Incomplete Evacuation of Stools Symptom, Causes & Questions

Incomplete evacuation of stools can be quite frustrating and may be caused by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation from dehydration, or medication side effects. Read below for more information on causes and how to empty bowels completely.

Incomplete Evacuation Of Stools Symptoms

Incomplete evacuation of stool is the sensation of needing to pass stool despite the bowels already being empty. You may feel embarrassed discussing problems related to your bowel movements with your healthcare provider. However, it is important to talk with your physician about your symptoms because incomplete evacuation of stool is often a sign of an underlying problem.

Common characteristics of incomplete evacuation of stool

Gastrointestinal symptoms often characterize incomplete evacuation of stool:

  • Straining to pass stool: When you go to the bathroom, you find yourself exerting significant effort to produce only a small amount of stool.
  • Bowel irregularity: This can include constipation, diarrhea or both.
  • Recurrent abdominal pain
  • Fecal urgency/tenesmus: Your desire to defecate is difficult to ignore or you have a continual/recurrent inclination to evacuate the bowels.

Common accompanying symptoms of incomplete evacuation of stool

In addition to the feelings above, you may also experience the following associated symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Bloating
  • Cramping
  • Gassiness
  • Mucus in the stool

These signs and symptoms are not usually life-threatening, but they can become chronic and frustrating as they may be difficult to treat or for you to find adequate relief.

Incomplete Evacuation Of Stools Causes

Intuitively, incomplete evacuation of stool is commonly associated with problems of the gastrointestinal tract; however, many conditions of the gastrointestinal tract and other organ systems can result in these symptoms. For example, diabetes has been found to be related to this symptom in the absence of diarrhea.


Incomplete evacuation of the gastrointestinal tract can be associated with both structural and functional problems.

  • Structural/obstructive: Conditions of the gastrointestinal tract that cause any obstruction or structural change (cancer, prolapse, etc.) can result in incomplete bowel evacuation because stool cannot properly pass through the digestive system.
  • Functional: Layers of muscle line the walls of the intestines and contract as food moves through the digestive tract. Strong contractions that last longer than normal can result in bloating, gas and diarrhea. On the other hand, weak, short intestinal contractions can slow down the passage of food and lead to hard, dry stools and constipation. Constipation is often a primary cause of incomplete evacuation of stool. Hard stool is more difficult for the body to pass.


Inflammatory causes of incomplete evacuation of stool are also very common.

  • Infectious: Bacteria or viruses can cause infection of the gastrointestinal tract (gastroenteritis). The immune response to such infection can be associated with pain, bowel distress, and difficulty evacuating stool. Sometimes, an overgrowth of bacteria normally found in the gastrointestinal tract 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, scarring, and severe injury and dysfunction of the digestive organs. Such injury can make it difficult for stool to pass normally through the digestive system, leading to multiple gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea, constipation, incomplete evacuation, and 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 greater than normal stretching and discomfort. Poorly coordinated signals between the brain and the intestines can cause your body to overreact to changes that normally occur in the digestive process, resulting in pain, diarrhea or constipation.

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. Signs and symptoms of IBS are usually not severe or life-threateni...

Possible early irritable bowel syndrome (ibs)

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is very common problem that affects the large intestine. It can cause stomach pain, cramps, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. Doctors think that IBS is caused by the brain sending wrong messages to the bowels, such as during times of high stress, causing physical changes. The formal criteria for this diagnosis requires 3 months of symptoms. Therefore you may have an early presentation.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea or vomiting, stool changes, constipation

Urgency: Primary care doctor


Diverticulosis is the common condition of small, sac-like pouches forming and pushing outward along the inside of the colon, called diverticula. With diverticulosis, there may be changes in bowel movement patterns as well as severe abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or rectal bl...

Constipation resulting from dehydration

Constipation means difficulty in passing bowel movements. A common cause of constipation is dehydration, or insufficient water in the body. If the contents of the bowel are not kept full and lubricated by plenty of fluid, the waste can become dry and packed and very hard to pass.

Most susceptible are pregnant women, especially those with a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum. This syndrome causes severe nausea and vomiting throughout most of the pregnancy and can easily lead to dehydration.

Anyone with an illness that causes prolonged vomiting and diarrhea will soon become dehydrated. A number of prescription medications can act as diuretics, meaning they cause the body to lose extra fluid through the urine.

The use of alcohol, or illegal drugs such as cocaine, also has a very dehydrating effect. The ill effects called a "hangover" that often happen after a night of drinking are actually due to the dehydration caused by the alcohol.

Treatment involves rehydrating, either with plain water by mouth or, in severe cases, hospitalization for IV fluid rehydration.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: constipation, constipation, general abdominal pain, pain in the lower left abdomen, pain when passing stools

Symptoms that always occur with constipation resulting from dehydration: constipation

Symptoms that never occur with constipation resulting from dehydration: vomiting

Urgency: Self-treatment

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.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, stomach bloating, loss of appetite, constipation, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Ulcerative colitis

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...

Chronic constipation

Constipation is a very common condition affecting the large intestine. It is characterized by difficulty passing stool, or passing stool less often. Commonly it is linked to not eating enough dietary fiber, not drinking enough fluids, or not getting enough exercise. Some medications can cause constipation as well.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: stomach bloating, constipation, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), pain when passing stools, rectal bleeding

Symptoms that always occur with chronic constipation: constipation

Symptoms that never occur with chronic constipation: unintentional weight loss

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Normal variation of constipation

Constipation means bowel movements which 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.

Rarity: Common

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

Urgency: Self-treatment

Medication-related constipation

Many different medications can cause constipation by affecting the muscles of the intestines. It is often not possible to stop these medications since they are usually very important to the patient's general health. Thus, dietary changes and/or laxatives may be needed to keep things moving.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: constipation, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), pain when passing stools, straining while passing stool, feeling of needing to constantly pass stool

Symptoms that always occur with medication-related constipation: constipation

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Opioid-related constipation

Opioids (oxycodone, morphine, percocet, fentanyl) are powerful pain relievers that act on different chemical receptors throughout the body. In the intestines, opioids signal the gut to slow down movement, leading to constipation.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: constipation, feeling of needing to constantly pass stool, straining while passing stool, hard stools, pain in the lower left abdomen

Symptoms that always occur with opioid-related constipation: constipation

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Incomplete Evacuation Of Stools Treatments and Relief

Treating incomplete evacuation of stool and its associated symptoms is very important. Many people who suffer from this condition experience significant lifestyle effects related to symptoms such as bloating, gassiness and general discomfort.

At-home treatments

Focus on specific symptoms associated with your condition such as pain or constipation/diarrhea. Over-the-counter fiber supplements, laxatives or antidiarrheal medications can help alleviate some of your discomfort. Pain medications can also help alieve the abdominal pain and cramping associated with incomplete evacuation of stool.

When to see a doctor

If you have a persistent change in your bowel habits or other symptoms 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.


The best methods for preventing the feeling of an incomplete evacuation of stool include the following.

  • Avoid food triggers: If you notice that certain foods trigger your symptoms, avoid them. Your doctor may suggest working with a dietician in order 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). This is confusing jargon but such FODMAP carbohydrates are found 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 to help control symptoms especially if you are experiencing serious anxiety or depression.

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FAQs About Incomplete Evacuation Of Stools

What is the best treatment for incomplete evacuation of stool?

There are many possible treatment options for incomplete evacuation of stool and its associated symptoms. Primary treatment options involve treating 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?

Incomplete evacuation of stool and its associated symptoms are often sequelae of chronic, lifelong diseases. Your 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?

Changing 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 incomplete bowel evacuation. In addition, carbohydrates known as FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di- and monosaccharides or polyols) found in grains, vegetables, and dairy products might 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 components of the digestive system are attacked by the body’s own immune system and result 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 symptoms of bowel cancer?

Symptoms of bowel cancer can be very subtle and associated with many other conditions. Symptoms may 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 or blood in the stool, cramping or abdominal (belly) pain, weakness and fatigue, or unintended weight loss.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Incomplete Evacuation Of Stools

  • Were you ever exposed to a dangerous, violent or life-threatening situation?
  • Have you been passing more gas than usual recently?
  • Are your symptoms worse after eating or drinking something with dairy in it?
  • Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?

Self-diagnose with our free if you answer yes on any of these questions.

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