What is a normal bowel movement?
Like many things in life, it’s not unusual to take our daily bowel movement for granted. Constipation, however, is a really common problem for many of us.25 We talk very little about our digestive habits with others, as we tend to view our inner workings as a most intimate personal issue. As a result of this communication gap, our knowledge can be limited. We may even be unaware of the existence of safe and effective alternatives that could help to normalize our bowel movements.
Taking time to understand your digestive habits is a worthy investment to live a better, healthier life. Let’s begin by defining what defines a normal bowel movement.
What does it mean if you're going too often or not enough?
So, how many times should you poop a day? As a general rule, if you go more than three times per day, you probably have diarrhoea. If you go less than three times per week, you could be constipated.8, 9, 11
Bowel movements vary widely between individuals, so the subjective perception of what constitutes “normal” also varies from one person to the next. Remember to monitor your pooping patterns and notice changes. When your pooping habits suddenly change, it can be an early warning sign that your doctor should investigate. 8, 9, 11
Let's explain both conditions in more detail.
Diarrhoea describes too frequent soft bowel movements that are urgent or difficult to hold.10
There are two types of diarrhoea: acute and chronic. Viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections are the most common causes of acute Diarrhoea. Chronic diarrhoea, however, can be caused by many digestive disorders. If you experience diarrhoea frequently, make an appointment with your GP.13
The medical community defines constipation as a condition where the daily number of stools is low compared to the "normal frequency”.
Individuals who are constipated describe their condition as the unsatisfactory evacuation of stools, more rarely than they would like. Stools are also typically of small volume, hard textured, and difficult to pass.9
Constipation affects approximately 15% of the population and is often self-diagnosed and self-managed. Multiple factors can cause it, such as stress, an unbalanced diet, lack of exercise, or medication side effects.10
Poop: What's normal?
A bowel movement occurs at the end of digestion, which begins with eating food and ends with the excretion of solid waste, commonly known as stool.
Bowel movements vary by individual, as will the poop produced as a result of it. To determine whether your bowel movements are normal, you need to know more about your poop.
Shape and Form
The Bristol Stool Chart is a tool that categorizes poop into seven types based on its appearance and associated with colonic transit times.4
In general, types one and two signal constipation, three and four indicate optimal digestion, and types five to seven are associated with Diarrhoea.5
Firmness or Consistency
How firm should your poop be? The Bristol Stool Chart breaks it down as follows: 19
Types 1-2: Overcooked! These consistencies may indicate constipation and painful or difficult bowel movements.6
Types 3-4: Nailed it! These indicate ideal poop firmness 6
Type 5: Undercooked! Type 5 may indicate a lack of fibre, which helps to soak up fluid and firm things up. If you are constantly pooping on this part of the scale, you may have bowel problems.6
Types 6-7: Super Undercooked! Type 6 and 7 stool is diarrhoeal and may indicate digestive problems.6
What causes abnormal bowel movement?
Many factors can lead to a break in your normal bowel movement cycle. These include medical conditions, some medications and supplements, and lifestyle factors. Let’s explore some of these potential causes below.
Some medical conditions manifest as abnormal digestive movements. These may include diabetes, hypothyroidism, and irritable bowel syndrome.15
Some medical conditions may cause constipation specifically, including: 26
- coeliac disease
- spinal cord or brain injuries
- inflammation due to diverticular disease or proctitis
- anorectal blockages or tumours
If you’re worried that your abnormal bowel movements could signify an underlying health issue, consult your GP.
Medication and supplements
The following medications and supplements may cause constipations, specifically: 26
- aluminum and calcium containing antacids
- calcium channel blockers
- narcotic pain medications
- some depression medications
- iron supplements
- seizure medications (anticonvulsants)
Learn more about how some medications can cause constipation here.
Lifestyle factors and nutrition
Several lifestyle and nutritional factors may also have an effect on your bowel movements. These below may cause constipation: 26
Tips for more comfortable bowel movement
Increase Fibre Intake
Increasing fibre consumption is one of the first alternatives to consider when suffering from constipation. By reducing intestinal transit time and increasing stool bulk, fibre helps your body eliminate waste more quickly.23,26 You should increase your fibre intake gradually to avoid uncomfortable reactions.16
Drink More Water
Water is essential for the digestive system to work correctly, because it transports nutrients to cells and removes waste.24 Make sure you are drinking the correct amount of water as part of your diet.15
Be More Active
Walking, running, and resistance exercises reduce intestinal transit time, which means that the food you eat is eliminated quicker, whereas physical inactivity increases it.16
Change Your Bathroom Posture
Constipation may also be affected by your position when pooping. Squatting provides an ideal posture.23
Monitor your bowel movements
Frequent and satisfactory bowel movements allow you to live a full life. Pay attention to your bowel movements to recognize changes in your digestion, the gut tends to be more active in the morning and after meals.28 Don’t resist or fight the urge to go to the bathroom. If you need to go, you need to go.
There are several types of laxatives, so discuss your options with a doctor or pharmacist. Dulcolax is one great example of a laxative with more than 50 years in the market. Dulcolax increases bowel movement frequency and reduces uncomfortable symptoms of tummy trouble, such as bloating.
A full range of DulcoLax products is available here, including tablets, suppositories, and liquid.
MAT-XU-2304556 (v1.0) November 2023
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