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Bowel Habit

What is a good bowel habit?

Bowel habit is the term used for how often you have bowel movements. There is no “best” number of daily or weekly bowel movements. Some people have a bowel movement twice a day and others twice a week. What’s more important than having frequent bowel movements is having regular and soft bowel movements. If the number of bowel movements you have stays about the same from day to day, and your bowel movements are soft enough to pass without straining, then you have good bowel habits.

What causes changes in bowel habits?

Most people have diarrhea or constipation, from time to time. For example, some foods, like nuts and corn, may make your bowel movements loose.

You are more likely to have constipation if:

  • You don’t eat enough fiber.
  • You don’t drink enough fluids.
  • You don’t exercise regularly.
  • You overuse some types of laxatives.
  • You take medicine that can cause constipation.

These temporary changes usually are not a sign of a serious medical problem. However, a change in bowel habit that does not go away may be a sign of a problem.

What are signs of a problem?

Symptoms that may signal a problem include:

  • Any change in your bowel habits that lasts for 2 weeks or more
  • A change in the texture of stools–for example, stools that are much harder or looser
  • A change in the color of stools, for example, much paler or very dark
  • Stools that are narrower than before and stay that way for 2 to 4 weeks
  • Bowel movements that float and look fatty or greasy
  • Bowel movements that are painful or hard to pass
  • Stomach cramps, pain, bloating, and no bowel movement for more than 3 or 4 days
  • Blood in the stools, on your clothes, or on toilet paper

If you have one or more of these changes and they do not go away, tell your healthcare provider.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • You may need to increase the amount of fiber in your diet.
    • You can increase your fiber by eating 2 cups of fruit, 2 and 1/2 cups of vegetables, and at least 3 servings of whole-grain breads and cereals each day. Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day.
    • To prevent gas, increase fiber slowly, adding more fiber every couple of days. If you don’t have that much appetite, try fiber supplement capsules or drinks that contain psyllium, bran, or methylcellulose. There are many brands.
  • Try sitting on the toilet at certain times every day. Having a routine helps your brain and body learn when to have a bowel movement. When you have the urge to go to the bathroom, don’t ignore it.
  • If you have constipation and want to use a laxative, ask your healthcare provider to suggest the best laxative for you.
  • Be sure you get some exercise every day. For example, walk every day or if you have joints that hurt, try exercising in a swimming pool instead.
  • Some medicines can cause diarrhea or constipation. Ask your healthcare provider to review your medicines.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-05-29
Last reviewed: 2014-05-28
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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