A significant indicator of health can be the frequency and consistency of bowel movements. However, having more bowel movements than normal, as a standalone symptom, is not a cause for concern.
Many individuals associate diarrhea, which involves loose or watery stools, with frequent bowel movements. A wide variety of variables could, however, cause frequent solid bowel movements. These variables include the diet of a person, allergies to food, and underlying health conditions.
In this article, we examine how often bowel movements in individuals with a good health status are likely to occur. The causes and treatment of frequent solid bowel movements are also covered and we explain when to see a doctor.
How often is frequent?
The frequency and consistency of bowel movements may be significant indicators of the health of an individual.
Health experts do not, however, cite a particular number of bowel movements as normal or healthy.
Constipation may be indicated by having less than three bowel movements in a week, especially if the stools are difficult and difficult to pass through.
These are general standards and will not apply to everyone. If they notice any significant or persistent changes in their toilet habits, it is important that individuals consider what is typical for them and take action.
Research shows that frequent bowel movements can be caused by a broad variety of variables:
- Infections of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract: Infections, which may be due to viruses, bacteria, or parasites, can frequently cause short-term bowel problems. One study found that many children with frequent nondiarrheal bowel movements have a non-polio enterovirus (NPEV).
- Food allergies: These cause the immune system to overreact to certain foods, mistakenly treating them as pathogens. About 3–4% of adults in Westernized countries have food allergies, which can be serious if they affect a person’s ability to breathe.
- Caffeine: Due to the laxative effect of caffeine, the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders say that more than two or three cups of coffee or tea a day can cause diarrhea.
- Celiac disease: This disease affects about 1 in every 100 people worldwide. People with celiac disease experience a full immune system response when they eat wheat, barley, or rye. This response can affect a person’s bowel movements and damage their small intestine.
- Lactose intolerance: This condition affects up to 70% of the world’s population. People with this condition cannot consume dairy products without having intestinal problems.
- Exercise: Exercise is healthful overall, but some individuals, such as long-distance runners, may notice powerful urges to move their bowels when working out. Some may even experience diarrhea. Experts suggest that this effect is due to reduced blood flow to the colon.
- Gall bladder problems: Conditions such as Habba syndrome indicate a link between poor gall bladder function and frequent bowel movements.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): The most common form of functional diarrhea, IBS can also cause constipation. Some people with IBS may experience both symptoms.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are two forms of this immune system disorder, which causes chronic inflammation of the GI tract and can lead to long-term damage.
- Medications or drug abuse: Many medications can cause digestive problems, including aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antibiotics, and blood pressure medications.
- Cancer: Changes in bowel habits can be a sign of colon cancer, particularly if they occur along with other symptoms, such as anemia, unintentional weight loss, fatigue, blood in the stool, and bleeding from the anus.
Frequent bowel movements that are not diarrhea often respond well to self-care, such as the use of medications for symptom relief over-the-counter (OTC).
Recommendations for treatment of IBS, a common cause of frequent bowel movements, include:
- adjusting the diet to support healthy digestion
- engaging in regular physical activity
- taking steps to manage stress, such as practicing mindfulness or yoga
- treating symptoms of constipation, diarrhea, or stomach pain with OTC or prescription medications, such as loperamide, laxatives, or antispasmodics.
When to see a doctor
When diarrhea lasts more than 2 days, experts recommend seeing a doctor.
Frequent solid bowel movements may not present the same risk of dehydration as diarrhea. A person who frequently passes solid stools should, however, see a doctor if they are:
- develop a fever
- notice blood in their stool
- start vomiting or feeling nauseated
- experience painful stomach cramps
- cannot control their bowel movements
Sometimes, adhering to a healthy lifestyle can help individuals avoid frequent solid bowel movements. Dietary practices that might be especially helpful include:
- adding foods high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, to the diet gradually
- limiting the intake of gluten and products containing gluten
- seeking a doctor’s advice on supplementing the diet with probiotics to increase the “good” bacteria in the gut
Other practices that may help maintain a healthy frequency of bowel movements include:
- exercising regularly
- getting enough sleep
- managing stress with relaxation techniques, mindfulness, and biofeedback
- mental health therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and gut-directed hypnotherapy
Regarding frequent solid bowel movements, the main thing to consider is whether this pattern represents a change for the individual.
Most of the time, short-term responses to a specific food, a passing virus, or too much coffee are changes in bowel habits, and a person can resolve them with self-care.
It may help to maintain the regularity of bowel movements by adopting a healthy lifestyle, following a well-balanced diet, and learning to manage stress.