Having a painful bowel movement can be disconcerting, especially if you find it difficult to talk about your bathroom habits with your provider.
Though there are many possible causes of burning or painful bowel movements that aren’t cause for concern, some causes may warrant medical attention, making it important to be as honest as possible with your provider.
Understanding the possible causes of your painful bowel movements can help you determine the possible root issue behind your symptoms—and in most cases, your provider can help you figure this out.
If you’re experiencing any additional or severe symptoms, like anal discharge, blood in stool, or severe abdominal pain, make an appointment with your provider as soon as possible.
There are several possible causes of painful and burning bowel movements:
The anal canal is responsible for controlling the muscles that help you have bowel movements.
When tears occur along the anal canal, they are called anal fissures.
Anal fissures are different from hemorrhoids, which are inflamed blood vessels in or outside the anus.
Anal fissures can cause anal spasms and discomfort.
Additional symptoms can include:
- Pain that gets worse during a bowel movement
- Bright red bleeding or blood in stool
Passing hard stool and prolonged diarrhea can cause anal fissures.
But certain lifestyle changes, like drinking plenty of water and eating an adequate amount of fiber, can help to heal them; there are also medications to help promote healing of anal fissures.
Hemorrhoids are swollen or irritated veins or blood vessels in and around the anus and rectum.
Risk factors include pregnancy, straining during bowel movements, age, and having chronic constipation or diarrhea.
Hemorrhoids are very common and are estimated to affect 50% of people older than 50.
In addition to feeling pain and irritation around the anus, hemorrhoids can cause:
- Bright red blood in stool
- Swelling or a hard lump around the anus
Treatment will vary depending on your health and provider’s recommendations but may include warm water sitz baths, ice packs, or hemorrhoid creams.
Most people experience occasional constipation, whether as a result of a change in diet, hormonal fluctuations, or other causes.
But long-term, chronic constipation can cause painful or burning bowel movements.
If you’ve been constipated for several weeks or longer, reach out to your healthcare provider for help.
Proctitis refers to inflammation of the lining of the rectum.
It can be caused by infection, radiation therapy, and ostomy surgery of the bowel.
- Diarrhea or constipation
- The feeling of needing to pass stool, even though your bowels are empty
- Pain and passing blood with stool
- Mucus in stool
- Pus in stool
Treatment options will vary depending on the cause, which is why it’s important to speak with a provider if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) describes a chronic inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
Unfortunately, experts aren’t certain what causes IBD.
Though symptoms can vary, some of the most common IBD symptoms include:
- Blood or mucus in stool (often diarrhea)
- Painful bowel movements
- Abdominal pain
- Constipation (more common with UC)
- Nausea and vomiting (more common in Crohn’s)
Though there is no cure for IBD, working with a team of healthcare providers can help you to find the right treatment plan for your symptoms.
There are many things that can cause diarrhea, including infection, malabsorption, a change in diet, IBD, medication side effects, or even anxiety.
In addition to having loose, watery, or fatty stools, diarrhea can cause inflammation in the anus and rectum that makes it painful to go to the bathroom or causes a burning sensation during a bowel movement.
Most cases of diarrhea will resolve on their own.
But if you’re seeing blood in your stool or experiencing other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, fever, or abdominal pain, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your healthcare provider.
Endometriosis is a disease that affects people with uteruses and causes tissue that is similar to the lining of the uterus to grow outside of the uterus.
This tissue can grow on or under ovaries, on the fallopian tubes, on the bowels or bladder, and elsewhere throughout the body.
If the tissue grows on the intestines or the lining of the stomach, it can cause painful or burning bowel movements.
Unfortunately, people with endometriosis can experience a wide range of symptoms, which is part of why this condition can be difficult to diagnose.
Possible symptoms of endometriosis include:
- Pelvic pain
- Painful menstrual cramps
- Pain during or after sex
- Heavy periods
- Spotting or bleeding during periods
- Digestive or GI troubles
There is no cure for endometriosis, but there are treatments available to help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.
Syphilis or chlamydia
Other symptoms of sexually transmitted anal inflammation include:
- Anorectal pain or discomfort
- Anal discharge
- Feeling the need to go to the bathroom
- Rectal bleeding
Because these symptoms can be indicative of other conditions, it’s important to speak with a healthcare provider to determine the exact cause of your symptoms.
Anal or rectal cancer
Though rare, anal cancer can cause anal bleeding and pelvic pain.
Additional symptoms, if present, can also include:
- Weight loss
- A sensation of a mass in the anus or rectum
- Anal irritation
- Prolapse of tissue
An estimated 0.2% of people in the US will be diagnosed with anal cancer.
While rare, it’s important to reach out to your healthcare provider for more information if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the United States and can be spread through vaginal, oral, and anal sex. It can also be passed through close skin-to-skin contact.
There are many different types of HPV, some of which can cause genital warts and cancers.
Though HPV doesn’t cause signs and symptoms for most people, genital warts can cause noticeable symptoms, including pain and bleeding around the anus, which in turn can lead to pain or a burning sensation during bowel movements.
There are treatments available to help minimize or remove the genital warts.
Thankfully, there is also a safe and effective HPV vaccine that can protect against the types of HPV that cause disease and cancer.
The vaccine is recommended for preteens and sexually active adults beginning as early as age 9 and through age 45.
Practicing safe sex can also lower your risk of getting HPV.
Tips for Discomfort
If your provider diagnoses the cause of your burning poops as constipation, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, or anal fissures, they may recommend some at-home remedies to help the healing process.
Potential tips include:
- Drink plenty of water
- Avoid spicy foods until symptoms resolve
- Practice good bathroom and toilet hygiene
- Limit or eliminate alcohol or caffeine until symptoms resolve
- Not smoking
But if the cause of your painful bowel movements is something else, your provider may offer more specific recommendations depending on your condition and health.
When To See a Doctor
Painful or burning bowel movements aren’t necessarily cause for concern, but they do warrant a conversation with your healthcare provider.
Regardless of the cause, speaking with your provider will help determine which treatments or lifestyle changes can help.
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K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Anal Cancer. (2021).
Anal Fissures. (2021).
Genital HPV Infection — Fact Sheet. (2022).
Genital warts. (2022).
Definition & Facts of Hemorrhoids. (2016).
Inflammatory Bowel Disease. (2021).
Sexually transmitted proctitis. (2006).