What are frequent bowel movements?

Bowel habits, including the number of times a person passes stool each day, vary from individual to individual, so precise criteria for frequent bowel movements do not exist. Having frequent bowel movements means that you are having more bowel movements than usual. Often, frequent bowel movements are accompanied by diarrhea, the passage of loosely formed stool. Diarrhea is a common condition. Adults in the United States average one episode of diarrhea per year, and children average two bouts per year (Source: NDDIC).

Frequent bowel movements may be accompanied by other symptoms in addition to diarrhea, including cramping, bloating, abdominal discomfort, urgency, and possibly nausea and vomiting. Certain foods, some medications, food poisoning, infections, and inflammatory conditions of the digestive tract can all contribute to frequent bowel movements. If an infection is to blame, you may also experience fevers, muscle aches, and a general ill feeling.

Sometimes, reviewing your food or medication intake may help you identify the cause of frequent bowel movements, particularly if you have added something new to your diet, have recently started a new medication, or tend to have frequent bowel movements after eating specific foods. If you have eaten food that may have been contaminated or have traveled to another country, you may have food poisoning or traveler’s diarrhea. If you have had long-term trouble with frequent bowel movements, particularly if the stool is oily, bulky, unusually foul smelling, or bloody, you may have an inflammatory condition of the digestive tract.

Often, frequent bowel movements resolve on their own. However, if they persist or if you experience severe symptoms, medical treatment may be necessary. Also, diarrhea can lead to dehydration, so it is important to make sure you are drinking plenty of clear fluids if you have diarrhea.

In some cases, frequent bowel movements can be associated with conditions that require emergency treatment. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have bloody stool, black or tarry stool, stool with pus, severe abdominal pain, or high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit). Also, diarrhea increases the risk of dehydration, which can have significant complications. Symptoms of severe dehydration require immediate medical care, including decreased urination, dark urine, increased thirst, decreased elasticity of the skin, fatigue, and change in level of consciousness or alertness (such as passing out or unresponsiveness).

If your frequent bowel movements are persistent, worsen instead of improve, or cause you concern, seek prompt medical care.

SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with frequent bowel movements?

Frequent bowel movements may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the digestive tract may also involve other body systems.... Read more about frequent bowel movementssymptoms

CAUSES

What causes frequent bowel movements?

A variety of conditions can cause frequent bowel movements. They may also be related to certain foods or medications.... Read more about frequent bowel movementscauses

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Digestive System


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