Some health conditions like constipation may cause you to strain to pass a bowel movement. Diet and lifestyle changes, including drinking more water and eating fiber-rich foods, may help.

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We’ve all been there before. You’re sitting on the toilet and you find yourself straining to poop. If this happens occasionally, it’s not usually something to be concerned about.

But if straining while pooping is a regular occurrence, you may want to come up with a new game plan. Hard, difficult to pass bowel movements that require physical exertion and straining can lead to health complications.

In this article, we’ll take a look at potential health complications caused by straining to poop, tips for pooping without straining, and when to call a doctor.

Consistently straining when pooping can cause a number of health complications, including:

  • Hemorrhoids. These swollen veins in your lower rectum and anus can cause pain, burning, and itching. To relieve the discomfort of hemorrhoids, try soaking in a warm bath for 10 minutes a day. You can also try over-the-counter (OTC) hemorrhoid cream to ease burning and itching.
  • Anal fissures. A tear in the lining of your anus may cause pain and bleeding during and after bowel movements. Anal fissures aren’t typically a serious condition and in most cases will heal on their own in 4 to 6 weeks. Topical pain relievers and stool softeners can help promote healing and reduce discomfort.
  • Hiatal hernia. A hiatal hernia is when the upper part of your stomach pushes through the opening in your diaphragm. Most cases of hiatal hernias don’t require treatment, but large hernias can trap stomach acid and even food in the upper part of your stomach, delaying proper digestion and increasing the risk of acid reflux.
  • Rectal prolapse. When a small amount of intestinal lining pushes out from your anal opening, this is called a rectal prolapse. They can range from mild to severe, and all require medical treatment. Call a doctor if you feel or see a reddish bulge extending out of your anus.

Addressing these health complications and their symptoms is just one part of the puzzle. You also want to get at the heart of the issue: what’s causing the need to strain.

If you need to strain when pooping, consider talking with your doctor to find out why. Typical reasons include:

  • Hard stool. Hard bowel movements can happen to everyone from time to time. If your poop is consistently hard and difficult to pass, you may not be getting enough fluids or fiber in your diet. Certain medications, like iron supplements or narcotics, can also cause hard stool.
  • Constipation. if you poop less than three times a week or have difficulty pooping for several weeks, you’re probably constipated. Constipation is one of the most common digestive problems in the United States, according to a 2013 research review.

Other causes could include:

Potential causeWhat it is
irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)a disorder of your large intestine
celiac diseasean immune response in your small intestine triggered by eating gluten
multiple sclerosis (MS)a central nervous system disease
Parkinson’s diseasea progressive nervous system disorder
dyssynergiapelvic muscles that have difficulty coordinating contraction and relaxation
Crohn’s diseaseinflammation of the lining of your digestive tract
ulcerative colitis inflammation and sores in the lining of your large intestine and rectum

Certain conditions and diseases can make it difficult to poop by upsetting the balance of hormones that help balance the fluids in your body. These conditions include:

A healthy digestive tract (intestines, rectum, and anus) is critical to avoiding straining when you poop. To keep your digestive tract healthy, you should try to:

Get enough fluids

Females should consume about 11 1/2 cups of fluid per day, while males should consume about 15 1/2 cups. Fluid comes from:

  • water
  • other beverages
  • food (represents about 20 percent of total fluid intake)

If you’re not monitoring your fluid intake, it’s probably adequate if:

  • your urine is very pale yellow or colorless
  • you rarely feel thirsty

Harvard Medical School recommends that people drink 4 to 6 cups of water gradually throughout the day

Eat a nutritious diet

For easy bowel movements:

  1. Eat foods that are high in fiber (e.g., whole grains, fruits, beans, vegetables, nuts) can add bulk to your poop while keeping it soft and easy to pass.
  2. Limit foods with low amounts of fiber (dairy, meat, processed snack foods).

Exercise regularly

Exercising regularly can help treat and prevent constipation and improve your mental health. Try exercising for 30 minutes a day, at least five times a week. Great options, include:

  • walking through your neighborhood
  • hiking at a nearby park
  • biking
  • swimming

Practice techniques for pooping easily

The first step is to relax. When you feel the urge to poop, head to the bathroom as soon as you can. Then sit and relax on the toilet. Avoid immediately trying to push the poop out. Give your body about 5 minutes to get things going. Having reading material nearby is one way to avoid impatience and the urge to strain.

Try this poop position

According to the Western Australia Department of Health, sitting on the toilet properly is an important way to avoid straining when you poop. Some tips to try, include:

  • lifting your heels or use a step stool or a “squatty potty” to keep your knees higher than your hips
  • keeping your legs apart
  • leaning forward with your back straight
  • resting your forearms on your knees

Once properly positioned, try:

  • pushing your stomach muscles forward, repeat with each urge to poop
  • not to hold your breath, breathe out from your mouth
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If you consistently find yourself straining to poop or haven’t had a bowel movement for a few days, make an appointment with a doctor. Be sure to note other symptoms to discuss with your doctor, such as:

  • blood in your stool
  • hard or lumpy poop
  • feeling as though you are unable to completely empty the poop from your rectum
  • bloating
  • abdominal discomfort
  • anal discomfort

Also be prepared to provide information about your diet and exercise routine with your doctor.

Straining to poop can often be relieved by lifestyle changes such as:

  • getting enough fluids
  • eating a nutritious, high fiber diet
  • exercising regularly

If these changes do not yield the results you want, make an appointment to discuss your situation with a doctor. They may have additional suggestions or recommend tests to determine if there’s an underlying condition causing your need to strain when you poop.