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What Happens to a Poop When You Hold It in Until It Goes Away?

Bad things. Very bad things

We’ve all experienced the agony of holding in a ripe poop. Maybe you’re on a date and you’re afraid of the monster broiling within; maybe you’re driving in the middle of the desert and even if you wanted to stop and poop, the only napkins you have left are covered in ketchup. Whatever the reason, you have to white-knuckle it until a reasonable bathroom appears.

But then: A miracle! That desperate urge to poop suddenly vanishes, as if it had never been, and you end up just pooping at your regular-ish time later that day (or the next morning).

So… where does it go?

Let’s start with what’s going on in there at the point where you’re clenching for dear life.

“Don’t hold your poop,” warns Niket Sonpal, an assistant clinical professor at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York. “When stool hits parts of the rectum, it signals to your body that it’s time to go.” That’s why, he explains, it’s so hard to hold in your poop in the first place. “You have to tighten the voluntary sphincters,” Sonpal explains. Which is why in the first few hours, you’ll likely feel abdominal pressure.

But let’s say your will power wins the battle against your voluntary sphincter, and you experience the phenomenon known as the Vanishing Poop. Where does it go?

“Your body will eventually start to impact your poop,” says Sonpal. Which, despite the urgency passing, isn’t a good thing. This poo hasn’t just magically disappeared; instead, you’re becoming constipated.

“The longer you hold your poop, the harder it’s going to get,” says Sonpal. “The pressure builds until the point where you can’t hold your stomach flat no matter how hard you try. As the stool gets harder in your colon, you increase your risk for what’s likely going to be an uncomfortable trip to the bathroom.”

While that all sounds terrible, Sonpal admits that it’s far from fatal. “I’ve never heard of anyone dying from holding poop, but holding it is just going to lead to impaction. And if it gets impacted enough, you might need laxatives or someone may need to remove it manually.”

Obviously, it’s always nice when someone pulls out a stool for you, but not like that.