a ton of water, and get regular exercise.

Stress, travel, and a busy lifestyle send healthy bowel movements out of whack. Make a conscious effort to reduce your stress, and whether you're traveling or just feel nervous in public bathrooms, set aside time to go to the bathroom. It sounds a little ridiculous, but if you don't stick to a schedule, you may wind up preventing your body from functioning normally.

Chronic health conditions, including thyroid disorders and diabetes, cause "slow transit constipation." If you suspect a bigger health concern behind your irregular BMs, call your doctor right away.

Finally, medications, especially opioids, slow down your gut’s motility -- if these are a concern, it's best to talk to your doctor about alternative treatments or lowering your dosage. After all, no one likes to feel backed up, even from the medications that may help other ailments.

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Dr. Nandi is a practicing physician and host of the internationally syndicated medical and lifestyle talk show Ask Dr. Nandi.