Why Do You Feel Sweaty When You Need To Go To The Bathroom

Sometimes you have to go to the bathroom, and other times, you have to get a bathroom, like, right now ... or else. In these instances — when nature's call feels more like a scream — you may feel like your whole body is acutely aware of how dire the situation has quickly become. Perhaps your head feels like it's floating above your body as the blood rushes from your face, or maybe you begin to break out in a cold sweat.

While this may sound like the beginnings of an unfortunate stomach bug, this is a totally normal — and actually, pretty common — phenomenon, aptly referred to as the "poop sweats." People who experience the poop sweats may often clock symptoms like dizziness, tunnel vision, feeling warm, perspiring, and nausea before, during, and even after a bowel movement (per GoodRx).

If you're sitting on the toilet, wiping the sweat from your brow and wondering why, oh, why, you're feeling clammy, faint, and a little bit like tossing your cookies, we've got the answers. And it starts with your parasympathetic nervous system.

The vagus nerve

While the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is responsible for our fight-or-flight response, the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is the SNS's much chiller cousin, helping us to wind down after periods of stress (per Cleveland Clinic). And while it definitely doesn't feel chill, when the poop sweats strike, you can be sure that the responsible party is none other than the vagus nerve — a principal component of the parasympathetic nervous system (per Cleveland Clinic).

Tasked with controlling involuntary sensory and motor functions like digestion, heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, immune response, and skin and muscle sensations, the vagus nerve runs from the brain to the intestines. When we have the sudden urge to use the bathroom, that's the vagus nerve at work. As part of the digestion process, the vagus nerve triggers peristalsis — the involuntary contraction and relaxation of the muscles that line our gastrointestinal tract, which helps waste products move toward the rectum (per MedlinePlus). While peristalsis will occur no matter what, sometimes outside factors can stimulate the vagus nerve and contribute to the sense of urgency.

When the vagus nerve is overstimulated by things like stress, pain, vomiting, or straining to pass a bowel movement, it can cause a vasovagal reaction in which the heart rate slows and blood pressure drops too quickly (per GoodRx). This condition — called vasovagal syncope — is the driving force behind the poop sweats, as well as accompanying feelings of dizziness, and can even cause loss of consciousness in severe cases.