Why can’t I poop when I travel? Answered.

Written by Bryce

“Why can’t I poop when I travel?” A top doc weighs in.

It turns out travel constipation is a real thing, and if you’re scratching your head asking yourself why can’t I poop when I travel? — don’t worry. You’re not alone.

Constipation, it seems, is pretty common. It affects 42 million Americans each year, and is only made worse by travel. Ugh.

“In travelers this phenomenon is particularly true or better yet, exaggerated,” explains Dr. Arno Rotgans, Endovascular Surgeon at NYC Surgical Associates. “In the hustle and bustle of getting things done, packing clothes, reading through busy emails the night before, anxiety often comes into play and we often forget one of nature’s basic bodily functions: defecation.” Now imagine all that stress plus flying with an infant, a work colleague, or alone? Compounded.

So why can’t I poop when I travel? What’s the cause?

“With the busy schedules we have these days, emotional stress, lack of sleep and exercise, the all too pervasive tall cup of ice coffee, the eye-popping energy drinks and the heavy fat-laden meals, come to the rescue of the sacrifices or deficiencies we experience throughout the day. These ‘rescue agents’ seem to carry us through the day, but may be responsible for handing us down a very uncomfortable time on the oval throne,” shares Dr. Arno. In other words, our modern Western lifestyles are ruining our poop time.

Air pressure at 30,000 feet could be killing your chances of a good poop, too.

“As we travel, we are taken into the sky an average of thirty-five thousand feet or over six miles. Though life seems to be the same on the plane, where we continue to converse over daily life events and consume beverages and meals, a dramatic change in altitude is starting to increase the pressure in our abdomen and chest. That change is no more obvious than the crushing pressure you may sometimes feel in your ears. Though less apparent, this same change in pressure effects the function of our nervous system. Nerve fibers to the bowel and bladder are especially affected. Fluid filled chambers like the bladder undergo stress responses, as a response to increased bladder pressure and allow for the nervous system to activate muscle contraction which stimulates the urge to urinate. The opposite is true, when it comes to the bowels. The increase in pressure inside the pelvis overcomes the pressure inside the solid filled colon, thereby decreasing the effect of stress receptors and a decrease in urge to defecate.”

If you’re wondering why can’t I poop when I travel it turns out you can — on an airplane, but if you hold it in to avoid a smelly, shameful travel encounter, you’re looking for a longer-term constipation issue. Oh, and it turns out you can regulate body temperature too, but that’s a whole other issue.

“The social etiquette to suppress the urge to defecate inside a confined place as an airplane leads to a reversal of stool from the rectum back into the colon. These factors coupled with dehydration from caffeinated beverages, lack of adequate consumption of water and fiber-rich foods, lack of sleep and exercise, perpetuate the delay of the natural process of defecation and hence the infamous travel constipation.”

What’s the solution? How can I ensure I poop well on vacation?

Dr. Arno suggests a multi-pronged poop approach starting with a good poop before you hit the road. He adds that substituting caffeinated drinks for water or natural, fresh fruit juices should be enough to stimulate adequate hydration and result in a “more manageable stool.” His words, not ours. We swear.

Drink bottled water, even if you’re heading to an area with clean drinking water. “Remember that some water, especially from local areas, may not contain the right combination of minerals such as calcium and magnesium, which aid in making fats soluble, and therefore may predispose to constipation; so it’s best to buy or travel with mineralized bottled water.”

Try a stool softener like this one as an emergency back up plan.

Load up on fruits and veggies at every meal, and get enough sleep. Believe it or not, you need a well rested digestive system, too.

Oh, and forget the social pain of pooping on a plane. Just poo it.

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About the author


Bryce Gruber is a Manhattanite mom who can be found jet-setting off to every corner of the globe. She loves exotic places, planes with WiFi, summer clothes, & Sucre brown butter truffles. Bryce's aim is to do to luxury what Elton John did to being gay. Follow her on twitter @brycegruber

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