Digestive Health

How often should I have a bowel movement?

A Answers (1)

  • ALawrence Friedman, MD, Gastroenterology, answered
    It's not a medical concept, but a myth that you've got to move your bowels each day to be healthy. In fact, as far back as 1909, the British physiologist Sir Arthur Hurst said it wasn't unusual to find healthy people who had a bowel movement three times a day or once every three days. Today, that's still the range that's considered "normal." But many perfectly healthy people don't even fall within this broad range. In 1813, the British physician William Heberden described a patient who "never went but once a month." He also described a patient who relieved himself 12 times a day. Both patients seemed perfectly content with their bowel habits.

    The truth is that everyone experiences variations in how often they move their bowels. Menstruation, vigorous physical exercise, diet, travel, and stress can all cause temporary changes in bowel habits. Going a day without a bowel movement certainly shouldn't be considered constipation. And three movements in a day isn't necessarily diarrhea. More important than the number of bowel movements is the consistency of the stools as they pass, the effort needed to expel them, any associated symptoms, and changes in frequency.
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