Frequent bowel movements

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at December 10, 2015
StartSymptomsFrequent bowel movements

Natural bathroom habits are different from person to person, and the frequency of bowel movements an individual has each day depends on a range of factors. Ideally, one should have two to three bowel movements each day. A range of medications and foods affect the natural movement through the intestine, plus the fecal matter passage via the colon toward the rectum. Bowel movements can tell the measure of a person's health and it is advisable to pay attention to them more.


Definition & Facts

The last step in digestion is known as a bowel movement. It involves the passing of stool, which is the combination of what's left after the digestive system has absorbed the necessary fluid and nutrients from beverages and food. Frequent bowel movements mean that a person is experiencing more than normal bowel movements.

Normally, the frequent movements come with diarrhea or loose stools and can occur any time. Frequent bowel movements do not indicate any disease but can be an indication of change in stress levels, dietary habits or even rigorous exercise. If the bowel movements occur more often, then it is diarrhea. If the bowel movements occur less frequently, then it is constipation.


What are the main causes of frequent bowel movements? Particular foods may increase the number of trips to the bathroom. Foods high in fiber like broccoli may increase bowel movements if taken in excess. While insoluble fiber from such foods is needed for a healthy digestive system and to prevent constipation, too much can cause diarrhea, gas and bloating.

For women, the recommended intake is 25 grams while for men it is 38 grams. Foods such as sweet potatoes, beans, whole grains and green peas are all high in insoluble fiber and should be taken in moderation. Fatty foods can also make the digestive system go wild. Greasy foods like fried foods and red meat can increase bowel movements. The body can be overwhelmed by all the fat in such foods to create an overdrive in the digestive system. Wherever possible, it is advisable to reduce the intake of fatty foods.

Excessive intake of coffee can increase bowel movements too. It stimulates body processes from digestion to the heart rate. When taken in high amounts, the levels of bowel movements may increase. Spicy foods can also affect bowel movements. Chemicals in foods such as chili can trigger diarrhea without warning. These foods can induce acids and irritate the stomach causing indigestion. Dairy products particularly milk can increase bowel movements especially in individuals who do not tolerate lactose. Lactose intolerance mainly affects adults and whenever they consume such products they normally experience bloating, diarrhea and abdominal pains.

When to see a doctor

In some instances, increased bowel movements may be a sign of a serious medical condition. One should see the doctor if they have blood in the bathroom. Conditions such as hemorrhoids can cause bleeding. But blood from the rectum may indicate a more serious condition such as colon cancer. One is advised to see the physician immediately if there is excess blood on their stool.

Cramping and stomach discomforts that do not go away for more than a week may not be a good sign. In addition, if visiting the toilet does not relieve the discomforts, it is time to see the doctor. Changes in the shape and color of the stool may be an indication of what is going on in the body. If the stool becomes too dark or too narrow like a ribbon, it may be an indication that the colon is having a problem and the doctor should be called immediately.

Treatment & Therapy

There are several ways to treat increased bowel movements. A common treatment for frequent bowel movements is probiotics. They help increase the amount of healthy bacteria in the digestive system. Foods such as high-quality yoghurts, goat milk and kefirs are some of the foods that are rich in probiotics. One can also take probiotics supplements in case they cannot access these foods.

If bowel movements lead to diarrhea, medicine from a pharmacy helps to calm things down. Antibiotic medicines are advised if germs are identified as the cause for increased bowel movements. Another way to treat this condition is applying ointments around the anus. Infections or irritations around the skin surrounding the anus can cause frequent bowel movements. Oil ointments are recommended to protect the delicate skin on that part of the body. A warm bath can help ease increased bowel movements. Doing so soothes body tissues. It is advisable to use oatmeal soaps to calm the skin.

However, one should avoid scented soaps because they can increase skin irritation which might lead to increased bowel movements. Resting is also a good treatment for managing bowel movements. Heavy exercise may increase the frequency and it is good to take a rest whenever possible if bowel movements start to increase during heavy action. Talk therapy can help decrease the frequency of bowel movements. Talking to a professional or a friend in times of stress can help one to gain control over bowel movements.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Several actions are taken to prevent frequent bowel movements. The digestive system responds well to a regular schedule. This means that meals should be taken on a regular schedule. It is advisable to eat similar-size food portions and snacks consistently every day. Exercising regularly is another way of avoiding frequent bowel movements.

Exercise stimulates the digestive system and keeps materials moving through the intestine at a good pace. Exercise also maintains a healthy weight which reduces the chances of getting colon cancer. Drinking fluids such as water maintains healthy bowel movements. An adult should take about eight glasses of water each day. Warm water is highly recommended to make bowel movements easy to pass.

There should be moderate fruit and vegetable intake of up to 40 grams each day. This is a good source of insoluble and soluble fiber which makes visiting the toilet an easy affair. Another form of treatment is anti-diarrheal medication which helps to tighten the sphincter and contain the diarrhea. Cutting down high-sugar foods helps prevent frequent bowel movements. That means no more sodas, cereal bars, and sweets.

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