Is it possible to poop while under anesthesia?

It is possible for someone to poop or pass gas while under anesthesia, but it is fairly uncommon. Anesthesia causes the muscles in the body to relax, including the anal sphincter muscles that help hold in stool. This means that someone who already has stool in their rectum may involuntarily pass it once under anesthesia. However, there are steps taken by medical staff during surgery to help prevent this from happening.

Why might someone poop during surgery?

There are a few reasons why someone may involuntarily pass stool while under anesthesia:

  • The anal sphincter muscles relax, allowing any stool in the rectum to come out.
  • Anesthesia slows down the activity of the intestines, allowing stool to build up.
  • Lying horizontally on the operating table puts pressure on the rectum.
  • Some medications used for anesthesia stimulate the digestive tract.

Even if someone has emptied their bowels before surgery, there may still be some stool higher up in the colon that can make its way down into the rectum once the person is under anesthesia.

What percentage of patients poop during surgery?

Studies looking at the incidence of patients involuntarily defecating while under anesthesia have found:

  • 2-3% of patients undergoing procedures with regional anesthesia (like an epidural) will pass stool.
  • 5-8% of patients undergoing general anesthesia procedures will pass stool.
  • Up to 20% of women giving birth under epidural anesthesia will pass stool during delivery.

So while it does happen, it is not extremely common. The type of anesthesia used impacts the likelihood.

Can passing stool during surgery cause complications?

In most cases, having a bowel movement on the operating table does not cause serious complications. However, there are some potential issues it can lead to:

  • It may contaminate the surgical wound, increasing the risk of infection.
  • It can be embarrassing and upsetting for the patient.
  • It may cause delays while the surgical team cleans it up.
  • If stool gets on the surgical tools, they may need to be replaced.

To minimize issues, the surgical team wears protective equipment and follows protocols to thoroughly clean and disinfect the area if stool is passed before continuing the procedure.

Steps taken to prevent pooping during surgery

Doctors, anesthesia providers, and nurses take several approaches to help prevent unintended defecation during surgery:

  • Bowel prep: Patients may be prescribed a laxative, enema, or other bowel clearing method before surgery depending on the type of procedure.
  • Minimize pressure: Cushions and wedges are strategically placed to minimize pressure on the abdomen and rectum.
  • Medications: Antiflatulent medications may be given before anesthesia to decrease gas buildup.
  • Emptying the rectum: Inserting a small tube to suction out stool from the rectum may be done right before surgery starts.

Even with precautions taken, it is not always possible to fully prevent defecation under anesthesia. However, the medical team is prepared to handle it if it does occur.

What happens if a patient poops during surgery?

If a patient does have a bowel movement on the operating table, the surgical team immediately stops the procedure to clean and sanitize the area. Here are the typical steps taken:

  1. All contaminated materials are removed from the sterile field.
  2. The anesthesiologist ensures the patient remains properly sedated.
  3. The team dons new personal protective equipment if theirs became soiled.
  4. The soiled area is thoroughly wiped down with disinfectants.
  5. Clean drapes and instruments are brought in to create a new sterile field.
  6. Once everything is cleaned and ready, the surgery resumes where it left off.

The anesthesiologist also makes sure the airway is protected and suction is applied as needed if any stool gets near the patient’s face.

Will I know if I pooped during surgery?

You most likely will not know or remember if you passed stool while under anesthesia. Here’s why:

  • You are in a deep sleep-like state under general anesthesia and unaware of what is happening.
  • Stool passing is an involuntary reflex – you have no control and are unlikely to actively push and feel yourself pooping.
  • You don’t feel any sensation in your rectum due to numbing medications given as anesthesia.
  • You won’t remember anything from while you were “asleep” under anesthesia.

In the rare instance that you do become aware of pooping during the procedure, you likely won’t remember it later due to the amnesic effects of anesthesia medications.

Should I ask my doctor if I pooped during surgery?

You can certainly ask your surgeon or anesthesiologist if you had any inadvertent bowel movements during your procedure. However, they may not be able to say for certain, for a few reasons:

  • They were focused on the surgery itself, not monitoring for pooping.
  • They leave the room during clean-up to avoid contamination.
  • The surgical drapes block the view of the lower body.
  • Any stool is immediately cleaned up and may go unnoticed.

Unless there was a significant complication, the medical staff is unlikely to know if you passed a small amount of stool or gas. They are prepared for this possibility and handle it discretely.

Can anesthesia lead to post-op constipation?

Anesthesia and pain medications given during and after surgery commonly cause constipation for several days. This happens for several reasons:

  • It slows motility in the intestines, preventing normal contraction to move stool along.
  • Pain meds have a side effect of constipation.
  • Lack of mobility after surgery can worsen constipation.
  • Not drinking enough fluids or eating much fiber afterwards.

To help get your bowels moving normally after surgery, your doctors may recommend:

  • Drinking plenty of water and fluids like prune juice.
  • Eating high fiber foods when you resume eating.
  • Taking a mild laxative or stool softener.
  • Getting up to walk as soon as safely possible.

Let your medical team know if you go more than 2-3 days without a bowel movement after surgery so they can provide appropriate constipation relief.


  • It is possible but uncommon to have a bowel movement involuntarily while under anesthesia.
  • Precautions are taken to try preventing it, but it still happens in about 2-20% of cases depending on procedure.
  • You likely won’t know or remember pooping during surgery due to the amnesic effects.
  • If stool is passed, the surgical team thoroughly cleans up before continuing.
  • Constipation after surgery is common, so stay hydrated and get moving once allowed.

While no one wants to poop on the operating table, it is a known possibility that your surgical team is professionally prepared for. Focus on following their pre- and post-op instructions to minimize your risks and have the best recovery possible.

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