Hard Stool: What Causes Hard Bowel Movements?

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Going to the bathroom should be a simple and fairly quick process. But when you struggle with constipation and can’t pass a bowel movement, it can make life extremely uncomfortable for a while. Constipation is one of the most common bowel problems affecting people of all ages. However, it can be very disruptive, especially if it becomes chronic. So, what causes hard bowl movements?

What Are Hard Stools?

Hard stools are a sign of constipation. Constipation is defined as having fewer than three bowel movements a week. It’s much harder to pass a hard, dry stool than a normal stool, and it can be a very painful process. You might feel bloated or sluggish when you’re suffering from hard stools because you can’t go to the bathroom normally. 

So, what causes hard stools, and how can you treat them? Here’s what you need to know if you’re having trouble with bowel movements and need relief. 

What Causes Hard Bowel Movements? 

A hard or dry stool occurs when the colon absorbs too much water as the stool passes through. Often this is because of muscle contraction problems that make the stool move too slowly through the colon. The extra time in the colon allows more water to be absorbed.  

Some causes of hard bowel movements include: 

  • Poor hydration 
  • Not enough fiber 
  • A lack of exercise 
  • Stress
  • Changes in lifestyle
  • Taking certain medications 
  • Excessive laxative use
  • Not going to the bathroom frequently enough
  • Aging 
  • Pregnancy

Chronic hard stools and constipation can also be a sign of certain health conditions, such as celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or other issues affecting the intestines. Treating these conditions often reduces or resolves the problem. 

Can Hard Stools Be a Sign of Serious Problems?

Hard stools and constipation can occasionally be a symptom of some dangerous health conditions, such as colon cancer or a twisted bowel (when the intestines twist and cause an obstruction). However, these issues are usually accompanied by other symptoms. Hard stools alone don’t typically indicate a serious problem.  

Twisted bowel symptoms in adults, for instance, can come on suddenly and include bloody stools and signs of shock. A twisted bowel is usually caused by scar tissue or an enlarged colon, not a lack of fiber or hydration. Other symptoms of colon cancer include a feeling of the bowel not emptying fully, rectal bleeding, cramping, and bloody stools. 

Diabetes, lupus, Parkinson’s disease, and several other health problems can also cause poor colon function leading to hard stools. It’s important to see your doctor if you are concerned that your constipation is related to a more serious health problem. 

Treating Hard Stools 

Bowel movement problems are often easy to treat with lifestyle changes. If you’re dealing with constipation, there are a few ways to safely treat the problem, including: 

  • Eating a high-fiber diet to help stools move through the colon
  • Getting more exercise to encourage muscle contractions 
  • Drinking more water to reduce dry, hard stools 
  • Reducing alcohol and caffeine intake 
  • Eliminating stress, when possible
  • Taking a stool softener, laxative, or fiber supplements (ask your doctor before taking laxatives)
  • Using the bathroom when you feel the urge

If you are experiencing chronic hard stools and lifestyle changes aren’t working, it’s important to talk with your doctor about the issue. They might want to run some tests to rule out certain health conditions. They might also recommend a course of treatment if no underlying health issues are causing the hard stools. 

Preventing Hard Stools

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Once you’ve resolved any current trouble with bowel movements, it’s a good idea to take preventative steps so that you don’t have to deal with hard stools regularly. 

Staying proactive and paying attention to your fiber and water intake is a great way to prevent constipation, especially if you’re taking medications that cause dry stools. Not enough exercise is a common cause of hard stools, so regular exercise is important. Working towards managing your stress can also help prevent hard stools. 

If you need to use the bathroom, don’t wait. Holding in your stool too long can cause it to become dry, hard, and difficult to pass. Regular bowel movements will make it much easier to go and will help prevent constipation. 

Complications of Hard Stools 

Bowel movement problems can become severe, sometimes causing complications. If you have trouble with bowel movements, it’s important to watch out for various issues, including: 

  • Hemorrhoids– painful, swollen veins in the anus from straining to pass a bowel movement
  • Anal fissures– tears in the skin around the anus from hard stools
  • Impacted stool– stool that gets stuck because it’s too hard and dry
  • Rectal prolapse– part of the intestine comes out of the rectum due to straining 
  • Pelvic floor damage– damage to the muscles from straining
  • Uncontrollable bowel movement– can occur after constipation

These complications can be extremely uncomfortable and can cause a range of issues. Talk to your doctor as soon as possible if you’re experiencing complications from constipation and hard stools. 

Should You See a Doctor About Hard Bowel Movements? 

The good news is that in most cases, hard stools aren’t dangerous; they’re just uncomfortable. If you’re dealing with constipation on a regular basis and you’re having trouble improving your symptoms on your own, or you’re experiencing additional issues like abdominal pain, then it might be time to talk with your doctor. It’s important to rule out any serious medical problems and get help so you can find relief. 

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Any trouble with bowel movements can be very frustrating and disruptive to your daily activities. Whether it’s the bowel not emptying properly, too frequent bowel movements, hard stools, or other problems, staying focused on work or other activities can be a challenge when you’re uncomfortable and spending a lot of time in the bathroom. Fortunately, most people find that by making a few changes, hard stools become only an occasional, minor annoyance. 

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