- Frequent Bowel Movements
- Noticed a change in your bowel movements? It could be a sign of IBS…
- What exactly is IBS and who gets it?
- What are the symptoms to look out for?
- What actually causes IBS?
- How is it diagnosed?
- What treatments are available?
- What Causes Constipation?
- Why Do I Poop So Much?
- Colon Cancer Symptoms
- Unexplained Fatigue, Weakness, or Weight Loss
- Stomach Discomfort or Cramping
- Change in Bowel Habits
- Change in the Appearance of Stool
- Not having any symptoms at all?
- How to Manage Frequent Bowel Movements When You Have Crohn’s Disease
- What to Do When You’re Having Frequent Bowel Movements
- Home Remedies: Irritable bowel syndrome
Frequent Bowel Movements
What are frequent bowel movements?
Frequent bowel movements is a condition in which a person defecates (eliminates waste from the bowel) more often than usual. There is no “normal” number of bowel movements. Most people have 0-4 bowel movements a week, but the frequency can range from three times a day to three times a week. To say that a person’s bowel movements have become more frequent is based on an increase in that person’s usual pattern, not on a standard definition that applies to everyone.
The two main bowel movement conditions are constipation (fewer than three bowel movements per week) and diarrhea (more than three movements of loose stools per day).
Who is affected by frequent bowel movements?
Frequent bowel movements occur in both males and females of any age.
What causes frequent bowel movements?
Some cases of frequent bowel movements last for a short time only and are not a cause for concern. These can be caused by digestive upset from eating spoiled, fatty or spicy food, a food that is not tolerated, or an intestinal “bug” that clears in a day or two.
Other possible causes of frequent bowel movements include an increase in physical exercise, certain medications like antibiotics or metformin, or a change in the diet (more fiber, water, fats or sugars). Bowel movements may return to the usual after the person adapts to these changes or makes modifications to his or her diet.
When the person has other symptoms to go along with the greater number of bowel movements, there may be other causes, including the following:
- Bacterial infection
- C. difficile infection (which can be serious if untreated)
- Viral infection
- Parasitic infection, such as from worms or protozoa
- Diverticulitis (the small pockets along the wall of the colon fill with stagnant fecal material and become inflamed)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (a group of disorders, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, that cause irritation and swelling of the digestive tract)
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
- Celiac disease (an autoimmune disease that causes sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye or barley)
- Cancer of the colon or elsewhere in the digestive tract
- Food allergies
- Gallbladder problems
- Lactose intolerance (the inability to digest lactose, the sugar primarily found in milk and dairy products)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (a disorder of the colon or lower bowel with symptoms that include abdominal pains or cramps)
- Side effects of medications (including antacids, laxatives, stool softeners)
- Foods and beverages, including certain herbs and herbal teas, alcohol and caffeine
- Use of antibiotics, which can upset normal bacteria in the gut
- Bowel obstruction
- Complications of intestinal or abdominal surgery
- Complications of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy
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Noticed a change in your bowel movements? It could be a sign of IBS…
Sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) will tell you that the symptoms can be painful and often embarrassing to live with. The telltale bloating, cramps and frequent toilet trips can rear at any time, wreaking havoc on the digestive system.
Thousands of people in the UK have been diagnosed with this common digestive order, and researchers believe that as many as two in 10 people are currently living with IBS.
Not sure exactly what it is or how to tackle the symptoms? Dr Ann Robinson, lead GP at Bupa Health Clinics, reveals more about the causes, warning signs and treatments…
What exactly is IBS and who gets it?
IBS affects 10-15% of the worldwide population, but because it’s not the type of topic many people feel comfortable discussing, lots of us are still confused about what it is and why we get it. “Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a long-term condition that affects your digestive system,” explains Robinson. “It causes pain or discomfort in your tummy, and varying changes in your bowel habits.” Robinson says that It can develop at any age, but the first symptoms usually start appearing between the ages of 20 and 30 years old. “Women are twice as likely to get it as men,” she adds.
IBS affects as many as two in 10 people in the UK (Thinkstock/PA)
What are the symptoms to look out for?
There are a number of telltale unpleasant signs of IBS that should prompt you to visit your GP. “Some of the most common symptoms include bloating, wind or discomfort in your abdomen, which can often be felt on the left-hand side,” says Robinson. “This discomfort can vary from a sudden sharp pain to a constant dull ache, and the pain may ease after going to the toilet. For some, it may also get worse after eating.”
Cancelled my night out with friends as my #ibs horrible . Staying on sofa.
— sarah chapman (@sarahjchapman) March 23, 2018
Erratic changes to your bowel movement is also another clue that something isn’t right in your gut. “Your stool may vary in consistency and can alternate between constipation and diarrhoea,” says Robinson, adding: “Sometimes you may need to go to the toilet urgently, and at other times you may have problems going.” Many sufferers describe accelerated bowel transit as a significant source of stress, with the fear of a a sudden onset of diarrhoea causing anxiety about public outings.
Erratic bowel movements can cause be a cause of stress and anxiety for many sufferers (Thinkstock/PA)
“IBS symptoms can come and go; you may not have any symptoms for months and then get a flare-up,” says Robinson. “It’s a good idea to keep a symptom diary and share it with your GP.” She says that you should note down what foods you have eaten, how you are feeling at the time of a flare-up, as well as the symptoms you are experiencing. Together with your GP, you can then use the findings to determine the foods and emotions that might trigger the symptoms, and decide which treatment is right for you.
What actually causes IBS?
“It’s still unclear why some people develop IBS, but it’s thought that it may be caused by a variety of factors,” says Robinson. In some cases, it could all be down to a miscommunication between the brain and the intestinal tract. “This can cause you to have abnormal muscle contraction or spasms, which often causes the cramping pain,” she explains. “The spasms may speed the passage of stool, causing diarrhoea, or they may slow it down, causing constipation.”
IBS can also be caused by an intolerance to certain foods, particularly those high in FODMAPS – “tiny carbohydrates that are found in certain foods like wheat and beans, that the body finds difficult to break down”.
Robinson notes that irritation to the bowel or digestive system, for example – after an infection such as gastroenteritis or food poisoning, could also trigger the symptoms, while some researchers believe that IBS may be genetic.
“You may find your symptoms get worse after being stressed, after eating certain foods or if you’re taking certain antibiotics,” she adds. “Again, it’s a good idea to make a note of these things to help figure out what’s contributing to your IBS flare-ups.”
How is it diagnosed?
If you’re experiencing anything unusual with your stomach or bowel movements, get it checked out by your doctor. “IBS is usually diagnosed by taking a detailed history of your symptoms.” says Robinson. “It can’t be confirmed with a test, however, your GP may suggest you have some blood tests, provide stool samples and possibly a colonoscopy to rule out any other serious conditions.”
What treatments are available?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for IBS, however, changes to your diet and lifestyle may help ease the uncomfortable symptoms.
“Everyone is different and certain foods that will affect one person may not affect another,” says Robinson. “However, generally, I’d recommend you try eating regular meals cooked or prepared from fresh produce, and don’t rush when you’re eating; stay hydrated and aim to have at least eight cups of fluid a day.”
Cheering myself up with a fancy lunch today. Something is bothering my tummy, but this fodmap friendly food should go down just fine! Poached egg and ham on a gluten free crumpet, served with spinach, watercress and rocket salad with balsamic dressing and peppadews. What a mouthful! 😉🍃
Avoiding fatty, processed or reheated foods might help to regulate your bowel movements, and you should also limit the amount of caffeine you have.
“If stress triggers your IBS, consider some relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga,” says Robinson. “Exercise can also help reduce your flare-ups too.”
If you find that diet and lifestyle changes are not helping manage your IBS, there are medications that can help. “These vary depending on your symptoms,” notes Robinson, “so talk to your pharmacist or GP before taking them.”
What Causes Constipation?
Our busy, modern lifestyles may be responsible for most cases of constipation: not eating enough fiber or drinking enough water, not getting enough exercise, and not taking the time to respond to an unmistakable urge to go to the bathroom. Persistent, chronic constipation may also be a symptom of more serious conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease, colorectal cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, depression, or an underactive thyroid gland.
Bowel habits tend to vary with age and circumstances. Bottle-fed babies, for example, tend to have firmer stools and more bouts of constipation than breast-fed babies. Some children become constipated when they start school or other activities, because they are embarrassed to ask permission to use the toilet. Toddlers often become constipated during toilet training if he or she is unwilling or afraid to use the toilet. Being sensitive to pain, children may avoid the toilet if they have minor splits or tears in the anus from straining or other irritations. Kids can also become constipated from consuming certain foods, such as dairy products.
Older people, especially those who are more sedentary, tend to develop constipation more often.
Medications that can cause constipation include narcotics, diuretics, iron supplements, antacids, and drugs for blood pressure, seizures, and depression.
Why Do I Poop So Much?
Regular bowel movements are a positive sign that your digestive system is functioning properly. If you’ve recently changed your eating habits and eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you may have seen an increase in your bowel movements. This is because these foods contain certain types of dietary fiber. Fiber is a necessary element in your diet because it:
- helps maintain blood sugar levels
- helps to prevent heart disease
- improves colon health
Other than improving digestive system health, a high-fiber diet helps to increase the size of your stool and soften it to prevent constipation.
Higher water intake can also contribute to excessive pooping because water gets absorbed by fiber and helps flush waste from your body.
Regular exercise or an increase in physical activity can regulate bowel movements. Exercise improves your digestive processes and increases muscle contractions in your colon that help to move your stools more regularly.
If you are constipated, exercising can help to alleviate symptoms and make you poop more regularly.
3. Too much coffee
If you’re an avid coffee drinker, you may notice that you have to use the bathroom immediately after your first cup. That’s because caffeine stimulates the large intestine’s muscle activity. Caffeine causes a laxative effect and helps to move stools through the colon.
Stress and anxiety can alter your bowel schedule and regularity. When you’re under a significant amount of stress, your body’s function becomes unbalanced and can change your digestive process and speeds. This can cause an increase in bowel movements with diarrhea. However, in some, stress and anxiety can cause slowed bowel movements with constipation.
A woman’s period can trigger more bowel movements. Scientists believe lower ovarian hormone (estrogen and progesterone) levels around menses may be related to the uterine prostaglandins that trigger your uterus to cramp, which could be related to symptoms in the large intestine. When your large bowel cramps, you are prone to have more bowel movements.
If you’ve recently begun taking new medication or antibiotic therapy, your bowel regularity could change. Antibiotics can upset the normal balance of the bacteria that live in your digestive tract. Other medications may stimulate gastrointestinal movement. As a result, you may notice you poop a lot more or that you have diarrhea symptoms.
Antibiotics or certain medications could alter your bowel regularity for the duration of time you are taking them. Typically, the loose stools associated with antibiotic use resolve within a few days after finishing the treatment. Visit your doctor immediately if your pooping schedule does not return to normal or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms including:
- abdominal pain
- foul-smelling or bloody stools
7. Celiac disease
Food allergies or intolerances such as Celiac disease can make you poop more. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that causes your body to negatively respond to gluten. Gluten is found predominantly in wheat, rye, and barley products.
If you have a gluten intolerance due to Celiac disease, you will have an autoimmune response when you ingest gluten-containing foods. This can cause damage to the small intestinal lining over time, leading to malabsorption of nutrients.
Other than excessive pooping, Celiac disease can cause or occur alongside other uncomfortable symptoms including:
- weight loss
- mouth ulcers
- acid reflux
8. Crohn’s disease
Crohn’s disease is a form of inflammatory bowel disease. It’s an autoimmune disease that can cause inflammation and discomfort within your digestive tract, running anywhere from inside your mouth to the end of the large intestine. This inflammation can cause a number of symptoms including:
- excessive pooping
- severe diarrhea
- bloody stools
- mouth sores
- abdominal pain
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- anal fistula
9. Irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome is a gastrointestinal disorder that affects the frequency of your bowel movements. There are a number of risk factors for developing IBS, including how well you move your food through your gastrointestinal tract.
IBS also causes other symptoms like:
- abdominal pain
- loose stools with diarrhea or hard stools with constipation
- sudden urges to have a bowel movement
Colon Cancer Symptoms
Colon cancer symptoms can be confusing. Common stomach ailments or a change in bowel habits are common occurrences. They don’t always mean that you have a serious condition such as colon cancer. However, not everything should be ignored. Learn about colon cancer symptoms and when it’s a good idea to contact your physician. Common colon cancer symptoms include:
- Blood in your stool or bleeding from the rectum
- Unexplained or Unintentional weight loss
- Unexplained fatigue
- Cramping pain in the lower stomach
- A feeling of discomfort or an urge to have a bowel movement when there is no need to have one
- Change in bowel habits or blood in the toilet after having a bowel movement
- Change in the appearance of the stool, or dark / black-colored stools
Let’s take a closer look at these symptoms to determine when you should talk to your doctor about them.
One of the most disturbing symptoms of colon cancer can be bleeding from the rectum or blood in the toilet. Conditions such as hemorrhoids or fissures can also cause small amounts of blood, so if you notice blood, contact your physician and be sure to explain any other symptoms that you may be experiencing at the same time. A large amount of blood may warrant a visit to the emergency room.
Unexplained Fatigue, Weakness, or Weight Loss
Chronic rectal bleeding can cause iron deficiency (anemia). You might feel tired all of the time and have pale skin as a result. If your energy level drops or you begin to lose weight for no reason, take note of when the changes occur and contact your physician for evaluation. Anemia can also be a sign of internal bleeding. Your doctor should investigate the cause.
It is important to remember that most these conditions may have causes other than colon cancer. Fear of a cancer diagnosis shouldn’t keep you away from seeing your health care provider if you are experiencing symptoms. Chances are good that your symptoms can be treated. If cancer is suspected, the earlier the cancer is detected the better off you will be. Nearly 90% of colon cancer is treatable and survivable if diagnosed in its early stages.
Stomach Discomfort or Cramping
Like constipation or diarrhea, stomach discomfort is a common occurrence and can be the result of poor diet, food intolerance, stress or other factors. Be aware of discomfort that does not go away or cramping that gets worse. Additionally, if you have the constant feeling that you need to have a bowel movement and the feeling is not relieved by having one, contact your physician.
Change in Bowel Habits
While it is common for people to experience a change in their bowel habits from time to time, there are some changes that should be evaluated by a physician if they persist. If you notice any of these changes to your bowel habits, take note of when the changes began to occur and any other lifestyle changes may have occurred at the same time. This information will help your physician determine the cause.
- Diarrhea. Loose stool and diarrhea are common occurrences. The condition can be caused by intolerance to certain foods, medication, stress, or exposure to bacteria (often experienced when traveling). Most people will get at least a mild case of diarrhea several times per year. In most cases, the condition will resolve itself within two to three days. Your health care provider should investigate diarrhea that lasts more than three days.
- Constipation. Constipation is defined as having less than three bowel movements in a week, and it is one of the most common gastrointestinal complaints. Having constipation, however, does not mean you have colon cancer. A change in your diet, poor nutritional habits, stress, dehydration or lack of physical activity can also cause constipation. Physicians generally recommend that if you have constipation for more than two weeks, you should see your doctor so a cause can be determined.
Change in the Appearance of Stool
The way that your stool looks can be a good indicator of what is going on inside your body. Small, hard stool is an indicator of constipation. But if you notice one of these other changes, contact your physician.
- Change in Shape. If your stool becomes thin, narrow or ribbon-like this could be an indication of changes inside your colon. Contact your health care provider to have the condition evaluated.
- Change in Color. If you notice blood in the stool, or darkened stool this could also be an indication of changes inside the colon. Your physician can help you to determine the cause.
Not having any symptoms at all?
Keep in mind, that many people who are diagnosed with colon cancer report having no symptoms prior to their diagnosis. Don’t wait for symptoms to occur to get screened for colon cancer if you are over the age of 50 or if you have a family history of the disease. Talk to your physician or primary care provider to get more information about screening options.
Next >> What is a colon cancer stage?
Information on these pages is provided for educational purposes only. Consult your own physician before making any medical decisions.
How to Manage Frequent Bowel Movements When You Have Crohn’s Disease
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Frequent bowel movements can be one of the most challenging symptoms of Crohn’s disease. But understanding why they happen — and learning how to be fully prepared for emergencies — can help you gain some control over this unpredictable condition.
“Frequent bowel movements can be a sign of active ongoing inflammation,” says Kim Isaacs, MD, PhD, a gastroenterologist and professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina Multidisciplinary Center for IBD Research and Treatment in Chapel Hill. But there are several other possible causes, including a gut infection or difficulty processing bile after certain types of bowel resection surgeries.
What to Do When You’re Having Frequent Bowel Movements
If you’re having bowel movements more often than usual (or frequently for more than two or three days), call your doctor, Dr. Isaacs says. You might need to be tested for infection or change your medications.
It’s also important to have your own personal plan of action for managing the frequent bowel movements of Crohn’s disease. This can also help reduce stress — a potential trigger of Crohn’s disease flares. Consider these strategies:
- Try an over-the-counter antidiarrheal medication. “This can help with diarrhea and tighten up the sphincter,” Isaacs says. However, it won’t treat an infection if that’s the cause of your symptoms. That’s why you need to see your doctor if you continue to have loose stools.
- Skip the caffeine. “Caffeine-containing products can increase bowel movements,” Isaacs says. And it’s not just in coffee: Caffeine is found in many foods, from chocolate to soda.
- Cut down on sugar. Cutting out high-sugar foods — like sweets, cereal bars, and sugary sodas — may help decrease diarrhea and cramping, Isaacs says.
- Drink water. If you’re experiencing diarrhea, it’s important to stay hydrated. (Just avoid sugary or caffeinated drinks like certain sweet teas and sports drinks.)
- Stick to your Crohn’s-friendly diet. People with Crohn’s disease should keep a food journal to learn which foods aggravate their symptoms or cause trouble during a flare. But that doesn’t mean that your diet has to be bland, Isaacs says. Experiment with the foods you can eat to find tasty dishes that appeal to you.
- Carry a “Can’t Wait” card. Members of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America can apply for the “I Can’t Wait” card, which helps explain your condition to others. Some states also have restroom-access laws that give priority to people with conditions like Crohn’s disease.
- Map out bathrooms. When you’re away from home or the office, be sure to note where the restrooms are before you need them. Airports and sports arenas have location maps available online, and there are toilet-finder apps you can download to your smartphone.
- Pack for emergencies. Being prepared for unexpected bowel movements can help put your mind at ease. Keep wet wipes, spare underwear, clothes, slip-on shoes, and a plastic bag for soiled items within reach.
- Use ointment. Frequent bowel movements can result in irritation and even infection of the skin around the anus. Consider using a salve, such as petroleum jelly, to protect your skin.
- Ease into a warm bath. A soak in the tub can soothe aggravated tissues. Since bubble baths or scented products can irritate your skin, opt for an oatmeal bath instead. Gently pat dry and moisturize the area after your soak.
- Make time for rest. Although physical activity is a good idea for everyone, being physically active can also aggravate frequent bowel movements. When possible, take opportunities to sit and rest.
- Consider talk therapy. If your bowel movements is causing you stress, talk it out with a professional. Lowering your stress levels might help you gain more control over your symptoms.
Home Remedies: Irritable bowel syndrome
From eating fiber-filled foods to exercising more, making some simple changes can help ease irritable bowel syndrome. Although your body may not respond immediately to these changes, your goal is to find long-term, not temporary, solutions:
- Experiment with fiber. When you have irritable bowel syndrome, fiber can be a mixed blessing. Although it helps reduce constipation, it can also make gas and cramping worse. The best approach is to slowly increase the amount of fiber in your diet over a period of weeks. Examples of foods that contain fiber are whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans. If your signs and symptoms remain the same or worse, tell your doctor. You may also want to talk to a dietitian.Some people do better limiting dietary fiber and instead take a fiber supplement that causes less gas and bloating. If you take a fiber supplement, such as Metamucil or Citrucel, be sure to introduce it slowly and drink plenty of water every day to reduce gas, bloating and constipation. If you find that taking fiber helps your IBS, use it on a regular basis for best results.
- Avoid problem foods. If certain foods make your signs and symptoms worse, don’t eat them. These may include alcohol, chocolate, caffeinated beverages such as coffee and sodas, medications that contain caffeine, dairy products, and sugar-free sweeteners such as sorbitol or mannitol.If gas is a problem for you, foods that might make symptoms worse include beans, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. Fatty foods also may be a problem for some people. Chewing gum or drinking through a straw can lead to swallowing air, causing more gas.
- Eat at regular times. Don’t skip meals, and try to eat about the same time each day to help regulate bowel function. If you have diarrhea, you may find that eating small, frequent meals makes you feel better. But if you’re constipated, eating larger amounts of high-fiber foods may help move food through your intestines.
- Take care with dairy products. If you’re lactose intolerant, try substituting yogurt for milk. Or use an enzyme product to help break down lactose. Consuming small amounts of milk products or combining them with other foods also may help. In some cases, though, you may need to stop eating dairy foods completely. If so, be sure to get enough protein, calcium and B vitamins from other sources.
- Drink plenty of liquids. Try to drink plenty of fluids every day. Water is best. Alcohol and beverages that contain caffeine stimulate your intestines and can make diarrhea worse, and carbonated drinks can produce gas.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise helps relieve depression and stress, stimulates normal contractions of your intestines, and can help you feel better about yourself. If you’ve been inactive, start slowly and gradually increase the amount of time you exercise. If you have other medical problems, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
- Use anti-diarrheal medications and laxatives with caution.If you try over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications, such as Imodium or Kaopectate, use the lowest dose that helps. Imodium may be helpful if taken 20 to 30 minutes before eating, especially if you know that the food planned for your meal is likely to cause diarrhea.In the long run, these medications can cause problems if you don’t use them correctly. The same is true of laxatives. If you have any questions about them, check with your doctor or pharmacist.
Read more about self-management for irritable bowel syndrome.
The Mayo Clinic Book of Home Remedies provides answers you need to take care of common health problems on your own. This reference covers 120 of today’s common health problems in an easy-to-follow A-to-Z format. Learn what you can do for yourself and when to seek medical attention.