'Ghost Poop' Is a Surprisingly Common Phenomenon—Here's How to Know If You've Had One

Have you ever felt a strong urge to poop, but when you get to the bathroom realize it’s just gas? Or, you go No. 2 and your stool vanishes in the toilet? If so, you’ve likely had a “ghost poop.”

Having a ghost poop is something people have been talking about on social media recently, and it can refer to a few different phenomena related to your bowel habits and what happens in the bathroom.

“It’s definitely not in the medical literature or anything,” says Dr. Supriya Rao, MD, a board-certified physician in internal medicine, gastroenterology, obesity medicine and lifestyle medicine. “But, it’s a sensation that people have described without using that term necessarily.”

Dr. Ali Kazemi, MD, a board-certified gastroenterologist at Gastro Health in Manassas, Virginia, says he’s had patients ask him questions about their bowel movements, which would fall into the ghost poop category.

“Even though many patients can be a little shy when it comes to talking about bowel movements, some are bold and have talked to me about their poops, including ghost poops,” he says.

So, what exactly are ghost poops, and should you worry about having them? Doctors explain what the term refers to and when to get checked out.

What Does It Mean if Your Poop Disappears Into the Toilet?

Going No. 2 and not seeing anything in the toilet afterward might be alarming. Most stools do sink into the toilet, some faster than others, and sometimes they can vanish, Dr. Kazemi says.

This type of ghost poop could be a good thing, explains Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, MD, a gastroenterologist, author of Fiber Fueled and U.S. medical director of ZOE. “It has to be a formed poop. That’s where we want to be.”

Related: If Your Poop Looks Like This, It's Time to See a Doctor

More dense stools—and that typically drop to the bottom of the commode—likely mean that you’re eating plenty of fiber, which is what you should be doing, he says. Fiber helps keep your digestive system regular.

“In my mind what's happened here is you had a good, effortless bowel movement—it came out like a sausage and disappeared down into the plumbing system,” Dr. Bulsiewicz says. “I would give this my gastroenterologist seal of approval.”

However, he says the disappearing poop could be a random occurrence or related to the structure of your toilet. So, you might not want to read too much into it, Dr. Rao adds.

Just keep eating fiber. Women need between 22 and 28 grams a day, and men need 28 to 34 grams, according to the Cleveland Clinic. But most people don’t consume that much, which can lead to constipation. You also need to drink lots of water to go with the fiber.

Why Stool Might Not Leave a Trace When You Wipe

“Ghost poop” has also been used to describe instances where you have a bowel movement, but there’s no residue on the toilet paper when you wipe. Dr. Kazemi says this probably isn’t something to worry about, “especially if you feel the stools are formed and easy to pass without straining.” It simply may mean your fiber intake is sufficient and your bowel habits are healthy.

Related: Is It Normal to Poop After Every Meal? GI Experts Spill the Beans

In this instance, Dr. Bulsiewicz says the poop was likely able to pass without resistance, and that’s why it didn’t leave a trace. That doesn’t mean you should stop wiping, however, as doing so is hygienic.

However, if the stool was difficult to pass—the texture felt hard or you needed to strain to get it out—it could be a sign of constipation, Dr. Kazemi explains. A hard, dry stool might not leave much of a residue, either.

If pooping is difficult, your stool is hard and lumpy, and you’re bloated often, try to increase your fiber and water intake, he suggests. Then, see your doctor if things don’t improve.

Should You Worry if Your Urge to Poop Is Just Gas?

Having a bowel movement is a “well-choreographed dance of the muscles in your pelvic floor that are relaxing and contracting,” Dr. Rao says. Sometimes, gas can build up in your rectum and create a sense of fullness that might make you feel like you need to poop, but you just need to pass gas.

Several things can cause this, Dr. Kazemi explains, including eating certain foods that are more likely to produce excess gas, like FODMAPs (fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols). These foods include dairy, beans, apples, onions and a few other fruits and vegetables, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Related: This Bathroom Issue Is One of the Most Common Signs of Colon Cancer, According to a GI Doc

Feeling bloated and gassy could be a sign of constipation, too, he adds. Frequently feeling the urge to poop but you can’t may also be a condition known as tenesmus, which can be caused by constipation or inflammation related to inflammatory bowel disease, Dr. Bulsiewicz says.

Another reason this might happen is pelvic dyssynergia, where the muscles in your pelvic floor don’t coordinate as they should, Dr. Bulsiewicz says. The condition can cause pain, constipation and pain.

Feeling the need to go No. 2 but it turns out to be gas is nothing to be concerned about if it happens every once in a while, Dr. Rao says. But, if it becomes a frequent occurrence, see your doctor. That’s especially true if you pass gas but still feel “incompletely evacuated,” Dr. Kazemi says.

Other Poop Symptoms to Watch For—And When to See a Doctor

Everyone’s bowel habits are different, and a ghost poop is bound to happen sometimes. Anytime you notice sudden changes that persist for a few days, however, talk to your doctor, Dr. Rao emphasizes.

“One weird bowel movement is perhaps not enough to worry about,” Dr. Bulsiewicz says. “When it’s an ongoing issue, that’s when it’s grounds to get checked out. The earlier you get checked, the better.”

Diarrhea or constipation that comes out of nowhere and doesn’t go away is a good reason to talk to your doctor, he adds. Other symptoms to note include gas, bloating, abdominal pain, blood in your stool, fever and nausea.

“Those are the kinds of things that I would be worried about,” Dr. Rao says.

Next, read about what it means if you’ve ever had the urge to poop while visiting a bookstore.