What to Do When You Have Hard Stools

Lumpy, hard poop can be tough, even painful, to pass. Hard poop happens because your colon absorbs too much water from your stool. Most people experience hard poop from time to time. For some, though, it's a long-lasting problem.

Read on to learn more about what causes hard stools, what you can do to soften them up, and tips to prevent them.

Ways to Prevent or Relieve Hard Stools
Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

Causes

To understand what causes hard stools, it helps to know how your digestive system works. When you eat, your small intestine absorbs the nutrients from your food. It sends the leftover liquid and fiber to your large intestine.

Your large intestine, or colon, is about five feet long. As the matter winds its way through, your colon soaks up the excess liquid. If it takes too long, your colon can absorb too much water, and you end up with hard, dry poop.

Can You Have Hard Stools Without Constipation?

Yes. You can have hard stools without being constipated. Healthcare providers define constipation as having fewer than three bowel movements a week. Chronic constipation is when your symptoms continue for at least three months. It is possible to have a daily bowel movement and still experience hard stools.

Complications

Hard stools can lead to straining while you poop. Besides being uncomfortable, this can cause hemorrhoids and anal fissures, tears in the lining of the anus. Straining to pass hard stools can even cause rectal prolapse, where part of the large intestine slips out of your anus.

Ways to Prevent or Relieve Hard Stools

You can use the tips below to help relieve and prevent hard stools. If your problem persists, you should see your healthcare provider. These tips cover hard stools with and without constipation.

Treat Your Constipation

Pooping between three times a day and three times a week is normal. Most people have a set bowel movement pattern. Infrequent bowel movements are a common cause of hard stools. If you experience constipation often, you should see your healthcare provider and find out what may be causing the problem.

You may feel uncomfortable talking about your symptoms, but you need to be specific. It helps to keep a journal of your bowel movements and symptoms to show your healthcare provider. An accurate diagnosis is essential in coming up with the proper treatment.

If your healthcare provider says constipation is your problem, you may want to ask about self-care for constipation and treatment for chronic constipation.

Add Fiber to Your Diet

There is some evidence that increasing soluble fiber may prevent hard stools. It's recommended that adults should get between 25 and 31 grams of fiber each day. However, studies show most Americans fall far short of this and get an average of about 16 grams of fiber a day.

Soluble fiber dissolves in water, softening the stool. You can increase your soluble fiber by eating most fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Flaxseed, chia seeds, and psyllium are other good sources of soluble fiber.

Drink More Water

You've probably heard many times that staying hydrated is essential. When you don't drink enough fluids, your body draws more water out of your stool. This causes hard stools.

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine recommend that adults should drink:

  • About 15.5 cups of fluids a day if you're a man
  • About 11.5 cups of fluids a day if you're a woman

One of the easiest things you can do to keep your stool soft is to keep a water bottle nearby and drink water throughout the day. You might also need to cut back on how much caffeine and alcohol you drink.

Alcohol and caffeine can cause dehydration. So if you choose to have a beer, glass of wine, or an extra cup of coffee, follow it up with a nice, tall glass of water.

Pay Attention to Urges to Go

If you're like many people, you put off bowel movements during the day. There are lots of reasons for doing this. You don't want to go to the bathroom at work. You're too busy. You prefer going in the comfort of your own home.

However, hard stools are a sign that your poop is spending too much time in your colon. So tune in to your body's needs and go when you have to. If you want to avoid going at work, there are ways to retrain your bowel. They include sticking to set meal times and scheduling your bowel movements for a specific time each day.

When Necessary, Use a Stool Softener

Stool softeners are over-the-counter products that soften the stool and help you go. They reduce the amount of fluid that your intestines absorb and leave more water in your stool. They trigger a bowel movement within 12 to 72 hours.

The primary ingredient in over-the-counter stool softeners is docusate sodium. Common brand names of these products include:

  • Colace
  • Correctol
  • Diocto
  • Doxinate
  • Ex-Lax
  • Fleet
  • Modane Soft
  • Phillips' Stool Softener
  • Surfak

Stool softeners are a form of stimulant laxative that are generally considered a safer option, but only when used now and then.

Some studies have shown that taking psyllium works better than stool softeners.Researchers studied 170 people with chronic constipation for two weeks. They treated some of them with stool softeners. The others got orange-flavored Metamucil. The psyllium group had more water in their stools after just three days. Psyllium can also help lower cholesterol levels.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Abdominal self-massage has been studied as a treatment for constipation. It may stimulate the muscles involved in producing bowel movements and reduce stress.

Biofeedback can also help people with constipation. Biofeedback is a mind-body therapy that helps you learn to control how your body functions.

Many healthcare providers recommend probiotics for patients with constipation. However, a review of 18 studies found there's not enough evidence to show this is helpful. Other alternative therapies that have not been proven to work include acupuncture and acupressure.

Medical experts warn against using natural products marketed as laxatives. That's because their dosage and purity might not be safe. They can also interact with other medications you may be taking.

Seek Medical Treatment From Your Healthcare Provider

If you continue to have constipation and hard stools, working with your healthcare provider is a good idea. Your healthcare provider can recommend stool softeners and various types of laxatives, both over-the-counter and prescription.

They can also make sure that these medications don't interfere with ones you may already be taking. There are other medications your healthcare provider can prescribe, including Amitiza (Lubiprostone) and Linzess (Linaclotide), that draw water into your intestines.

Hard Stools and Irritable Bowel Syndrome

There's very little research on the specific symptom of hard stools in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). One small, older study had an interesting finding.

The researchers looked at patients with IBS who had pain after eating lunch or dinner. They found no difference in the frequency of bowel movements between patients who had IBS with constipation (IBS-C) or IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D). Instead, patients made this distinction based on whether their stools were hard or loose.

This shows that people who have IBS-C may need to be more careful in defining their bowel problems. Your diagnosis affects your treatment. For example, if your problem is infrequent stools, your treatment is different than for people who have hard stools but are regular.

Summary

Hard stools occur because your colon absorbs too much water from your stool. This can happen if it takes too long for liquids and fiber to move through your colon. It can also occur if you put off having a bowel movement.

To prevent hard stools, listen to your body and poop when you need to go. It's also important to get plenty of fiber and stay hydrated. This may require cutting back on caffeine and alcohol. These drinks can cause you to become dehydrated.

Most people experience hard stools at some point. Over-the-counter stool softeners are safe to use every once in a while. Studies show products with psyllium may work even better.

A Word From Verywell

Many of the tips for relieving hard stools are good health habits for everyone. Listen to your body's needs. Make sure you are drinking enough water and getting enough fiber in your diet.

If your constipation and hard stools persist for longer than a week, you should see your healthcare provider. You may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable, but you need to be clear when you describe your problem. That's because treatment differs depending on your symptoms.

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Article Sources
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