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General Medical Questions
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Question : After a bowel movement I get very weak and have to lie down, and sometimes fall asleep. It takes me several hours to get back to normal. Why would this happen?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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May 07, 2012
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A:

Most likely this is a vaso-vagal reaction. Here’s what I mean. Often people need to tense their abdominal muscles and strain a bit during a bowel movement. This tends to stimulate the vagus nerve. A stimulated vagus nerve slows the heart rate.

At the same time, when you tense your abdominal muscles, blood flow back to the heart decreases a bit. This results in a lower blood pressure.

The combination of a slower heart rate and lower blood pressure could make you feel lightheaded and weak.

I would expect the symptoms to resolve over a few minutes once you lie down. But the fact that it takes you several hours to feel normal makes me concerned that there may be something else contributing to these “weak spells.”

I suggest you make an appointment with your doctor. There’s still a good chance that your doctor won’t find anything else. The reason for weak spells often cannot be diagnosed. But your doctor will want to consider underlying problems, such as anemia (low red blood cell count) or heart disease.

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