Dry and hard stool is a sign of constipation, along with infrequent passage of stools. Constipation is a common problem for many people. Sometimes it may last only a few weeks, in which case it is acute. At other times it may be chronic, where it persists for months, years and even decades. Various constipation medication may only offer temporary relief in chronic constipation and other dietart and lifestyle remedies are required on an ongoing basis.
Why is stool dry and hard?
It is important to understand how normal stool forms in order to understand why stool may become dry and hard. Normally, stool should be soft, smooth and sausage-shaped (elongated). When stool is dry and hard it usually indicates three problems:
- Insufficient water
- Insufficient fiber
- Prolonged stay in the colon
Food is digested in the gut and nutrients are absorbed, leaving behind indigestible substances like fiber. Water that it is pumped into the small intestine from the body as well as water that is consumed, helps with digestion. The liquid mixture then enters the colon where water is gradually reabsorbed. This transforms the fluid into mush and eventually into a soft but solid stool.
The soft but solid stool still has significant water content. This is made possible in part by fiber which absorbs water and holds it within the stool. As the stool collects in the end portions of the colon it stretches the colon wall. This stimulates strong contractions which then pushes out the stool through the anus. If there are no other underly problem, then passing out this stool should not be difficult or painful.
However, when there is too little fiber then stool cannot retain sufficient water. Similarly a reduced water intake may also cause stool to be drier than normal. When stool remains in the colon for prolonged periods then excessive water is reabsorbed from the stool. All of these factors collectively contribute to dry and hard stools which are difficult and sometimes even painful to pass out during defecation.
Laxatives or Stool Softeners
There are many different types of laxatives. One type of laxative known as an emollient laxative is a stool softener. As the name suggests, it helps to make stool soft and keep it soft until it can be passed out of the bowels. While both laxatives and stool softeners are helpful in constipation, it is important that a person does not develop a dependence on stool softeners or other types of laxatives.
Regular and prolonged use of laxatives can alter normal bowel habit. The bowels become dependent on laxatives to keeps stool soft and pass out stool on a regular basis. Many of the benefits of laxatives can be derived from dietary and lifestyle remedies like increasing water and fiber intake, exercising daily and training the bowels. However, when constipation does occur and is not easing with diet or lifestyle, the laxatives can be useful as a temporary measure.
Read more on easy bowel movements.
How to Soften Dry and Hard Stool?
There are several simple dietary and lifestyle changes that helps to soften stool. Equally important is to stop certain habits that may lead to dry and hard stool. While there are supplements such as fiber supplements and medication like laxatives which can also help ease dry and hard stool, it is always advisable to make permanent dietary and lifestyle changes to ensure that stools stay soft on an ongoing basis.
Drink More Water
Increasing water consumption is one of the most important factors in remedying dry and hard stool. Ideally this would be around 2 liters (approximately 68 ounces) of water in a day for adults. It should be spread out throughout the day. People who are more active or live in hot climates may need more than this suggested amount. Water on its own is preferable or water with electrolytes as is found in oral rehydrating solutions, including some sports drinks.
Eat More High Fiber Foods
As discussed, fiber plays a crucial role in bulking stool and keep it soft. Higher fiber foods should be a part of the daily diet. This includes fruits, vegetables and wholegrains. These foods should constitute the bulk of any meal and not be consumed in small quantities as a side dish. It should equate to at least 2 to 3 types each of both fruit and vegetables every day. As a general rule, crunchier fruits and vegetables tend to be good sources of fiber.
Get More Active
The bowel muscles contract and relax to push stool through the bowels and out into the environment during defecation. However, a person’s level of physical activity also plays a role. People who tend to be sedentary are more likely to suffer with constipation. Daily physical activity is therefore important. It can include a range of exercises like running, swimming, cycling or walking.
Diuretics are substances that dehydrate the body. Caffeine and alcohol are two substances that are widely used in the modern diet. It causes the body to lose water by increasing urination. When coupled with a reduced water intake, a the dehydration leads to dry and hard stools. Therefore caffeinated beverages and alcoholic drinks should be minimized and these fluids should not be considered as part of the daily water intake.
Do Not Restrain Bowel Movements
A regular bowel habit is another important factor to ensure that stool does not become dry and hard. Holding back stool when there is the urge to defecate can contribute to the problem. It prolongs the period stool stays in the bowels and increases the likelihood of stool becoming dry and hard. Try to train the bowels to becoming accustomed to pass stool at specific times in the day.
Try Supplements Occasionally
Fiber supplements can be helpful in increasing the fiber content within the bowels. However, it is best to acquire fiber from high fiber foods like fruits, vegetables and wholegrains which should be part of the daily diet. Similarly probiotics may sometimes help with constipation. However, these ‘good bowel bacteria’ can also be acquired from certain foods like live culture yogurt as part of a balanced diet.
Read more on ways to soften hard stool.