Can we die pooping?

In 'Game of Thrones' Tywin Lannister, lord of Casterly Rock and hand of King Joffrey I of the Baratheon House, died sitting in the bathroom and everyone found that the popular saying that "he was so rich that he shit gold" did not correspond with reality. It is true that the cause of his death had nothing to do with his intestinal transit but with a crossbow virote, but the head of the Lannister would not be the first to die on a porcelain throne.


What are faeces? Faeces are the remains that stay in your body after the digestion of food that the body cannot take advantage of, so they are led through the large and small intestines until they are expelled by the anus. This action is one of the most necessary bodily functions for a living being, and many highlight the feeling of liberation they feel after having evacuated. Even so, there are many myths and urban legends about the act of defecating and one of them is that one can die in such an unseemly situation, pooping.

Indeed, there is a small possibility that the act of defecation could lead to death but this would only occur in very exceptional situations and in the presence of two obligatory circumstances. The first of these is having suffered a vascular accident or heart failure of considerable severity. The second is having problems when going to the bathroom that include dry or very hard excrements (acute constipation).


When we are in a situation, we unconsciously use the so-called Valsalva maneuver to inhale deeply and hold the air while we try to exhale, which then causes an expansion of the lungs that push the diaphragm and abdominal organs and these in turn exert pressure on the pelvis. It is precisely this pressure that causes stool to be expelled. Holding your breath in the lung cavity and straining your abdomen causes disturbances in blood flow that can cause the heart and brain to receive less blood than they should and cause dizziness or fainting (defecatory syncope). Something similar happens when, when trying to lift a large weight, blood is concentrated in the chest and a stroke occurs.


The first case of such a death was recorded in Norway in 1968 and, according to the statements of Elvis Presley's personal physician in 'The King and Dr. Nick', the rock king could have died from stress-derived heart failure rather than from being overweight or having a drug problems, as is often claimed. Indeed, the risk of dying while pooping exists but the probability is quite low and can be controlled with some basic care and precautions. A healthy lifestyle and a balanced diet rich in fibre are two of the simplest methods of preventing constipation.

Problems in digesting and evacuating waste generated by the body can be very bothersome and harmful to health in extreme cases. If the faeces are too hard and dry, they can cause a megacolon (excessively swollen colon) or so-called fecal impaction, in which non-evacuated faeces act as a stop and cause them to accumulate.