What to Do When You Have Hard Stools

What To Do About Hard Stools

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Because digestion is quite a variable process, most people experience hard stools from time to time. However, hard stools may be more of a chronic problem for some people. Let's take a look at what might be causing you to experience hard stools and what you can do to soften them up.

What Causes Hard Stools?

To understand what causes hard stools, you must first be acquainted with how your digestive system works. Once most of the nutrients from the food we eat are absorbed by the small intestine, the small intestine then releases the remaining liquid and fiber into the large intestine, where these substances undergo the process of being formed into stool.

As fecal matter makes its way through the large intestine, much of the liquid is drawn out, forming a stool that's ready to be evacuated during a bowel movement. When fecal matter takes too long to go through the lower part of the large intestine, even more liquid may be drawn out, resulting in forming hard, dry stools.

Can You Have Hard Stools Without Being Constipated?

Yes, it is possible. Constipation is defined as a condition in which a person has fewer than three bowel movements a week. It is possible to have a daily bowel movement and still experience hard stools.

Treat Your Constipation

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Infrequent bowel movements are often a major contributor to the experience of hard stools. If you experience constipation on a regular basis, it is essential to see your doctor to pinpoint exactly what may be causing the problem. An accurate diagnosis is essential in developing a treatment strategy

Add Fiber to Your Diet

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Although research on dietary fiber and hard stools is not conclusive, there are some indications that increasing soluble fiber may be helpful. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, therefore softening the stool. Soluble fiber can be found in many fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains. Flaxseed, chia seeds, and psyllium are also excellent sources of soluble fiber. 

Drink More Water

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If you do not hydrate fully, your body will get the water that it needs by drawing more liquid out of your stools. This can be a prime cause of hard stools. One of the easiest things you can do for to keep your stool soft is to drink adequate amounts of water throughout the day.

In your effort toward a softer stool, you may also have to make a change in what you are drinking. Alcohol and caffeine are both dehydrating, so you may need to cut back on your coffee, cocktails, and soda consumption. If you do choose a dehydrating drink, make sure you compensate by following up with a nice, tall glass of water. See more about ​when you need to drink more water.

Pay Attention to Urges to Go

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Many people have a tendency to try to put off bowel movements, preferring to wait until they are in the comfort of their own home, or until there is a more convenient time. Hard stools are a sign that the stool is spending too much time in the colon. It is essential that you tune into your body's needs and make your way to a bathroom when your body is signaling that it is ready for an evacuation. Strategies for bowel retraining may also be helpful.

When Necessary, Use a Stool Softener

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Stool softeners are over-the-counter products that serve to soften the stool and help to initiate a bowel movement. Stool softeners reduce the amount of fluid that the intestines absorb, leaving more water in the stool. Stool softeners differ from suppositories, which are a form of stimulant laxative; stool softeners are generally considered a safer alternative. Always check with a physician before taking any over-the-counter product.

Hard Stools and IBS

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Scant research has been done on the specific symptom of hard stools in IBS. One small study did yield a very interesting finding: while looking at the experience of postprandial pain, the researchers found no difference in the frequency of bowel movements in patients who characterized themselves as either IBS-C or IBS-D. Instead, patients made this distinction based on whether their stools were hard or loose.

Although this is only one small study, it does suggest that people who have IBS-C should be careful as to their assessment of what their bowel dysfunction is. In other words, your management strategies would differ if your problem is infrequent stools versus having regular movements with hard stools. In the first case, you would want to ensure that you are doing all that you can to stimulate bowel motility, i.e. by using strategies for chronic constipation. If you're having daily movements, but the problem is hard stools, you may be served simply by following the above suggestions for softening stool. Discuss these options with your doctor.


"Constipation" National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) Accessed February 13, 2013.

Ragnarsson, G. & Bodemar, G. "Pain is temporally related to eating but not to defaecation in the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Patients' description of diarrhea, constipation and symptom variation during a prospective 6-week study " European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology 1998 10:415-422.

Suares, N. & Ford, A. "Systematic Review: The Effects of Fibre in the Management of Chronic Idiopathic Constipation" Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics 2011 33:895–901.

Yang, J. et.al. "Effect of dietary fiber on constipation: A meta-analysis" World Journal of Gastroenterology 2012 18:7378-7383..

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