In a perfect world, your stool would be soft and easy to pass every time you need to have a bowel movement. However, it’s likely that from time to time you may have hard bowel movements.

These are more difficult to pass than soft bowel movements and can range from difficult to pass to altogether painful. Doctors may call hard stools constipation.

While hard bowel movements happen to everyone from time to time, they can also be a symptom of an underlying medical condition.

Examples of conditions that cause hard bowel movements include diverticular disease, intestinal obstructions, or hypothyroidism. If you have hard stools, there are ways you can make your stools easier to pass at home.

You can have hard stools for a lot of reasons. Sometimes, a combination of factors is to blame. Typically, a person’s stool is made from waste products and undigested food material that combines with water to be eliminated via the intestines.

This also requires motility, or gastrointestinal movement, to help stool move along the digestive tract for elimination.

A problem with any or several of these digestive processes can cause hard stool.

Medication-related causes

Sometimes hard stool is due to something you did (or didn’t) eat as well as medications you take. Examples include:

Diet- and lifestyle-related causes

Diet-related causes of hard stools include dehydration (not drinking enough water) and a low-fiber diet. Some potential lifestyle-related causes of hard stool include:

  • changes to one’s diet
  • changing medications
  • not engaging in regular physical activity
  • traveling

If a person frequently ignores the urge to have a bowel movement, this can cause stool to become harder to pass. This is because holding back bowel movements can make changes to the brain that affect the future urge to have a bowel movement.

Your stool can build up inside the digestive tract and become harder to pass.

Medical causes

Sometimes, an underlying medical condition can cause hard stools. Examples of these conditions include:

Some of these conditions, such as an intestinal obstruction, can be a medical emergency. Because stool can’t get out, a person can experience life-threatening complications if the bowel leaks into the intestinal lining.

Hard stool with blood

If your stool is especially hard to pass, it’s not uncommon to see some streaking of blood present in the stool. Hard stool can create irritation and micro-tears in the intestinal lining that cause bleeding. Also, you can experience bleeding from somewhere in the gastrointestinal tract that may mean you see blood in your stool.

If the blood is more than streaking or continues beyond a day, see a doctor to make sure the blood-streaked stool isn’t a sign of an underlying medical condition.

Hard Black stool

Sometimes hard stool may appear black and tarry. This could indicate the presence of bleeding in a higher area of the digestive tract, such as the stomach or esophagus. Some medications you take, such as iron supplements, can also cause dark stools.

The most serious symptoms of hard stool are rectal bleeding or blood in your stool. These can require emergency medical attention if a person continues bleeding.

Other hard stool symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain
  • difficulty passing gas
  • pain passing stools
  • straining when passing stools

Many of these symptoms can make you afraid to pass any other stools. This fear can worsen constipation.

Hard stools can build up in the digestive tract, causing damage to its lining. Complications from hard stool can include:

Preventing these from occurring by keeping stool as soft as possible can help.

If you don’t have blood in your stool or severe pain, you may want to start with trying to soften your stool at home.

Home remedies

Examples of home remedies to soften stools include:

  • Abdominal massage. Sometimes a stomach massage can help stimulate the bowels if they’re not moving enough to help stool digest more quickly. Rubbing the stomach in a circular motion can help.
  • Drink more water. Increasing water in the digestive tract can make stool softer and easier to pass. A good sign that you’re drinking enough water is if your urine is pale yellow in color.
  • Eat more fiber. Fiber can add bulk to the stool, which can stimulate the bowels and help move stool through the digestive tract. However, adding too much fiber at once can have the opposite effect and cause bloating and abdominal discomfort. Examples of excellent fiber sources include whole-wheat bread, black beans, berries or apples with the skins on, carrots, green peas, broccoli, almonds, and peanuts.
  • Avoid empty-calorie, low-fiber foods. Many low-fiber foods don’t add a lot of nutritional value to your diet. Avoid fast food, processed foods, and chips.
  • Exercise. Physical activity can have a bowel-stimulating effect on the body.

Hard poop medical treatment

Examples of medications a doctor may prescribe or recommend include:

  • Bulk-forming agents. Examples include Citrucel or FiberCon. These medications help to add bulk to stool, making it easier to pass.
  • Osmotic agents. Examples include MiraLAX. These medications attract water to the stool, making it easier to pass.
  • Stool softeners. Examples include docusate sodium (Colace). This helps to soften hard stool so it isn’t so hard to pass.

Ideally, these methods are a short-term solution. If your hard stool causes significant medical problems, such as an intestinal blockage or rectal prolapse, you may require surgery. That is usually a last attempt to correct an underlying problem.

See a doctor if you haven’t had a bowel movement in four days. You may need to seek emergency medical attention if you see blood in your stool that seems to be increasing in amount.

Otherwise, you should seek medical help if your hard stools are bothering you. If you’re having symptoms like bloating, pain, and discomfort, talking to a doctor can help.

Hard poop can be a symptom of lifestyle factors, medications taken, or an underlying medical condition. There are several different approaches to treatment that can make stool easier to pass.

Starting these sooner rather than later can help prevent serious medical problems, such as a bowel obstruction.