While not a typical topic of conversation, your poop can give insight into the overall health of your body.
How often you poop, what your poop looks like, smells like, and its consistency all give clues to the state of your health.
Many people have questions about their bowel movements and wonder if they have a healthy bowel movement pattern.
Your digestive system is an amazingly efficient system of organs and enzymes working together to digest your food, remove the nutrients your body needs, and eliminate waste.
Some factors can get in the way of its efficiency, however.
In this article, we will discuss how often you should be pooping and what things can affect the frequency of your bowel movements.
We will then go over signs that are of concern and what other considerations you should be looking for in your poop.
How Often Should You Poop?
If you are wondering if you are constipated, you are not alone.
In the U.S., there are at least 2.5 million visits to medical professionals each year concerning constipation, and hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on laxatives yearly.
On the other hand, some people worry they use the bathroom too many times throughout the day.
No one frequency fits all. How often you have a bowel movement will be unique to you.
Let’s first look at what things may be affecting the frequency of your bathroom trips.
What Can Affect Your Poop Frequency?
In addition to what you eat, several things can affect the regularity of your bowel movements.
How hydrated you are, your level of activity, age, and several other factors all play a role.
Diet and Fiber Consumption
What you eat affects how often you have a bowel movement.
Eating too much of the following foods can cause constipation:
- Dairy products
- High-fat meals
- Rich desserts
- Sugary treats
It’s good to include high-fiber foods in your diet.
High-fiber foods help move waste through the GI tract.
You may get constipated if you don’t eat enough high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Eating a balanced diet can sometimes be tricky in our fast-paced world but if you can do it, you’ll find yourself having a healthier bowel routine.
Hydration and Fluid Intake
Many people, especially older adults, don’t drink enough water and other fluids to stay hydrated.
Just like it’s hard for you to slide down a dry water slide, it’s hard for your poop to pass through intestines that are not moist.
Drinking enough water and other fluids is important for having healthy bowel movements.
How much water should you be drinking? Well, that’s different for everyone.
A good way to tell if you are drinking enough water is when your urine is odor-free and pale yellow.
Being inactive can contribute to constipation.
Anytime we walk and move around, the muscles in our abdomen contract and relax, which helps our intestines do their job of moving the stool through.
Being confined to a bed or chair for long periods makes it harder for the intestines to do their job, and severe constipation can develop.
Constipation can affect anyone of any age but is a common issue for older adults.
There can be several reasons for this:
- Less physically active than when younger
- Drinking less water
- Poor diet balance
- Medications they may be taking
- Certain health conditions
- Overuse of laxatives
Certain medical conditions and illnesses can affect your bowel patterns.
Neurological problems like stroke, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease can all disrupt some nerves and muscles that affect your digestive tract.
This can lead to the intestines having trouble moving stool.
Endocrine disorders like diabetes and problems with your thyroid can also disrupt your normal bowel movements.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder of the intestines. Its symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.
Surgeries are known to result in constipation for a few different reasons.
One reason is the pain medications and anesthesia that are given.
Another reason is being inactive due to the surgery.
If surgery is performed on the abdomen, the risk for constipation increases significantly. There is also a risk of constipation in the future due to the surgery.
Many medications can completely disrupt your poop patterns.
The following medications can make you constipated:
- Antacids that contain aluminum or calcium
- Iron supplements
- Some allergy medicines (antihistamines)
- Some pain medications (opioids)
- Some blood pressure medications (diuretics)
- Some Parkinson’s medications
- Some seizure medications
Most people think of laxatives as a way to cure constipation.
This can be true for short-term treatment; however, if you take laxatives too often or for too long, your body forgets how to have a normal bowel movement.
The same goes for enemas (methods used to stimulate stool evacuation).
They are great for a quick fix on a rare occasion, but frequent use can lead to your body depending on them to have a bowel movement.
The changes could be attributed to hormonal changes; however, the participants also reported different emotional stressors that could have influenced their bowel movements as well.
When to Be Concerned
The main time to be concerned is when there is a sudden unexplained change in your bowel movements.
It may be caused by something simple such as what you ate, but if the problem persists or if other symptoms accompany it, it’s time to let your medical provider know.
Below is a list of symptoms of when you need to seek medical care.
There is no “one size fits all” for poop.
The size of your poop will depend on your body and how much you eat. It should not be so large that it is uncomfortable to pass.
As a general rule of thumb, a stool that’s size does not easily fit into the toilet’s opening is considered too large.
The shape of your poop should be long, and sausage-like with smooth edges.
Hard pebbles or firm lumpy poop may mean constipation.
Fluffy soft poop with no definition is not solid enough. Liquid poop typically indicates diarrhea.
Firmness or consistency
Your poop should retain its shape but not be solid or completely liquid either. Stools that float in the water or are greasy in appearance require medical attention.
Healthy poop is tawny in color (orange-brown or yellow-brown).
However, the foods you eat can affect the color of your poop. Beets, for example, can make your poop maroon.
Anytime there is a sudden color change, think back on what you recently ate.
Any blood in the stool is abnormal and should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.
Black tarry stools are a medical problem that requires urgent attention.
Black stools can mean you have some bleeding in your digestive tract. Be sure to call your medical provider right away.
How long it takes
Sitting down to poop should not be a long endeavor. A healthy poop will let you know when it’s ready and will come right out without much straining.
A poop that takes a long time, is difficult to push out, or feels like you didn’t empty yourself all the way is a sign of constipation.
Your poop probably doesn’t smell all that great. However, it’s probably a smell you are accustomed to and know is normal for you.
A foul-smelling stool with an unfamiliar smell could be caused by the food you ate or could be a sign of something else going on in your digestive system.
It’s something to take note of, and if it persists or more problems come up, let your doctor know about it.
An especially foul-smelling odor is also concerning.
Now let’s talk about how to know if your poop is a healthy one.
The bristol stool chart was developed by a doctor for how to assess poop. You can use this chart to identify what type of you poop you have.
When to See a Healthcare Professional
Here are some signs that you should see your medical provider right away:
- Bleeding from your rectum
- Blood in your stool
- Not able to pass gas
- Constant abdominal pain
- Lower back pain
- Losing weight without trying
How K Health Can Help
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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Bristol Stool Chart. (n.d.)
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My Plate. (n.d.)
Schuster, B. (et al). Constipation in Older Adults. (2015).
Stools- Foul Smelling. (2020).
Symptoms and Causes of Constipation. (2018).
What is Constipation? (n.d.)