Don’t panic: just because you haven’t had a bowel movement in three days doesn’t mean you have a bowel obstruction. So when should you raise the alarm and consider yourself constipated? Why do some people have more frequent bowel movements than others?
Feces is made up of the remains of food that has not been absorbed by the digestive system. We produce an average of 120 pounds of feces per year. These stools are initially liquid but dry up as water is reabsorbed by the colon. It is often said that the proper frequency for bowel movements is once a day. In reality, only 40% of people are exactly within this norm. According to a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, 95.5% of people have a bowel movement according to a “3-3” rule: between 3 times a day and 3 times a week. According to this study, women generally have more problems with bowel movements, since the consistency of stool is more often too hard or too soft.
What influences the frequency of bowel movements?
Many factors influence the frequency and consistency of bowel movements, the most important of which is diet. A fiber-rich diet promotes bowel movements, while starchy foods tend to cause constipation. Insufficient hydration will also dehydrate the stool, making it difficult to eliminate. Age, the quality of the intestinal flora, exercise, use of medications, and dietary supplements (e.g. iron) also influence the frequency of bowel movements. Finally, some people naturally have a longer bowel, which means that stool dries out sooner before being excreted. But as long as it doesn’t cause discomfort or straining, you don’t have to worry about it. On the other hand, chronic constipation with irregular, hard bowel movements can lead to stomach pain, hemorrhoids or anal fissures, and general fatigue as toxins that should normally be eliminated build up in the intestines.
Irregular bowel movements should be of concern if accompanied by other symptoms. True bowel obstruction also causes bloating of the abdomen or nausea. Diarrhea with very liquid stools is usually a sign of infection. Bloody stools can be a sign of colon cancer, while “oily” stools mean that nutrients are not properly absorbed by the body.