Frequency of Bowel Movement
No two people are the same. This is a good thing because life would be boring if we were all exactly alike. One way in which we’re all different regards the frequency of bowel movement we produce on a regular basis.
Many people are embarrassed to ask their doctor to explain the normal frequency of bowel movement they should have in a single day or a week. Sadly, this fear keeps many individuals from discovering the clues their bodies are trying to give them. The health of your digestive system depends on you knowing when something is amiss.
What is the Normal Frequency of Bowel Movement?
No solid guideline exists for the frequency of bowel movement a person should have. Some people have three movements per day while others have three per week. The frequency of bowel movement you should have depends on the foods you eat and other biological factors.
Doctors consider a range of one to three bowel movements per day or at least three per week to be normal. Vegetarians, however, generally have more bowel movements than people who eat meat. The more fiber you consume, the higher the frequency of bowel movement you’ll tend to have. If you have a bowel movement less than three times a week, however, you may well be experiencing constipation.
In general, men have a higher frequency of bowel movement than women. A study of more than 20,000 participants following a variety of diets demonstrated women had slightly fewer bowel movements. For every ten weekly bowel movements occurring in males, women had only nine. Vegans also had more bowel movements than meat eaters, with an average of eleven bowel movements to nine respectively. It’s believed the increased frequency closely relates to increased fiber intake. Alcohol ingestion also decreases digestive efficiency in both men and women.
In Asian cultures, people tend to have three bowel movements every day due to the amount of fiber they ingest as contained in rice and tofu. In the United States, it’s more common for people to have a bowel movement about every other day.
Quality of Bowel Movement
Rather than judging your bowel movements on the number of times you go, you should be more concerned with your stool’s appearance. Watery stool occurring three or more times a day is a condition commonly known as diarrhea. Diarrhea can be a sign of an intestinal virus, harmful intestinal organisms, or other diseases. Hard stool that is painful to pass or requires straining is a sign of constipation.
Constipation can severely limit the number of times you have a bowel movement every week. Signs of constipation include:
- Pain or the need to strain while having a bowel movement
- Hard, small bowel movements
- Dependence upon laxatives to have a bowel movement
Usually, diet is enough to prevent constipation and increase the frequency of bowel movement. Adding fiber and fluids to your diet and exercising frequently can help alleviate constipation. When you first feel the urge to have a bowel movement, do not delay it as that can worsen constipation. Over time, as your body becomes used to “not going” chronic constipation can develop.
Disease and underlying conditions can alter the frequency of bowel movement you have. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, for example, can cause you to have diarrhea one day and constipation the next. Blockages in the intestines or bowel can cause constipation as well.
Tips for Recognizing Healthy Bowel Movements
To determine if your bowel movements are “normal,” you should examine your stool visually now and then. A bowel movement should be soft (like peanut butter), brownish, and tube-shaped. Keep in mind certain foods can taint the color of your stool. Consuming large quantities of beets, for example, can turn your stool to a reddish color. Licorice or spinach can also make it appear greenish, while iron supplements can make your stool appear black. Pale colored stool, on the other hand, can be caused by certain medications. Lastly, yellow stool can be a sign of Celiac disease and this should be reported to your physician immediately. Often, however, food coloring utilized in our modern, highly processed foods is to blame for oddly colored stools.
You should be watching for two stool colors in particular to determine if yours is normal. If your stool is bright red or black (and the color does not go away in a few days or you haven‘t eaten anything to cause red or black stools), you should seek medical attention because it can indicate internal bleeding. Bleeding within the digestive tract can indicate the onset of potentially cancerous polyps. Even if the stool color turns out to be something trivial, you’re better off knowing for certain instead of taking an unnecessary risk.
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