Frequent bowel movements may concern you, but there isn’t a “normal” rate when it comes to how often you go.
Here’s an awkward but important question you may want to ask: “Am I pooping too much?” Unfortunately, the answer isn’t simple.
Some people experience bowel movements several times a day, others several times a week. The good news is that frequency by itself is not an indicator of a problem.
“There is no ‘normal,’” said Kyle G. Cologne, MD, an assistant professor of clinical surgery at Keck School of Medicine of USC and a colon and rectal surgeon at the USC Digestive Health Center of Keck Medicine of USC. Dr. Cologne explained that bowel movement frequency “may depend on what you eat, activity levels, laxative use and many other factors.”
Those who eat plenty of vegetables and engage in exercise are more likely to experience frequent bowel movements. A sudden shift in the frequency of your bathroom visits is of more concern.
“If you experience a change in your normal routine of bowel function, this may be something that needs to be evaluated,” Dr. Cologne said. “Be sure to contact your health care provider if you experience an increase or decrease in usual frequency, or if you notice a change in shape or consistency of your stools.”
For example, if you only go a few times a week and your stools are soft and easy to pass, it’s likely you’re experiencing healthy bowel movements. But if you go to the bathroom more often but then suddenly stop, and your stool is hard and difficult to pass, you may be constipated.
Constipation on its own can be regulated by eating fiber and drinking water, but it can also be a sign of more serious problems, such as a thyroid issue, diabetes or cancer. It could also be caused by a new medication or change in routine.
If you start going to the bathroom multiple times a day and your stools are loose and watery, you may have diarrhea. As with constipation, diarrhea could be caused by something non-serious, such as a virus or eating something that didn’t agree with you. But it also could be a sign of more concerning problems, including Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome or even cancer.
If you experience a change in bowel movement frequency that lasts longer than a few days, especially if you have other symptoms such as abdominal pain, contact your doctor.
“While there are many benign reasons why this may occur, there may be something else that requires medical treatment,” Dr. Cologne said. “Only your health care provider can make these determinations. Any bleeding with bowel movements is also not normal and requires further evaluation.”
If you want to increase your bowel movement frequency, try eating foods with more fiber, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Make sure you stay hydrated and physically active to keep things moving, too. If you’re doing these things and they’re leading to regular movements that are soft and easy to pass, it’s likely your digestive system is working well.
By Tina Donvito
If you have concerns about your digestive health, make an appointment with one of our colorectal specialists at Keck Medicine of USC. If you are in the Los Angeles area, schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting.