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At What Point Does Constipation Become a Medical Emergency?

You’re gonna want a glass of prune juice for this

It’s been days since you last pooped, and try as you might, nothing — not even a  pebble — will come out. You’re growing concerned. You wonder, “How much poop can one body bear before it bursts?” 

But when exactly is constipation an emergency? 

Well, it really depends on how you feel. “I look at constipation and whether or not it’s an emergency based on the symptoms the individual’s experiencing,” says Evan Goldstein, anal surgeon at Bespoke Surgical and co-founder of Future Method, a company that develops products designed for those who engage in anal play. “It’s important to listen to your body and let nature run its course. So if someone simply hasn’t gone to the bathroom in a little while, but is otherwise feeling fine, there’s no need to worry.”

If a little while turns into a long while, however, there’s more cause for concern. “If it’s been a few days [four to five without pooping], and you’re feeling bloat, pain and an urgent sense that you need to go, this becomes more of an emergency situation,” Goldstein explains. “If things are persisting and symptoms are worsening, you should go see a medical professional.”

It’s nothing to be ashamed of and surprisingly common for constipation to result in a trip to the doctor. “Two-hundred and eleven people every day are admitted to the hospital in England for constipation, and three quarters of those are emergencies,” says Megan “The Gut Health Doctor” Rossi. “These occur when the stool backlog starts to impact the efficiency of the digestive system, leading to nausea, no appetite and abdominal pain. It differs from person to person, but can occur after two or more weeks of not opening your bowels.”

That may seem like a really long time, but people have gone longer without pooping. A 28-year-old Indian woman once had to have surgery to remove a “football-sized fecal mass” after 45 days of being unable to pass it. In another case, a 24-year-old man refused to poop for 47 days after being arrested in England under suspicion of swallowing drugs. Admittedly, all that holding did pay off for him, as he was eventually released from custody and his charges were dropped. (The ensuing poop must have been truly glorious.)

But if you’re just a dude who hasn’t gone in a few days, there are a number of things you can do to help yourself poop when you’re feeling clogged. “For many people, there are simple things that can assist mild constipation, including water, prunes, dried fruit, exercise, stool softeners, MiraLAX and fiber supplements — though make sure you’re also drinking a ton of water, otherwise those can constipate you even further — as well as pre- and probiotics to help maintain beneficial gut flora,” Goldstein advises.

Rossi also suggests “getting your pooping position right for a smooth departure.” Squatting, or sitting with your knees raised and your legs slightly spread, appears to result in less straining and more complete bowel movements.

If all goes to plan, you should be poop-free in no time. Happy pooping!