In most cases, there isn’t need to, you know, have a full-blown poo panic. However, Sarah Robbins, MD, MSc, FRCPC, a gastroenterologist, gut health expert, and founder of Well Sunday, explains it’s important to take note of the signs your body tells you that your bathroom schedule is off to determine the root cause of your GI-related woes. Ahead we delve into the potential culprits causing the back up and the best ways to get your regular pooping routine back on track.
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Signs of a healthy pooping schedule
According to Dr. Robbins, defining a “normal” pooping schedule is nearly impossible, as it can drastically vary from individual to individual. “It can be ‘normal’ for someone to have a bowel movement three times a day or as infrequently as three times a week,” Dr. Robbins says.
This is because frequency and timing of bathroom visits can be influenced by many factors, such as age, diet, fluid intake, physical activity, medications, medical conditions, and even stress levels, the gut health expert explains. That said, Dr. Robbins notes that although there isn’t a universally accepted “normal” bowel habit schedule, there are some general patterns and guidelines you can reference.
“It can be ‘normal’ for someone to have a bowel movement three times a day or as infrequently as three times a week,” Dr. Robbins says.
Regular vs. irregular bowel movements
Dr. Robbins looks for two key components for determining regular bowel movements:
- Good frequency: A bowel movement three times a day, or as infrequently as three times a week, as previously noted
- Ideal consistency: Type three and four feces, according to The Bristol Stool Chart
Conversely, signs of abnormal bowel movements are:
- Irregular frequency: Less than three bowel movements per week—constipation—or more than three watery bowel movements per day—diarrhea—for an extended period
- Extremes in consistency: chronic presence of very hard or very loose stools
That said, irregular bowel movements can also result in other symptoms, such as blood in the stool, severe abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, or persistent changes in bowel habits, she says. What’s more, Dr. Robbins reiterates that everyone will have their own definition of a “usual” pattern. “The key is in understanding your normal. A significant change from your usual pattern in terms of both stool frequency and consistency may indicate that something is wrong,” she says.
14 signs your body is telling you your bathroom schedule is off
According to Dr. Robbins, these are the telltale signs your body is telling you your bathroom schedule might be off:
Excessive gas: Occasional bloating and gas are normal, but consistent or excessive bloating could indicate irregular bowel habits or other digestive issues.
Irregular stool consistency: The Bristol Stool Chart categorizes stool into seven types. Types three and four are considered normal. Consistently having hard, pellet-like stools (type one) or watery, loose stools (type seven) indicates irregularity.
Straining: Needing to strain consistently during bowel movements might indicate constipation or other underlying issues.
Feelings of incomplete evacuation: Regularly feeling like you haven’t fully emptied your bowels after a movement might be a sign that your schedule is off. This is a common symptom of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Altered frequency: A significant change in how often you have bowel movements, either more frequent or less frequent than your usual pattern.
Stomach noises: While some stomach gurgling is normal, particularly loud or persistent noises might indicate irregularity or indigestion.
Abdominal discomfort: Mild and consistent abdominal discomfort can signal irregular bowel movements or other digestive imbalances.
Bad breath:Persistent bad breath, despite good oral hygiene, can sometimes be linked to digestive issues.
Changes in appetite:A sudden loss of appetite or feeling full quickly might be linked to digestive irregularities.
Fatigue: While fatigue can be caused by a multitude of factors, persistent tiredness might indicate issues with nutrient absorption or other digestive problems.
Weight changes: Unexplained weight loss or gain could be linked to changes in digestion or absorption.
Mood changes:The gut-brain connection is strong. As such, disruptions in the gut, like irregular bowel movements, can sometimes affect mood and mental well-being.
Changes in skin appearance: Conditions like acne, rosacea, or eczema can sometimes be linked to gut health and irregular bowel habits.
Frequent headaches: Some individuals with irregular bowel habits or other digestive issues might experience more frequent headaches.
4 common culprits of constipation
Dr. Robbins explains there’s a bevy of reasons why your bathroom schedule can go out of sorts. “Changes in bowel habits can be influenced by a wide variety of factors, ranging from dietary and lifestyle changes to underlying medical conditions,” she says. That said, she breaks it down into four main categories that can typically lead to constipation: dietary changes, lifestyle changes, medications, and medical conditions.
In terms of dietary changes, Dr. Robbins explains that fluctuating fiber intake can result in either constipation (a low-fiber diet) or increased bowel movements (an extremely high-fiber diet). Additionally, she notes that other common food-related culprits of irregular bowel movements include: dairy products (can trigger lactose intolerance or sensitivities), caffeine (can increase bowel movements), alcohol (can irritate the gut), and some artificial sweeteners (sorbitol and mannitol, found in some sugar-free products, can cause diarrhea for some).
Common food-related culprits of irregular bowel movements include: dairy products, caffeine, alcohol, and some artificial sweeteners.
When it comes to lifestyle changes, Dr. Robbins says changes in physical activity can play a role in bathroom regularity. “Regular exercise can promote healthy bowel function, while a sedentary lifestyle can lead to constipation,” she says. Travel and stress can affect bowel habits, too, and same goes for medications. This includes certain antacids, blood pressure drugs, antidepressants, painkillers (especially opioids), iron supplements, and some antihistamines, Dr. Robbins says.
Lastly, several medical conditions can impact bowel regularity. This includes—but is not limited to—irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), celiac disease, gastroenteritis, diverticulitis, neurological conditions, gallbladder issues, aging, surgeries, and pregnancy, to name a few.
Though irregular bowel movements are common and can be caused by various reasons, Dr. Robbins says it’s best to consult a medical professional for a proper diagnosis, especially if symptoms may indicate signs of an underlying condition (think severe pain, blood in stool, persistent changes, symptoms of bowel obstruction, and fever, to name a few).
Easy ways to promote regularity
If your irregular bowel movements aren’t severe, there are a few at-home remedies that can help normalize your schedule. Some of Dr. Robbins’ suggestions include gradually increasing fiber intake (by consuming whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts), adding a dietary fiber supplement (such as ground flaxseed, chia seeds, or bran) to your diet, staying well-hydrated, exercising regularly, establishing a pooping routine (by trying to go to the bathroom at the same time every day), avoiding delays when feeling the urge to go, eating probiotic-rich, fermented foods (think yogurt, kefir, and kimchi), drinking warm liquids first thing in the morning (like herbal tea or lemon water), and practicing relaxation techniques (such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga).
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