It’s the kind of nightmare situation everybody finds themselves in at one point or another. You really need to go to the bathroom—and it’s a number two—but you can’t. Maybe you’re stuck in back-to-back Zoom meetings, or you’re on a long car journey with no rest stops in sight. At a certain point of holding it in, the urge to go can dissipate. But is that bad for you?
In the latest episode of his “Daily Digest” series of videos, gastroenterologist Dr. Sameer Islam breaks down what can happen when we hold it in.
“Whenever you hold your poop, there are a couple of things that can occur that may not be the best thing for you,” he says. The issue people should be aware of, he explains, is that it can cause constipation. This is for a very simple reason: if you need to use the bathroom but you hold it in, you’re actually sending your body a signal that it can’t go.
“The problem is that your body gets used to the feeling of not responding to the urge to go, and that can really make it more difficult for bowel issues,” says Islam. “You can have really bad stomach pain, and the problem becomes, as your body adapts to you not responding to the need to use the restroom, you’ll start to actually not use the restroom. You’ll develop a condition called pelvic floor dysfunction, in which the rectal muscles are not working correctly at all. And because they’re not working, it’ll make it even more difficult for you to use the restroom.”
There are, he adds, a few myths surrounding what can happen when you hold in the need to go that are not factual. “You will not develop toxins in your body,” he says. “There really is nothing pathological about having stool inside your colon.”
However, he stresses that repeatedly holding off going to the bathroom can cause severe abdominal pain, and he recommends sticking to a regular bathroom schedule to “train” your bowel in order to help avoid these long-term issues.
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