Having a healthy digestive tract means pooping regularly to eliminate wastes and toxins from the body. Although every person poops on a different schedule, not pooping at all is a concern.

Keep reading to learn about the time frame and symptoms to be concerned about, as well as some tips for maintaining bowel regularity.

A “normal” pooping frequency is anywhere from three times a day to every other day. Most people notice a pattern in their bowel habits. People tend to poop at about the same time each day.

Doctors define constipation as pooping two or fewer times per week. If you experience constipation, you should treat it promptly. Otherwise, stool can back up in the intestinal system, making it harder to poop and causing you to feel sick.

There isn’t a defined amount of time — such as one week or one month — that a person could technically go without pooping. This is because everyone is different; people have different diets, different states of gastrointestinal health, and a host of different lifestyle factors that contribute to their regularity. However, if you haven’t pooped at all in a week and you’re eating as you normally would, you may need to start thinking about why you haven’t pooped.

Sometimes a bowel or intestinal obstruction isn’t allowing stool to pass. This requires medical attention before it becomes a medical emergency. Also, some people withhold stool or physically refuse to poop due to anxiety over using the restroom.

One extreme example is that of a young woman from the United Kingdom who passed away after eight weeks of not going to the restroom, according to The Independent. The stool caused her intestines to enlarge so significantly that they pressed on her organs and led to a heart attack.

Instead of focusing on a specific amount of days that you haven’t pooped, it’s important to consider the symptoms that come along with not pooping for an extended amount of time. These include:

  • bloating
  • feeling as if you should poop, but cannot
  • nausea
  • not passing any gas
  • stomach pains
  • vomiting up stool

If you haven’t pooped in several days and have these symptoms, seek medical treatment.

Researchers have discovered that not pooping affects not only the digestive system, but also the body as a whole. Some of the complications associated with going too long without pooping include:

  • Fecal impaction. A fecal impaction is a hard piece or pieces of stool that make the stool extremely difficult to pass. You may have to seek medical attention for the stool to be removed.
  • Bowel perforation. If excess stool backs up in the intestines, it could put too much pressure on the intestines. This can cause the intestines to perforate or tear. The stool can spill into the abdominal cavity and cause severe and often life-threatening symptoms because stool is acidic and contains bacteria.
  • Increased risks for cardiovascular events. Chronic constipation is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular events, such as a heart attack. Doctors think that chronic constipation increases stress and inflammation in the body that affects the heart. However, it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean all people with constipation problems are going to have heart problems, just that the risk could be greater.

If you haven’t pooped in a week or more, it’s important to seek medical attention to avoid severe complications.

Things that contribute to constipation can include stress, diet, and lack of physical activity. A person may also find they don’t poop as often as they age because their intestines tend to move more slowly. There are many treatments available to help relieve constipation and promote regular bowel movements. These include:

  • Drinking at least eight glass of water a day. Waste in the intestines absorbs water, helping to stimulate the bowels to move.
  • Exercising. Exercise can act as an outside massage to the bowels by promoting movement. The exercise doesn’t have to be high-impact to be effective. Even going on regular walks can help, especially after eating.
  • Cutting back on dairy products. Dairy products can have a constipating effect on the body. Limiting one’s intake to one to two servings per day can help.
  • Increasing fiber intake. Dietary fiber helps to add bulk to the stool. This promotes intestinal movement (known as peristalsis). Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are all usually excellent sources of dietary fiber.
  • Avoiding foods known to worsen constipation. These include high-fat or low-fiber foods, such as chips, fast foods, meat, and highly processed foods like hot dogs.

In addition to making lifestyle changes, you may wish to temporarily take stool softeners, such as docusate sodium (Colace). This can make stool easier to pass.

Doctors can prescribe other treatments as well. An example is the medication linaclotide (Linzess), which can help speed up the intestines so a person has more bowel movements.

Pooping is a natural function of the body. However, it’s connected to many aspects of your lifestyle, including stress and dietary and exercise habits. While there isn’t an exact amount of time that you can safely go without pooping, you should generally seek medical attention after about a week of not going to the bathroom or sooner if you have symptoms.