Frequent Bowel Movements – Meaning and Causes

With symptoms like diarrhea, there is point between normal bowel habit and diarrhea that a person may not consider to be abnormal. Frequent bowel movement is one such instance. People with conditions like diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may not be quick to label their bowel habit as being diarrhea while knowing it is not typical for most people.

Normal Stool, Frequent Bowel Habit and Diarrhea

Diarrhea is defined as passing more than three stools within a 24 hour period. If the stool is watery or loose it further supports the definition of diarrhea although this is not always necessary. In terms of a medical definition, constipation is passing stool less than three time a week. Typically the stool is hard and there is difficulty or pain when passing the stool.

Therefore passing stool less than three times a day but more than three times a week would be considered normal bowel habit. Individual differences in bowel habit means some people pass stool more or less often than others. It is considered as normal bowel habit provided that it is within this range that does not fall into diarrhea or constipation.

What is frequent bowel movement?

There is no clear definition of frequent bowel movement. It is largely subjective. Some people who pass stool more than three times a day may consider this to be frequent yet normal for themselves. In these cases they may only define it as diarrhea is the stool is loose or water in consistency. Their normal stools are soft and firm, albeit frequent.

Sometimes frequent bowel movement is a prelude to diarrhea. A person may find themselves defecating more frequently for a few hours or a day or two although the stool is firm and soft. Thereafter diarrhea may set in whereby bowel movements become very frequent, watery and accompanied by other symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.

Read more on overactive bowels.

Causes of Frequent Bowel Movement

There are several causes of frequent bowel movement but it is important to note that in many cases these causes are the same as diarrhea, where bowel habit is frequent and stool is watery. However, there is a range of other dietary and lifestyle factors that are not always considered under acute diarrhea.

High Fiber Intake

People who generally eat foods that are high in fiber or use fiber supplements as part of normal dietary habit may find that their bowel movements are more frequent. Fiber provides bulk for stool and helps to keep it soft by absorbing water. Vegans who tend to eat only raw fruits and vegetable may find that bowel movement can be more frequent.

High Water Intake

Water plays a crucial role in bowel habit. It helps to keep stool soft and expedite movement through the gut. Normally excess water intake is passed through the kidney in the form of urine. However, people who usually suffer with constipation may find that the bowel movements become more frequent when water consumption is increased. This is usually within the normal range albeit frequent for the individual.

Certain Foods and Beverages

Certain foods and beverages may act as irritants in the gut. This can increase the frequency of bowel movements beyond what an individual considers normal bowel habit. Often there is diarrhea. Spicy foods, alcohol and certain processed foods may contribute to these frequent bowel movements, as well as eating foods that are unusual in an individual’s diet.

Strenuous Activity

One of the contributing factors to the movement of stool through the colon is physical activity. A person who suddenly becomes more physically active may find that bowel movements also become more frequent. Runner’s diarrhea (runner’s trots) is a condition associated with strenuous physical activity. It is due to a combination of factors including mechanical trauma, fluids used for rehydration and dietary choices.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is marked by abdominal cramps alterations in bowel habit, either diarrhea or constipation. People who suffer with diarrhea-predominant IBS may experience frequent bowel movements on a daily basis. This stool may be soft and firm. During acute flare-ups, diarrhea may then arise along with soft and watery stools.

Bile Deficiency

Bile is the medium that passes out wastes and other substances produced by the liver as part of its normal function. The bile is stored in the gallbladder and then passed out into the small intestine. It also helps to emulsify (break down) fats. In people with liver disease there may be insufficient bile to emulsify fats in foods. The fats then irritate the bowel and may lead to diarrhea. It is also more likely to occur in people with gallstones or who have had their gallbladder removed.

Food Intolerance

With a food intolerance there is a problem with the digestion and absorption of certain foods. Either the body lacks the enzymes to digest the food or there is problems with absorbing certain nutrients. This is seen in lactose intolerance where the body lacks the enzyme lactase that is needed to digest the milk sugar known as lactose.

Psychological Stress and Anxiety

Bowel habit can change with psychological stress and mental health conditions such as anxiety. Sometimes it may lead to diarrhea whereas at other times it can result in constipation. This may be due to the effect on the nervous system as well as changes in diet and regular activity.
It is not uncommon for people to find that bowel movements become frequent due to anxiety. This may happen particularly when facing a stressful situation, for example in students who are about to write an important exam.

Bariatric Surgery

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Bariatric surgery are procedures that are performed on the gut for the purpose of weight loss. One of the common side effects of bariatric surgery is frequent bowel movements or even diarrhea. It depends on the type of procedure that is conducted. Earlier procedures that led to bypass of a portion of the bowels meant that food could not be fully digested and absorbed. As a result some of the food remained in the gut where it dres out water from the body and irritated the gut thereby leading to diarrhea.

Read more on loose stool.

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