What Is ‘Stress Poop’? Gastro Doctors Reveals the Science Behind This Extremely Normal Experience

Updated: Mar. 26, 2024

Stress got you racing to the bathroom in a pinch? Find out from health experts if it's just frazzled nerves—or something else.

If you’ve suddenly got the urge to poop before that big interview or presentation, you may be dealing with stress poop. Stress poop is actually a thing—and turns out, it’s pretty universal.

Stress poop “is not an official diagnosis, but it definitely is a thing,” Amanda Sauceda, MS, RD, a nutritionist and dietitian from Long Beach, CA, tells The Healthy @Reader’s Digest. “There is a strong mind-gut connection, which is why how you feel [emotionally] can impact your gut.”

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What’s stress poop?

Stress poop is when you have the urge to go—even if you don’t. If you feel like there’s a butterfly brigade in your stomach, that’s a good sign that the desire to poop is due to stress.

Stress poop may look the same as your regular poop, or it can be looser.

The gut-brain is what causes you to run for the bathroom when you’re feeling frazzled. You may poop, or you may not. Stress poop can also cause diarrhea, nausea, and constipation.

“Your gut can also be a guide,” Sauceda says. “We don’t talk enough about how your gut can clue us in how we’re feeling. Sometimes we might be stressed and not even notice it, but our body notices it and the stress manifests itself as stress poops.”

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Any event that causes anxiety—a big interview, or leading a presentation—can lead to stress poop, Faris Pacha, DO, a gastroenterologist at Gastro Health in Birmingham, AL, tells The Healthy.

That’s why Sauceda says it’s a top priority to check in with how you’re feeling. (It could help you predict when you’ll be making a dart to the nearest restroom, or help you be more aware of what’s going on upstairs.)

David Leventhal, MD, an assistant professor of gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, tells us: “Having a stress poop, in and of itself, can be a variation of normal physiological response to stress and not reflect a problem, per se—much like a increase in heart rate when feeling scared or anxious is a normal part of that emotional experience.”

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Can stress poop be serious?

Worried stress poop is the same as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)? Not so, Sauceda notes. IBS is a chronic condition that causes stomach pain, cramping, bloating, diarrhea, gas, or constipation. Dr. Leventhal adds that you have to have abdominal pain at least once a week for several months for an IBS diagnosis to apply to your situation.

Stress pooping could be a symptom of something more serious like IBS or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). (Fact: Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s are the two most common IBDs.)

If you go more than three days without having a bowel movement, have more than three loose bowel movements in a day, or experience stomach pain, it may be a good time to make an appointment.

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Other reasons to see your doc, according to Dr. Pacha: If you see blood in your poop, are in a ton of pain, start losing weight unexpectedly, or if you wake up at night to go to the bathroom. Black poop or pale-looking poop also can warrant a visit with a white coat.

If you do head to your doctor, try not to be shy when it comes to sharing details about symptoms. (They’ve heard it all.)

“Everyone has a different ‘normal’ but it’s important to not be shy about bringing up any concerns to your doctor,” Dr. Pacha says.

She adds that doctors can tell if it’s stress poop based on symptoms. They may also run tests to rule out other causes.

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How do you fix stress poop?

Barring anything more serious, stress poop will probably go away when you’re more relaxed—that is, once the interview is over or you maybe-sorta nailed the presentation, you may go back to your regular routine. But if you stay stressed, that could keep it coming, so to say.

“You can get used to stress, but that doesn’t make you less stressed,” Sauceda says. “This is what I call ‘sneaky stress.’ It’s important to check in with yourself and learn how to work through the stress versus getting used to it or ignoring it.”

Diet may help, as can using the bathroom before the start of a stressful event, Dr. Leventhal says—adding: “Avoiding eating just prior to [about 30 minutes before] the event is another strategy, as the act of eating increases the movement of the colon and when combined with acute stress,” he adds.