Have you ever had a 'ghost poop'? Here's what that says about your health (2024)

Ever taken a "ghost poop?" For a topic most people shy away from talking about in real life, bowel movements are an extremely popular subject of discussion online.

So-called ghost poops have gone viral on TikTok, where you can find countless videos of people talking about the mysterious fecal phenomenon.

Typically, when we go No. 2, we see some evidence in the toilet bowl or on toilet paper. When you could’ve sworn you passed stool but there’s no sign of it, you may have had a “ghost poop.”

While “ghost poop” isn’t a term you’ll find in the medical literature, “patients definitely are interested in talking about ghost poops and ask me about this commonly,” Dr. Felice Schnoll-Sussman, gastroenterologist and professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, tells TODAY.com.

What is a ghost poop?

According to social media and gastroenterologists, a ghost poop can refer to a few different bowel-related phenomena:

  • The sensation of needing to poop, which ends up being gas
  • A stool that sinks to the bottom of the toilet and disappears
  • A stool that leaves no trace on toilet paper after wiping

In most cases, pooping is a well-orchestrated and coordinated movement, Dr. Rabia De Latour, gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Health, tells TODAY.com. The nerves in our rectum, our brain and the anal sphincter muscles all work together to release stool at the right time.

"The sphincters in our rectum are incredibly intelligent and sensitive parts of our body," says De Latour. This part of the body can actually distinguish between air, liquid and solid and selectively let one thing out and not the other, she adds.

During defecation, "the rectum senses pressure from stool that has entered it and lets your body (and brain) know it's time to defecate," says De Latour. The anal sphincter muscles then push the stool out of the anus in a controlled way, says De Latour.

Sometimes, the bowel movement we sense coming isn’t poop at all —it’s gas. You may feel the sensation of needing to go No. 2, sit on the toilet, and try to push but nothing comes out, says De Latour. During this type of phantom poop, your body and brain gear up for a bowel movement without actually having one.

Another type of ghost poop is one that passes quickly and sinks to the bottom of the toilet and disappears before you can see it. You may go to flush and realize there's no sign of stool in the bowl.

"It is so well-formed and you pass it so easily that you barely even know," says Schnoll-Sussman. All stool will eventually sink, she adds, but some are heavier and sink immediately.

The final type of ghost poop, sometimes called a ghost wipe, is poop that leaves no visible residue on toilet paper after wiping, or no trace after washing — no matter your preferred post-poop hygiene method, you can't find any evidence afterwards.

What causes ghost poops?

There are several explanations for why you might experience each type of ghost poop, according to the experts.

The body can normally distinguish between stool and gas and which it's letting out, De Latour notes. However, sometimes too much gas can build up in the rectum and feel like stool or tension, which may give your brain the cue to sit on the toilet.

The rectum feels full, "and the sphincters get stimulated, and you do pass something, but it’s just air,” says Schnoll-Sussman.

This can occur after eating too many gas-causing foods, says De Latour, or simply from being bloated. Excess gas in the intestines can also be caused by constipation, digestive disorders, bacterial imbalances and food intolerances, the experts note.

Looking at the second definition of ghost poops, whether a stool floats or sinks has a lot more to do with what we eat, says Schnoll-Sussman. "When we have diets that are higher in fiber, they can make the bowel movement more formed, so it can go straight down the toilet," she adds. Non-absorbable or undigested food such as seeds or corn can also make the stool heavier.

“That’s perfectly normal. ... Waste is supposed to be dense,” says De Latour.

Stool that floats often contains more fat or gas, says Schnoll-Sussman. This may occur if someone has a high fat diet or their body can't absorb fat appropriately, she adds. Gassy, floating stool can also result from excess gas in the digestive tract.

Sometimes, whether a stool sinks and disappears is more about the aim and the architecture of the toilet, the experts say.

When wiping after a poop, it’s normal for some remnants of a bowel movement to remain in or on the anus, the experts note, which can usually be removed with a few wipes with toilet paper or a quick wash. But when a bowel movement leaves no residue or trace after wiping, this generally just means the stool is very well-formed, firm, and easily passed, the experts note.

The texture of stool and how much you need to wipe can depend on a few factors: fiber intake, gut health, the amount of water and other nutrients absorbed from stool in the large intestine, and how well the anal sphincter muscles function, Schnoll-Sussman explains.

Are ghost poops healthy?

A stool that is easily passed, disappears to the bottom of the toilet, and leaves no trace after wiping, is nothing to worry about. In fact, it is probably a good sign, the experts note.

"If (someone) has a bowel movement and it's so clean and well-formed that it doesn't leave any residue and just sinks, that is actually a very healthy bowel movement," says De Latour.

But if you regularly feel like you need to go No. 2 but aren't able to go or are only passing gas, it may be time to see a doctor. While it could be something as simple as excess gas in the digestive tract, these types of phantom poops could be a sign of a health problem.

Tenesmus is the urge to pass a bowel movement without being able to defecate, says De Latour. “You still feel like there’s something in there, but nothing is coming out of the rectal vault,” De Latour adds.

This often results from inflammation in the rectum, which can mess up the signaling between the nerves and our brain, De Latour adds. Potential causes include inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's, colorectal polyps, and anal cancer, per the Cleveland Clinic.

In most cases, a ghost poop is nothing to be spooked by — but always talk to your doctor if you have questions or concerns, or notice sudden changes in your bowel habits.

Other poop problems to look out for

Health care professionals use a tool called the the Bristol Stool Chart to classify poop into seven different types based on shape and consistency, per the Cleveland Clinic.

“You wantit to be in the middle of that chart (type 3 or 4), a nice sausage-shaped firm stool,” says De Latour.

Abnormal shape or consistency

Types 1 and 2 usually are a sign of constipation. Stool should not be too hard, which can cause straining. Continually having type 5 poops could be a sign of bowel issues due to lack of fiber, and types 6 and 7, diarrehea, usually indicate an illness or other digestive issue.

Excess wiping

If you find yourself wiping endlessly after going No. 2, this could be due to excess tissue in the rectum, which can be caused by severe inflammation, hemorrhoids, anal skin tags and other conditions, says Schnoll-Sussman.

“These can make it a bit more challenging (to defecate), and allow the remnants of the bowel movement to become stuck and need to be wiped off,” Schnoll-Sussman adds.

Persistent loose stool

Loose stools, also known as diarrhea, also tend to leave more of a mess, De Latour explains. It’s normal for most people to pass loose stools from time to time, but severe or persistent loose stools could be a sign of viral or bacterial infection, digestive disorders, and other health problems.

Reduced control over bowel movements

Pelvic floor dysfunction, rectal nerve issues, and weakened anal sphincter muscles can also impact continence, or our control over bowel movements, and how much stool or residue is left behind, the experts note.

Blood or pain

No matter how much you have to wipe, never ignore blood or pain, says De Latour.

Caroline Kee

Caroline Kee is a health reporter at TODAY based in New York City.

Have you ever had a 'ghost poop'? Here's what that says about your health (2024)
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