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I’m a GP – here’s what that sudden urge to poo really means and when you must see a doctor

WE all know that feeling, you get up, have a shower, get dressed, have breakfast, but it isn’t until you leave the house and make your way out in public that that feeling comes… 

Yes, within a couple of minutes, the urge to go for a number two is upon you and you have to decide whether to return home or find a public bathroom before it’s too late.

It’s totally normally to suddenly need a number two when you leave the house

Not only is this inconvenient, it is also very annoying and leaves us thinking, “Why didn’t this happen when we were in the comfort of our own home?!”

The good news in all of this? Needing to go for a poo soon after you leave the house is actually completely normal, and there are surprising reasons why.

To explain the science behind needing to poo, Dr Sarah Garsed gives the lowdown on out-of-home bowel movement.

Dr Sarah says: “You might feel like this is something that only happens to you, but this need to poo is actually a really common occurrence, it’s just not something people talk about all that often.

“It’s also absolutely not something to worry about, it is totally normal and, if anything, needing to poo when you leave the house is a sign that your body is healthy and happy because it’s responding exactly as it is supposed to.”

Your stress levels go up

Dr Sarah says: “Our guts are closely linked to our nervous system, which means how we feel impacts how our guts and our bowels behave.

“When we experience stress or nerves, our body releases hormones that trigger the gut to contract, resulting in bowel movement.

“When we leave the house it is normal for our stress levels to rise.

“We might be thinking about what we have to do that day, our travel, being late or even worry about work or a social event we are on our way to.

“Levels of stress and worry can trigger our fight or flight mode and stimulate the gut at the same time, giving you that ‘I need to go’ feeling.”

It’s a routine thing

Dr Sarah says: “Our human bodies love regularity.

“Much like we are in a rhythm to sleep at the same time everyday, we learn to poo at similar times every day too.

“Our brains learn to follow a pattern that is linked to situations and environments, so if we leave the house at a similar time of day and go on the same routes, it can trigger that urge to go at the same time.”

Movement stimulates the bowel

Dr Sarah says: “Movement and exercise have a huge (and positive) impact on the body.

“When we leave the house we usually move a lot more than when we are indoors and this physical activity increases our bowel movements.

“When we exercise our blood rushes to the muscles we are using and away from the intestines and gut, causing the bowl to contract and push things through it.

“One big study into this by the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, found that it took food 51.2 hours to make the full gastrointestinal journey through the body when people remained still, but went down to 36.6 hours when people exercised.”

Your hormones kick in

Dr Sarah says: “This is again linked to movement, but when we start to move, our hormones change.

“Leaving the house and moving more, plus experiencing a temperature change (either hotter or colder) releases hormones like adrenaline that, in turn, stimulates the gut. 

“This stimulation helps create movement in the bowel, making us experience the need to poo.”

When to see a doctor

Dr Sarah says: “If your bowel movements are causing you pain and discomfort, if they are very loose and you cannot control them or if you feel that you are needing to go a lot more, or a lot less than normal, talk to your doctor.

“We doctors have heard it all before so there is no need to be embarrassed.

“We can tell a lot about your health from your bowel movements so always get it checked if you are concerned.”

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