Bowel movements are a necessity of life. They allow you to empty waste from your diet via your intestines. While all people make bowel movements, the frequency varies greatly.
Some researchers indicate that anywhere from three bowel movements a day to three a week can be normal. Sometimes the consistency of a person’s stool can be a more significant indicator of bowel health than frequency. However, if a person doesn’t poop often enough or too frequently, both can cause severe health problems.
There is no generally accepted number of times a person should poop. As a broad rule, pooping anywhere from three times a day to three times a week is normal. Most people have a regular bowel pattern: They’ll poop about the same number of times a day and at a similar time of day.
According to a survey of more than 2,000 participants that Healthline conducted, respondents reported the following bowel patterns:
- Almost 50 percent of people poop once a day. Another 28 percent report going twice a day. Only 5.6 percent reported going only once or twice weekly.
- Most respondents (61.3 percent) reported their average bowel movement was in the morning. Another 22 percent reported going in the afternoon while only 2.6 percent poop very late at night.
- Nearly 31 percent of respondents reported their poop consistency was similar to that of a sausage or snake, of a smooth and soft consistency.
Several factors can influence how much and how often you poop. These can include:
Both soluble and insoluble fiber in the forms of whole grains, vegetables, and fruits can add bulk to your stool, promoting bowel movements. If you don’t have a significant amount of these foods in your diet, you may not poop as regularly.
Fluids also make stool softer and easier to pass. This is why many doctors recommend increasing fluid intake if you’re often constipated.
The older you get, the more likely you are to be constipated. This is due to a number of factors, including reduced gastric movement that encourages digestion, reduced mobility, and taking more medications that may slow bowel health.
Peristalsis is the internal intestinal movement that propels digested food material forward to be eliminated as stool. You can help this movement along through physical activity, such as walking or engaging in other forms of exercise.
Chronic or acute illness
Some chronic illnesses, such as inflammatory bowel disease (which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), can cause increased episodes of bowel movements, followed by periods of constipation.
Acute illnesses, such as viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu) or an injury that requires you to take pain medicines that slow down bowel activity can cause changes to bowel movement patterns.
When it comes to normal bowel movements, consistency of your poop can be a factor in addition to frequency. Stools should be soft and relatively easy to pass. They most commonly resemble a snake or sausage because this mirrors the inside of the intestines. Generally speaking, stool should be brown due to the breakdown of red blood cells in the body.
“Loose” or watery stools can indicate you have some digestive irritation and the stool is passing through your intestines too fast to become bulky. This may become a problem not only because you need to go more frequently, but also because your body won’t absorb as many nutrients from your stool.
Conversely, stools that are hard can be very difficult to pass. They may cause difficulties pooping, which can lead to hemorrhoids and cause stool to back up in your intestines.
Whether due to illness or changes to activity or diet, everybody experiences a change in their bowel movements from time to time. However, changes that last longer than a week may be cause for concern.
There are also some symptoms that indicate you need to seek emergency medical attention. These include:
- blood in your stool, which may appear red or black and have the consistency of coffee grounds
- vomiting blood, coffee ground-like emesis, or what appears to be stool
- lack of bowel movement in more than three days
- severe, stabbing abdominal pain
If you regularly have problems with constipation, passing stool, or diarrhea, you should see your doctor. Your doctor will likely take a medical history and review the medications you take to determine if any of them could contribute to constipation or diarrhea. They can also recommend lifestyle and dietary changes that could promote bowel regularity.