What to Do When You Have Hard Stools

6 Ways to Soften Your 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 Constipation?

You can have hard stools without being constipated. 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.

Complications From Hard Stools

Hard stools can lead to straining during defecation.

Besides being uncomfortable, they may contribute to developing hemorrhoids, anal fissures, and even rectal prolapse.

6 Ways to Prevent or Relieve Hard Stools

You can use these tips to help relieve occasional occurrences of hard stools. If you problems are ongoing, you should see your doctor. These tips will cover hard stools both with and without constipation.

1. Treat Your Constipation

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 find exactly what may be causing the problem. An accurate diagnosis is essential in developing a treatment strategy. If constipation is confirmed as the problem, learn self-care for constipation and how chronic constipation is treated.

2. Add Fiber to Your Diet

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. Learn simple rules for adding fiber to your diet, the best foods to eat when you are constipated, and the foods to avoid when you are constipated.

3. Drink More Water

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.

4. Pay Attention to Urges to Go

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.

5. When Necessary, Use a Stool Softener

Stool softeners are over-the-counter products that serve to soften the stool and help to initiate a bowel movement. They reduce the amount of fluid that the intestines absorb, leaving more water in the stool. They trigger a bowel movement in 12 to 72 hours.

The primary active ingredient in over-the-counter stool softener products is docusate, and common brand names include Colace, Correctol, Diocto, Doxinate, Ex-Lax Stool Softener, Fleet Sof-Lax, Modane Soft, Phillips' Stool Softener, and Surfak. Stool softeners differ from suppositories, which are a form of stimulant laxative. Stool softeners are generally considered a safer alternative, but only for short-term use. Always check with a physician before taking any over-the-counter product.

6. Massage, Biofeedback 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 has also been explored to help people with constipation. Use of probiotics may help. Alternative therapies that don't have proven effects include acupuncture and acupressure. Medical experts warn against using natural products marketed as laxatives as the dosage and purity cannot be assured and there may be interactions with other medications you are taking.

7. Medical Treatments From Your Doctor

 It is good to work with your doctor when your symptoms persist, and you can also be more assured that these won't interfere with any other medications you are taking. Your doctor can recommend stool softeners and various types of laxatives, both over-the-counter and by prescription. There are other medications your doctor can prescribe, including Amitiza (lubiprostone) and Linzess (linaclotide) that draw water into your intestines.

Hard Stools and IBS

Scant research has been done on the specific symptom of hard stools in IBS. One small, older 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.

This shows that people who have IBS-C should be careful as to their assessment of what their bowel dysfunction is. 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, 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.

A Word From Verywell

Many of the tips for relieving hard stools are good health habits for everyone. Ensure you are drinking enough water and getting enough fiber in your diet. When you have any upset in your bowel habits, it is good to see your doctor for a check-up and discuss this problem.

Sources:

Constipation. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation.

Stool Softeners. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a601113.html.

Turan N, Atabek Aşt T. The Effect of Abdominal Massage on Constipation and Quality of Life. Gastroenterol Nurs. 2016;39(1):48-59.

Wald A. Patient information: Constipation in adults. UpToDate http://www.uptodate.com/contents/constipation-in-adults-beyond-the-basics.

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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