Causes of frequent bowel movements

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on January 10, 2020. Written by Kathryn Wall. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Regular bowel movements contribute to good overall health by eliminating waste from the body. On the other hand, bowel movements that occur more frequently than usual may not only be uncomfortable (and inconvenient), but may also indicate a health condition that could require treatment. For example, one of the most serious conditions that could potentially be the culprit is colon cancer, which can affect bowel function and may come with symptoms like persistent diarrhea, stomach pain, or a change in bowel habits.


To screen for colon cancer, consider trying our easy-to-use, at-home colon cancer test.


So if you’re experiencing more bowel movements than normal, here’s a look at what causes frequent bowel movements, possible remedies that may help, and more.

Let’s start by discussing what frequent bowel movements are in the first place.

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Defining “frequent bowel movements”

Because everyone passes stool at a different rate (typically ranging from 3 times per day to 3 times a week, according to research), there isn’t a quantified definition for frequent bowel movements that applies to everyone. But if you’re passing stool more often than what’s normal for you, then you may be experiencing frequent bowel movements —and it’s worth bringing this up to your healthcare provider.

It's also a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider if you're feeling pain in your gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) or if you’re experiencing acute diarrhea. Both of these are potential signs of a deeper health issue at hand, which is why it's so important to talk with your provider.

Common causes of frequent bowel movements

Hyperthyroidism

Also known as an overactive thyroid, hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid gland produces more thyroid hormone than what the body needs. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include frequent bowel movements, diarrhea, muscle weakness, rapid heartbeat, and/or shaky hands.


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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms that affect the bowel and digestive tract such as frequent bowel movements, abdominal pain, bloating, cramping, diarrhea, and constipation. Irritable bowel syndrome cannot be cured; however, you may be able to prevent or manage symptoms through medication, dietary changes (as recommended by your healthcare provider), and stress relief.

Physical activity like running

Running can contribute to regular bowel movements and relieve constipation due to improved blood flow, circulation, and digestive processes. If you recently started running, it’s possible you may experience more frequent daily bowel movements, especially if you previously experienced them only a few times per week.

Caffeine consumption

Caffeine is a natural diuretic that increases urination and bowel movements. Caffeine stimulates muscle activity in the large intestine to allow for the regular passing of stool through the colon. However, too much caffeine may lead to abdominal pain and diarrhea. If you recently increased your caffeine intake, try cutting back or swap out stronger sources of caffeine like coffee with green or black tea.

Certain medications

Some medications may induce more frequent bowel movements as a side effect. These medications include antacids, laxatives, and stool softeners. If your bowel movements become more frequent after starting a new medicine or prescription medication, talk with your healthcare provider to learn what steps you can take next.

Colon cancer

In some cases, a change in bowel frequency and movement may be associated with colon cancer. If you’re suffering from any of the early signs of bowel cancer, consider speaking with your healthcare provider as soon as possible. They may help you better understand your symptoms and who is at risk of colon cancer, and recommend next steps you can take.

Seeking medical care for frequent bowel movements

Changes to your bowel movement frequency are often temporary and may resolve on their own. However, it may be time to seek medical care if your bowel movements have become more frequent and/or if they are painful or uncomfortable.

It’s a good idea to make an appointment with your healthcare provider right away if you experience any of the following symptoms with frequent bowel movements:

  • Blood in the stool
  • Black-colored stool
  • Stool that is pencil-thin
  • Fever or weight loss that accompanies diarrhea
  • Severe or debilitating abdominal pain
  • Vomiting blood or a dark substance resembling coffee grounds
  • Changes in bowel movement frequency that last longer than one to two weeks

Remedies for frequent bowel movements

If you’re experiencing frequent bowel movements, making healthy changes to your diet may help achieve more regular bowel movements. Consider drinking more water, eat more foods high in fiber, and reduce your intake of sugar, processed foods, alcohol, and caffeine. Staying physically active and getting plenty of sleep may also help contribute to more regular bowel movements.


Frequent bowel movements are a possible symptom of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). To check your thyroid hormone levels from the comfort of home, take the Everlywell at-home Thyroid Test. Collecting your sample and sending it to a lab for testing is easy, and you can conveniently view your results on our secure, online platform.


References

1. Mitsuhashi S, Ballou S, Jiang ZG, et al. Characterizing Normal Bowel Frequency and Consistency in a Representative Sample of Adults in the United States (NHANES). Am J Gastroenterol. 2018;113(1):115-123. doi:10.1038/ajg.2017.213

2. Frequent Bowel Movements. Cleveland Clinic. National Library of Medicine. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

3. Hyperthyroidism (Overactive Thyroid). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

4. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

5. Irritable bowel syndrome. Womenshealth.gov. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

6. Runner's diarrhea: How can I prevent it? URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

7. Frequent bowel movements. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

8. Treatment of Fecal Incontinence. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. URL. Accessed January 10, 2020.

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