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Irregular Bowel Movements

The colon is the part of the large intestine located between the cecum and the rectum. The colon’s main purpose is to extract water from waste passing through it. Several diseases, such as Colitis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome, interfere with the colon’s natural functioning. Constipation, also known as bowel irregularity, afflicts millions of people around the world and often results from these types of digestive disorders. When constipated, a person produces dry feces that can be difficult to eliminate from the body. The condition can become quite painful in severe cases, and this would be classified as “chronic constipation.” Prolonged constipation can lead to irregular bowel movements, fecal impaction, or complete obstruction of the bowels.

Many people believe they are constipated if they do not have a bowel movement every day. However, no “magic” number exists concerning how many bowel movements you should have daily or weekly. For one individual, “normal” may be three times a day, while for another person three times a week suffices. A person with less than three bowel movements per week is usually considered to be medically constipated.

Causes of Irregular Bowel Movements

The causes of irregular bowel movements (such as constipation) may include any of the following:

  • Dietary changes
  • Hormonal changes
  • Side effects of medication
  • Illness or the onset of digestive disorders
  • Anatomical abnormalities
  • Sedentary lifestyle

For these reasons, treatment for constipation can consist of simply improving dietary or exercise habits. If medication is inducing constipation, it may be possible to treat the problem by making changes to your diet. If that doesn’t work, the doctor may prescribe a different medication to see if your system can tolerate it better.

Technically, constipation refers to the act of waste moving slowly through any part of the digestive tract. For 95% of those suffering from constipation, statistics demonstrate the problem occurs in the colon most often. The problem can be prevented by consuming proper amounts of dietary fiber, as this helps maintain stool that is bulky and soft. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provides high amounts of dietary fiber, so a menu replete with these healthful choices is best.

One cause of irregular bowel movements that many people fail to realize is the practice of bowel suppression. Your bowel movements are under your voluntary control so you can inhibit the elimination process. Although it is sometimes necessary to suppress an urge to have a bowel movement, such as while seeking a bathroom, if you do this too often constipation may result.

Over-use or abuse of stimulant laxatives can also cause irregular bowel movements. Researchers believe a connection exists between extended use of laxatives and damage occurring to the muscles and the nerves of the colon. What remains unknown, however, is whether the laxatives actually cause the damage or the condition already existed and the laxatives make the situation worse. Because of the uncertainty behind the underlying cause, experts recommend using laxatives only as a last resort after other, natural treatments have failed.

Hormones also hinder bowel movements. Too little thyroid hormone and too much parathyroid hormone, for example, can cause irregular bowel movements. During a woman’s menstrual cycle, when estrogen and progesterone levels peak, constipation may appear. The same connection holds true during pregnancy.

Many different diseases affecting the colon can diminish the body’s ability to produce regular bowel movements. Diseases of the central nervous system, colonic inertia, and pelvic floor dysfunction can also cause or encourage irregularity.

Digestive Conditions and Diseases Causing Irregularity

Diverticulitis is a disease of the colon and the large intestine. The condition develops from Diverticulosis—a condition in which pouches form on the outside of the colon. If one of theses pouches (called diverticula) becomes inflamed, Diverticulitis develops. The acute state is termed Diverticular disease.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS or spastic colon) is characterized by abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits unrelated to any abnormalities found in routine clinical testing. IBS is a common digestive disorder and is responsible for 20% to 50% of patients’ visits to gastroenterologists. The most frequent symptoms of IBS are bloating and lower abdominal pain. For those suffering from abdominal pain, elimination often brings relief.

Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) is another potential cause of irregular bowel movements. A genetic condition, FAP centers on the development of polyps primarily within the large intestine. The polyps associated with this condition start out as benign but, if left untreated, they will cause colon cancer nearly 100% of the time. For this reason, doctors remove all polyps found within the colon. Thereafter, a biopsy is the only certain measure to determine whether or not a polyp is cancerous.

Each of these conditions and diseases can lead to permanent damage if ignored. Logically, it’s essential to see a doctor whenever experiencing irregular bowel movements to rule out the possibility the irregularity is being caused by a serious digestive disorder.

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