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      Are My Bowel Movements Normal?

      How often should I be pooping?

      What does the term "regular" mean when it comes to pooping? As gastroenterologists, it's a common question we hear. Interestingly enough, there hadn't been a lot of scientific research on the issue. However, one recent study found most Americans have anywhere between three bowel movements per day and three bowel movements per week. A significant portion of the population surveyed had bowel movements once every two to three days. Clearly, "regular" means different things for different people.

      The study, Characterizing Normal Bowel Frequency and Consistency in a Representative Sample of Adults in the United States (NHANES ), asked participants to classify stools using the Bristol Stool Form Scale Chart (BSFS). The scale ranks the consistency of stool from 1 (severe constipation) to 7 (severe diarrhea). In the 2017 study, most people reported their stool between a 2 and 6. Men trended more in the normal to lacking fiber categories, while women tended to edge occasionally into mild diarrhea.

      What does being "irregular" look like?
      Bowel movements that fall in the extreme categories of the Bristol Stool Scale, such as severe constipation or severe diarrhea could be considered irregular. Going beyond four days without a bowel movement may also be cause for concern. Many people can have episodes of diarrhea when they eat foods containing dairy (lactose intolerance). Diarrhea and constipation are also common side effects of many prescription and over-the-counter medications.

      How do I stay regular?
      Many factors can affect how often we have bowel movements – from what we eat to our environment. To improve bowel function regularity, it's important to stay hydrated. The main function of the large intestine (also known as the colon) is to absorb water. If we are dehydrated, the colon will absorb more water, which can result in constipation. Eating foods high in fiber can also help improve and maintain healthy colon function.

      When is “irregular” a cause for concern?
      Contact your doctor if you notice a change in the frequency or color of your bowel movements, particularly if you develop bloody diarrhea. The same applies to pale-colored stool that look white or light-colored.

      Constipation and diarrhea shouldn't last more than two weeks. If you have any change in bowel habits that lasts two weeks or more and are accompanied by darker urine, abdominal pain, fever or weight loss, call us at 815-397-7340 to schedule an appointment.