You've heard of cold sweats, night sweats and maybe even nervous sweats — but how much do you know about poop sweats?
That's the colloquial term for when you sweat and/or feel dizzy during a bowel movement, and though it may sound strange, it's not terribly uncommon, says David M. Poppers, MD, PhD, a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Health in New York City.
It's also not usually cause for concern, although it sure can be confusing. Here's what you should know about poop sweats, from what causes them to possible remedies.
What Are Poop Sweats, Exactly?
The symptoms associated with poop sweats, including sweating, dizziness or lightheadedness, warmness and sometimes nausea when passing a bowel movement, come from a normal, primitive reflex that involves the vagus nerve, which runs between the brain and abdomen.
"When something stimulates the vagus nerve, it causes a slowing of the heart rate and a dilation of the blood vessels, which both cause a significant drop in blood pressure and in turn leads to a decrease in blood flow to the brain," explains Brian Wolfman, MD, a gastroenterologist with Coastal Gastroenterology Associates in Jackson, New Jersey.
This is also known as vasovagal syncope, and it's the culprit behind poop sweats. If it's significant enough, it can even cause you to pass out, Dr. Wolfman says.
Interestingly, this same reaction is responsible when someone faints at the sight of blood, according to the Mayo Clinic.
So, Why Do Poop Sweats Happen?
There isn't one specific reason for sweating during a bowel movement, but one of the most common causes is constipation, which an estimated 33 out of 100 adults over the age of 60 suffer from, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
"As you bear down, you take a deep breath in and push, which decreases the amount of blood returning to your heart and therefore the amount of blood leaving it," explains Dr. Wolfman. "Pressure receptors in the blood vessels in your neck detect the increased pressure from straining and trigger a slowing of the heart rate to decrease the blood pressure. This low blood pressure can lead to sweating, dizziness and fainting."
If you suffer from certain chronic conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Dr. Wolfman notes that you may be more prone to experiencing this vasovagal response.
"People with IBS have hypersensitivity to their viscera, or organs in their abdomen, which can trigger a hyper-response that leads to a vasovagal response," he says.
While constipation and IBS are more common triggers, there are other culprits too. One is medications.
"The classic category is medications that are described as having 'anticholinergic properties,' which includes blood pressure medications, medications for spasm and overactive bladder meds, to name a few," Dr. Poppers says.
Another trigger worth mentioning is a fear of bodily injury or discomfort associated with passing a bowel movement, he says, which can cause the vasovagal reflex to become stimulated. Indeed, the Mayo Clinic notes that extreme emotional distress can lead to vasovagal syncope.
If you recently ate spicy foods, it's also not uncommon to experience sweating during a bowel movement the following day, according to Niket Sonpal, MD, a New York City-based internist, gastroenterologist and faculty member at Touro College of Medicine.
"By the time that food has made its way to the bowels, it still has capsaicin (the active component of chili peppers), which binds to our TRPV1 receptors," he says. "These receptors detect heat in multiple parts of the body, including the anus, which signals to the brain that the body needs to sweat in an effort to cool down."
Are Poop Sweats Harmful?
In most cases, especially in young people, poop sweats are a benign phenomenon, Dr. Poppers says. Still, it's incredibly important to be mindful of your symptoms.
"If you are over the age of 50, have cardiovascular issues or a pelvic floor abnormality, you should get evaluated to rule out a more serious condition," he says.
Dr. Poppers also recommends paying attention to the onset and frequency of the poop sweats. If this is something new for you, it's more concerning.
"If you're 40 years old and this happens every time you're constipated and straining since age 20, this is less likely to be a concern than if this is starting in your 60s and 70s," he explains. Also: "If this is something that happens once every few years, that's less concerning than if it happens a few times a week."
So, Can You Prevent Poop Sweats?
If you think your poop sweats may be caused by a certain medication you're taking, talk to your doctor.
"A new medication may have side effects that can affect your ability to evacuate (pass a bowel movement) or that alter your so-called motility, or how well the intestinal tract is moving," Dr. Poppers says.
You may also want to consider how your diet may play a role in contributing to your constipation, if that's the cause of your poop sweats.
Dr. Poppers recommends making sure you're eating enough foods high in fiber, including fruits such as pears, mangoes and apples as well as legumes (think: beans, peas) and nuts. "Fiber can help lead to bulkier stools that are easier to pass, which can lead to less straining," he says.
Drinking enough water is also important in helping to encourage the flow of your digestive tract, he notes. Men should aim to drink about 15.5 cups of water daily, while women should shoot for 11.5 cups, according to the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
If you're on the toilet for several minutes and nothing is happening, try not to push it, both figuratively and literally. Doing so could cause straining that triggers the vasovagal response and sends you into the very tailspin that you're trying to prevent.
Last, but certainly not least, be sure to consult with your primary care provider if you're experiencing any irregular bowel movements or other symptoms associated with passing a bowel movement. Even if you think that your poop sweats are harmless, it's a good idea to get the opinion of a medical doctor to rule out anything more serious.