Experiencing frequent bowel moments is something we all have had to deal with at some point in our lives, whether it was due to bad food or a particularly nasty illness. Frequent bowel movements generally mean we have diarrhea, which may show up alongside cramping, bloating, abdominal discomfort, urgency, and possibly nausea and vomiting. It typically occurs as a result of some problem occurring in the gastrointestinal tract, be it an acute infection or a reaction to a recently administered medication. With more serious conditions, frequent bowel moments are just another presenting symptom that coincides with additional symptoms of muscle aches, fever, and a general feeling of being unwell.
What causes frequent bowel movements
Frequent bowel movements not caused by an infection or any sort of abnormal pathology are dependent on several factors, including food intake, liquid intake, and fiber intake.
When food is consumed, it is your digestive systems job to break it down and extract all of the essential nutrients from it. Afterward, waste is left to be exerted out at your next bathroom visit. This process requires the control of several muscles of the GI system to allow feces to pass through the rectum, with the stretching and contraction of bowel walls also having an influence on the nervous system for sphincter release.
A person’s food, fluid, and fiber intake all have an effect on the digestive system, and any changes in these factors will likely affect bowel habits. Aspects of stool like color, consistency, and even smell can change depending on the quantity and type of food consumed. Fecal matter is composed of approximately 75 percent water, with large quantities of water possibly helping regulate the frequency of bowel movements in those with insufficient fluid intake. Insoluble fiber, as obtained from fruits and vegetables, help add bulk to stool by absorbing water and increasing its size. This helps promote gastrointestinal motility and efficiently eliminate waste from the body.
Factors that affect gastrointestinal mobility
Our digestive system is not under our complete voluntary control, as a vast network of local reflexes and nerve plexus within the gut wall help facilitate the process. Various nerves in the brain and spine also play a role, which means that gut motility is controlled to a certain degree by actions in the brain, with possible further input from the endocrine system. The simple act of filling the rectum and relaxation of the internal anal sphincter may be due to exaggerated defecation reflexes exacerbated by neuronal and hormonal stressors, leading to frequent bowel movements. It is also recognized that physical activity helps to increase gut motility, with even strenuous exercise causing diarrhea in some cases. However, in the majority of cases, regular exercise aids in maintaining regular bowel health.
Common causes of frequent bowel movements:
- Diverticulitis—inflammation of an abnormal pocket in the colon
- Food allergies—allergic reaction to certain foods
- Gallbladder disease or stones
- Inflammatory bowel disease—including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)—digestive discomfort that does not cause intestinal damage or serious disease
- Lactose intolerance—inability to digest lactose, the sugar in dairy products
- Low-fat diet
- Parasite infections such as Giardia infection
- Surgical removal of any portion of the intestinal tract
- Viral gastroenteritis—viral infection of the digestive tract, also called stomach flu
- Whipple’s disease—bacterial infection affecting small intestine
Symptoms that may co-exist with frequent bowel movements
Symptoms presenting with frequent bowel movements can differ depending on the underlying cause. The following are some symptoms:
- Abdominal discomfort
- Abdominal distension
- Extremely bad smelling stools
- Blood in the stools
- Changes in the color of stools
- Loss of bowel control
- Severe gas
- Nausea which may be accompanied by vomiting
- Painful when passing stools
- Bowel urgency
- Severe body aches
- Generalized feeling of malaise
- Weight loss
Diagnosing and treating frequent bowel movements
When seeing your doctor about a particularly severe case of diarrhea, they will first ask you a series of questions relating to the frequency, amount, color, and consistency of your stools. They will also try to pinpoint when the increased bowel symptoms started to help rule out other possible causes. Most of the time, a stool sample test will not be needed, but in cases of parasite infection and possible blood in the stool, your doctor may find it necessary for a diagnosis.
There are some things one can do on your own to deal with frequent bowel movements, including:
- Using over the counter medication: Many treatments exists to help relieve frequent diarrhea. It is important to only use them as directed, as not doing so can do more harm than good.
- Avoid caffeine: Products that contain this stimulant, such as coffee, tea, and chocolate can increase the frequency of bowel movements. Stopping the consumption of these products may help relieve symptoms of diarrhea
- Limit sugar intake: High sugar foods such as soda, cereals, and sweets lead to unwanted cramping and increased stools. Cutting down the amount eaten will help control symptoms.
- Stay hydrated: Adequate water consumption is important for bowel regulation. During times of frequent bowel movements, a lot of fluid is lost, which may lead to electrolyte imbalances in the body. Sugary drinks should be avoided.
- Limit milk products: Lactose can lead to gastrointestinal upset, so it may be a good idea to avoid products containing milk. Other calcium-rich foods include broccoli, turnip greens, tofu, and salmon.
- Limit food intake: Eating smaller meals and eating more frequently has been shown to help ease the digestive effort required by the GI system.
- Keep a food diary: By keeping a record of all the foods you’ve eaten throughout the day, you may be able to identify which foods are causing your particular case of frequent bowel movements.