Frequent Bowel Movements

The frequency of bowel movements varies between people, so what may be normal for one person may not necessarily be normal for another. If you have more than three bowel movements in a day, though, this can be considered frequent.

Frequent bowel movements can be caused by lifestyle factors, viruses, infections, side effects of medications, food allergies, and certain conditions.

Learn more about what causes frequent bowel movements, as well as the available treatment options and prevention strategies that you can use.

Man approaching public toilet

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What Is Considered Frequent?

Typically, having more than three bowel movements a day is considered frequent. A "normal" range of stool frequency is often characterized by no less than three bowel movements a week, and no more than three bowel movements a day.

In some cases, frequent bowel movements may also be referred to as diarrhea. This is when you have more frequent stools than is normal for you, or your stools are loose and watery.

Related Symptoms

Frequent bowel movements may be accompanied by a number of other symptoms. These will vary based on the root cause of the frequent bowel movements.

Possible symptoms include:

  • Soft or loose stools
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Cramps

Causes of Frequent Bowel Movements

There are a number of potential causes for frequent bowel movements. These can range from lifestyle factors, infections, side effects of medications, allergies, and underlying health conditions.

Lifestyle Factors

There are certain lifestyle factors that may contribute to more frequent bowel movements or diarrhea, including:

  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Having a high sugar diet
  • Feeling anxious
  • Inadequate hand hygiene

Virus or Infection

Diarrhea and more frequent bowel movements can be caused by a number of infections or viruses, including:

  • Viruses like norovirus or rotavirus
  • Bacteria like Clostridium difficile (C. difficile), campylobacter, Escherichia coli (E. coli), shigella, and salmonella
  • Parasites like Giardia intestinalis

Food Allergies and Intolerances

Allergies to certain foods can cause frequent bowel movements or chronic diarrhea. Common food allergies that may cause this include:

  • Soy
  • Cow's milk
  • Cereal
  • Grains
  • Eggs
  • Seafood

Intolerances to certain foods and ingredients may also cause diarrhea.

For example, fructose is a type of sugar found in fruit, honey, and fruit juices. Some people have fructose intolerance and may notice frequent or diarrhea-like stools after eating or drinking anything that contains this type of sugar.

Lactose is another type of sugar found in dairy and milk products. Those who are lactose intolerant can't properly digest lactose due to a lack of a digestive enzyme called lactase. People with lactose intolerance may experience diarrhea as well as other symptoms like gas or bloating if they ingest lactose.

Some sweeteners may also cause frequent bowel movements in some people. These sugar-alcohols can commonly be found in sugar-free candy or gum and include:

  • Mannitol
  • Sorbitol
  • Xylitol

Side Effects of Medication

Many medications can cause diarrhea as a possible side effect, but there are certain medications that are more likely to cause frequent bowel movements. These include:

Inflammatory Bowel Diseases

Diarrhea is the most common symptom of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Diseases that fall within the IBD definition include Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

In a flare-up of IBD, the intestinal lining is inflamed and can't properly absorb fluid. This causes loose, watery stools that move through the colon more quickly and result in frequent bowel movements.

Other Health Conditions

There are numerous health conditions that can cause more frequent bowel movements or persistent diarrhea, including:

Potential Complications

Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea can cause fluid loss from the body. This can lead to dehydration if not properly addressed.

If diarrhea persists, it can be difficult for the body to properly absorb nutrients. In some cases, persistent diarrhea can cause some people to develop lactose intolerance.

Treatment and Prevention

In most cases, frequent bowel movements or diarrhea will resolve within a few days without need for treatment.

If a certain condition is identified as the cause of frequent bowel movements, treating the underlying cause will help resolve digestive symptoms like diarrhea.

For those with IBS or IBD, this may involve changes to diet or taking prescription medications. For people with Celiac disease, following a strict gluten-free diet is recommended to prevent frequent bowel movements.

If a specific bacteria is identified as a cause of diarrhea, antibiotics may be prescribed.

There are certain preventative measures that can be taken to avoid diarrhea as a result of viruses and bacteria. These include:

  • Washing hands well and often
  • Practicing food safety
  • Being mindful of what food and drinks you consume when traveling, particularly in developing countries

Summary

Bowel movement frequency varies between people, but more than three bowel movements a day is considered frequent. This can be caused by certain foods or dietary factors, but it may also be the result of viral or bacterial infections, medication side effects, and some health conditions. Treatment may not always be necessary, but may involve addressing the underlying cause, if there is one.

A Word From Verywell

It can be difficult to know if you're "normal" when it comes to how often you have a bowel movement. If you notice a change in your bowel movements and you are having more frequent trips to the bathroom than is normal for you, consider speaking with your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How many times should you poop per day?

    Every person is different and there is no set number of bowel movements that should happen each day. The normal range is no more than three bowel movements a day and no less than three bowel movements a week.

  • Why do I need to poop even when I haven't eaten?

    It can take a long time for food to be digested once swallowed. This is known as bowel transit time.

    The average bowel transit time in a person who isn't constipated is 30 to 40 hours. So if you haven't eaten in the last few hours and have a bowel movement, that may be because your body is still digesting food you ate earlier.

  • What does healthy poop look like?

    A healthy bowel movement is typically considered brown in color with a mainly solid consistency. Ideally, a healthy stool should be sausage-shaped and smooth.

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13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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