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Constant urge to poop? your symptoms explained
The medical term for a constant feeling like you need to pass stool is tenesmus. Tenesmus can be a frustrating and embarrassing symptom. However, you should talk to your physician, because tenesmus is often a sign of an underlying problem.
Common characteristics of the constant feeling or need to pass stool
This symptom often presents with other gastrointestinal symptoms, such as:
- Bowel irregularity: This may involve constipation, diarrhea, or both, and constipation or diarrhea can alternate.
- Recurrent abdominal pain: This will likely improve with passing gas or having a bowel movement.
- Straining to pass stool: This is when you have the opportunity to go to the bathroom, but you can only produce a small amount of stool during a bowel movement (despite the overwhelming need).
Common accompanying symptoms
You may also experience the following associated symptoms:
- Mucus in the stool
What causes the feeling of needing to constantly poop?
The constant feeling or need to pass stool, in general, is due to some issue in the gastrointestinal tract; however, there are many conditions that may cause these symptoms.
The following gastrointestinal causes may result in tenesmus.
- Structural or obstructive: Conditions of the gastrointestinal tract that cause any obstruction or structural change (cancer, prolapse, etc.) can result in tenesmus because stool cannot properly pass through the digestive system.
- Functional: The walls of the intestines are lined with layers of muscle that contract as food moves through. Stronger contractions or ones that last longer can result in bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Weaker, shorter intestinal contractions can slow down the passage of food and lead to hard, dry stools and constipation.
Inflammatory causes of tenesmus include the following.
- Infectious: Infection of the gastrointestinal tract (gastroenteritis) can be due to bacteria or viruses. The immune response to infections can present with pain, bowel distress, and tenesmus. Sometimes, there may be an overgrowth of bacteria normally found in the gastrointestinal tract that may cause inflammatory dysfunction.
- Autoimmune: Inflammatory diseases that result in the body attacking itself can also affect the gastrointestinal tract. Most often, inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract causes ulcers and scarring of the digestive organs. Such injury can make it difficult for stool to pass through the digestive system normally, leading to tenesmus.
The nervous system is intricately involved in digestion and defecation. For example, the abdomen normally stretches when there is gas or stool present. However, abnormalities in the nerves of the digestive system may cause stretching that is greater than normal as well as discomfort. If the signals between the brain and the intestines are poorly coordinated, your body may overreact, resulting in pain, diarrhea, or constipation.
Normal variation of constipation
Constipation means bowel movements that have become infrequent and/or hardened and difficult to pass.
There is wide variation in what is thought "normal" when it comes to frequency of bowel movements. Anywhere from three times a day to three times a week is considered normal.
As long as stools are easy to pass, laxatives should not be used in an effort to force the body to a more frequent schedule.
Constipation is usually caused by lack of fiber in the diet; not drinking enough water; insufficient exercise; and often suppressing the urge to have a bowel movement.
A number of medications and remedies, especially narcotic pain relievers, can cause constipation.
Women are often affected, due to pregnancy and other hormonal changes. Young children who demand low-fiber or "junk food" diets are also susceptible.
Constipation is a condition, not a disease, and most of the time is easily corrected. If simple adjustments in diet, exercise, and bowel habits don't help, a doctor can be consulted to rule out a more serious cause.
Top Symptoms: abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, stomach bloating, constipation, constipation
Symptoms that always occur with normal variation of constipation: constipation
Symptoms that never occur with normal variation of constipation: vomiting
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic disorder of the large intestine. It is characterized by recurrent abdominal pain and bowel movement issues that can be difficult to treat. The most common symptom of IBS is stomach pain. Some people with IBS say they experience a bad odor and changes in stool.
If you suspect you have IBS, see your doctor. Although there is no cure for IBS, there are many treatments available to help control your symptoms. Medications include anti-spasmodics (for belly pain and cramps), gut-specific antibiotics for diarrhea, and other medications.
Food poisoning, also called foodborne illness or "stomach flu," is an acute infection of the digestive tract from food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, or other toxins. It actually has no relation to influenza.
Any food can become contaminated if not prepared under clean conditions, cooked thoroughly, or stored at cold temperatures. Meat, fish, dairy products, and fresh fruits and vegetables are some of the most easily contaminated foods.
Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, and sometimes fever and chills.
Most people recover on their own with supportive care, meaning rest, fluids, and over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers.
However, dehydration can result if the vomiting and/or diarrhea are not controlled and IV fluids may be needed.
If there is also blurred vision, dizziness, or paralysis, the nervous system may be affected due to botulism. This is a medical emergency. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.
Proper food preparation and storage, along with frequent and thorough handwashing, is the best prevention.
Top Symptoms: nausea, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), dizziness
Symptoms that never occur with food poisoning: severe fever, being severely ill, bloody diarrhea
Traveler's diarrhea is a digestive tract disorder that commonly causes loose stools and abdominal cramps. It's caused by eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water.
Top Symptoms: diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain (stomach ache), fever, stomach bloating
Symptoms that always occur with traveler's diarrhea: diarrhea
Symptoms that never occur with traveler's diarrhea: anxiety
Lactose is a sugar that naturally occurs in milk. Someone is considered "lactose intolerant" when the small intestine cannot produce enough of the enzyme that digests lactose called lactase.
In primary lactose intolerance, the enzyme is produced during childhood but declines sub...
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic, long-term inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal tract, specifically involving ulcers and sores of the large intestine (colon) and the rectum. Ulcerative colitis often begins gradually and worsens over time with periods of remission interspers...
New onset crohn's disease
Crohn's disease is an inflammation of the bowel. It is caused by a faulty immune system response which makes the body attack the lining of the intestines.
The disease usually appears before age thirty and can affect anyone. Those with a family history may be most susceptible. Smoking is a known risk factor.
Aggravating factors include stress, poor diet, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and aspirin.
Early symptoms usually develop gradually, but can appear suddenly. These include fatigue, loss of appetite, fever, mouth sores, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and blood in stool.
Untreated Crohn's disease can cause ulcers throughout the digestive tract as well as bowel obstruction, malnutrition, and deteriorating general health.
Diagnosis is made through blood test and stool sample test. Colonoscopy, CT scan, MRI, endoscopy, and/or enteroscopy may also be used.
Crohn's disease cannot be cured, but can be managed through reducing the inflammation. Antibiotics, corticosteroids, and immune system suppressors may be tried. Excellent nutrition, vitamin supplements, smoking cessation, and reduction in stress can be helpful.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, stomach bloating, loss of appetite, constipation, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Viral (rotavirus) infection
Rotavirus infection is a contagious gastrointestinal virus that most often affects babies, toddlers, and young children. It causes severe watery diarrhea, sometimes with vomiting and fever.
Adults may also be infected, though usually with milder symptoms.
Rotavirus spreads very quickly when any trace of stool from an infected child contaminates food or drink, or gets onto any surface. If another child consumes the food or drink, or touches the surface and then their mouth, the child will become infected.
Rotavirus in adults does not usually need a trip to the ER unless the degree of dehydration is severe but dehydration can set in quickly in children and is a medical emergency. A child can die if not treated immediately. Take the child to an emergency room or call 9-1-1.
Treatment consists of drinking fluids or IV fluids in severe cases and supportive care, usually in a hospital. Antibiotics will not help rotavirus because they only work against bacteria.
The best way prevention is frequent and thorough handwashing, as well as washing toys and surfaces when possible. There is now a vaccine that will either prevent rotavirus infection or greatly lessen the symptoms if the child still gets the virus.
Rarity: Ultra rare
Top Symptoms: diarrhea, vomiting or nausea, nausea, fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), headache
Symptoms that always occur with viral (rotavirus) infection: diarrhea, vomiting or nausea
Symptoms that never occur with viral (rotavirus) infection: constipation, tarry stool
Most anal cancers are linked to the human papilloma virus, or HPV. However, many people carry HPV and have no symptoms or illness of any kind.
Most susceptible are men who have sexual contact with men; women who have had cervical cancer; and anyone who has engaged in anal intercourse, had anal warts, or is HIV positive. Smoking and lowered immunity are also factors.
Symptoms include minor anal bleeding and itching, which may be attributed to hemorrhoids; pain or fullness in the anal region; and abnormal anal discharge.
It is important to see a medical provider about these symptoms so that if needed, treatment can begin as soon as possible.
Diagnosis is made through patient history; physical examination; anal swab; and biopsy. CT scan, ultrasound, or endoscopy of the anus may also be done.
Treatment involves some combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy depending on the needs of each individual patient.
Top Symptoms: abdominal pain (stomach ache), stool changes, constipation, diarrhea, pain when passing stools
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Colonic neoplasm means "new tissue" growing in the colon, or large intestine. This neoplasm may be either benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancer.)
The exact cause of any cancer remains unknown. Risk factors seem to be:
Being over fifty years of age.
- Family history of the disease.
- A high-fat, low-fiber diet, typical in the modern world
- Chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon such as Crohn's disease.
- Smoking and alcohol use.
- Diabetes, obesity, and inactivity.
The earliest symptoms are usually polyps, small growths within the colon which can be detected on colonoscopy and removed before they can become cancerous. Later symptoms may be unexplained fatigue; change in bowel habits; persistent abdominal discomfort such as gas or cramps; blood in stool; or rectal bleeding.
Diagnosis is made through colonoscopy and sometimes blood testing.
Treatment is done through surgery, which may be minor or extensive; and through chemotherapy with radiation therapy, usually done before and after surgery. Supportive care to keep the patient comfortable is also an important part of treatment.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, stomach bloating, stool changes, diarrhea, constipation
Urgency: Primary care doctor
How to relieve the feeling of constantly needing to poop
Treating tenesmus is necessary for your quality of life, regularity, and health. Treatment of IBS is multifactorial and includes management of lifestyle factors, such as diet and stress, as well as medications.
Focus on specific symptoms associated with your condition, such as pain, constipation, or diarrhea. Over-the-counter fiber supplements, laxatives, or antidiarrheal medications can be soothing. Pain medications can also help soothe abdominal pain and cramping associated with tenesmus.
When to see a doctor
If you have a persistent change in your bowel habits or other symptoms of tenesmus that do not get better with the suggestions above, make sure to follow-up with your doctor. Such persistent symptoms may indicate a more serious condition such as inflammatory bowel disease or colon cancer.
Preventing or limiting the occurrence of tenesmus can occur with the following.
- Avoid food triggers: If you notice that certain foods trigger your symptoms, avoid them. Your doctor may suggest working with a dietician to plan meals that do not contain gluten, high-gas foods such as caffeine, cabbage, and broccoli, or carbohydrates known as FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di- and monosaccharides or polyols). FODMAP carbohydrates are in some grains, vegetables, and dairy products.
- Reduce stress: Eating regularly and getting enough sleep are great ways to help reduce stress, which can ease symptoms related to tenesmus. Other strategies include mindfulness training, counseling, and relaxation exercises, especially if you are experiencing serious anxiety or depression.
FAQs about feeling of needing to constantly pass stool
What is the best treatment for tenesmus?
Primary treatment options treat the underlying disease, which usually involves inflammatory conditions of the bowel, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. Corticosteroids and other immunosuppressive drugs are the mainstays of treatment, but case studies also show that drugs such as methadone can significantly help alleviate pain associated with tenesmus.
How long will my symptoms last?
Tenesmus and its associated symptoms often indicate chronic, lifelong diseases. Symptoms are treatable but may last for the majority of your life with periods that are more symptomatic than others.
Can changing my diet help with my bowel problems?
Making a change to your diet may help with your bowel issues. Foods that contain gluten, and high-gas foods such as caffeine, cabbage, and broccoli can exacerbate feelings of tenesmus. Also, carbohydrates known as FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di- and monosaccharides or polyols) found in grains, vegetables, and dairy products may also contribute to bowel issues.
What is inflammatory bowel disease?
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of autoimmune diseases characterized by inflammation of both the small and large bowel. The immune system attacks components of the digestive system and results in symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and bloody stools. The two major types of IBD are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?
Symptoms of bowel cancer can be subtle and are also associated with many other conditions. Possible symptoms include a change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days, a feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that is not relieved by doing so, rectal bleeding, dark stools, blood in the stool, cramping, abdominal (belly) pain, weakness, fatigue, and unintended weight loss .
Questions your doctor may ask about your constant urge to pass stool
- Have you experienced any nausea?
- Have you had any changes in your weight?
- Do your symptoms start or worsen when you are dehydrated?
- Any fever today or during the last week?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
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- Mercadante S, Fulfaro F, Dabbene M. Methadone in treatment of tenesmus not responding to morphine escalation. Support Care Cancer. 2001;9(2):129-30. PubMed Link
- Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer. American Cancer Society. May 30, 2018. American Cancer Society Link