Fainting While Trying To Poop Is Scary -- And Surprisingly Common

by Clint Edwards
Originally Published: 
Defecation syncope - fainting while trying to poop
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I think we’ve all fought a whopper, and I’m not talking about the hamburger. I’m talking about the fighters. The red-faced monster poops that take everything you’ve got. And we’ve all had stomach cramps and emergencies and moments where you really should have made it in time, but you didn’t. In fact, one of the most embarrassing moments of my life was when I crapped my pants in freshman PE. I’d love to say I’m over it, but … that would be a lie.

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I’m not sure why pooping needs to be so complicated. We all do it. It’s totally natural. And yet, I know every one of us has had things go wrong a time or two, or three, or a hundred. However, it turns out there is a common condition that might just beat every poop horror story I’ve ever been faced with. Some unfortunate people actually pass out when pooping, and I’ll be honest, I’ve never wanted to give a group of people a hug so badly in my whole life, because that sounds horrible.

The condition is often referred to as defecation syncope. According to the Mayo Clinic, defecation syncope is a more specific flavor of vasovagal syncope, which occurs when you faint because your body overreacts to certain triggers, such as the sight of blood or extreme emotional distress. It may also be called neurocardiogenic syncope. You’ve seen this in movies, I’m sure. Someone can’t stand the sight of blood, and then they walk in on a dead body and collapse.

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It turns out defecation syncope might actually be more common than people realize. Right now there is a Reddit thread on the subject with literally hundreds of comments.

One person wrote, “Happened to me a few times. Usually get very nauseous and feel faint, than [sic] break into a sweat and start shaking like I have a fever. I usually contemplate just laying down in the tub and letting it run its course if I am about to pass out. Been close, but haven’t had to do that yet. As soon I finally poop, my fever instantly breaks and I can start to feel my legs again. Usually lasts up to 10 minutes. Very strange indeed.”

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One person commented that it was happening so frequently they had to get on medication to raise their blood pressure. Most commenters describe profuse sweating, and relate it to irritable bowel syndrome.

Now this is a safe place, so I will admit that I have had some situations where I’ve thought I was going to pass out due to the effort required. I have seen stars, and had those blurry waves run across my eyes. I’ve worked up a sweat, for sure. And I’ve had a few that were so potent that I simply wanted to die because of the smell alone. But I can’t recall ever actually losing consciousness.

There have been studies on defecation syncope, and it turns out it can be the sign of a more serious underlying problem.

Several years ago, the Department of Medicine at University of Pittsburgh performed a study on defecation syncope. They evaluated 20 patients with the disorder — 13 women, seven men, with an median age of 59. Of the patients evaluated, 11 had one episode and nine had experienced multiple episodes. What they found during the diagnostic evaluation was that two patients had gastrointestinal tract problems, three had cardiac diseases, and one had transient ischemic attacks. No identifiable cause for defecation syncope was found in 11 patients, but new medical problems were noted in four of those patients. Ultimately, the study concluded that defecation syncope could be a sign of a larger problem, so if you are passing out while pooping, definitely discuss it with a doctor.

One thing I think must be stated here is that if you are experiencing defecation syncope and have never told anyone, every single person in the history of ever understands. It seems like a condition that is prime for embarrassment. I consider myself to be a pretty open person, but were I passing out when I pooped, I doubt I’d be bringing it up at dinner parties. That said, realize that you are not alone. It sounds like many people are living with it. I’m not saying you should post “accepted my defecation syncope” as a life event on Facebook. I don’t think anyone wants that. But this is something other people are living with, and after reading the above study, please don’t be too embarrassed to discuss it with your doctor. It could actually save your life.

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