What are frequent bowel movements?

Frequent bowel movements is a condition in which a person defecates (eliminates waste from the bowel) more often than usual. There is no “normal” number of bowel movements. Most people have 0-4 bowel movements a week, but the frequency can range from three times a day to three times a week. To say that a person’s bowel movements have become more frequent is based on an increase in that person’s usual pattern, not on a standard definition that applies to everyone.

The two main bowel movement conditions are constipation (fewer than three bowel movements per week) and diarrhea (more than three movements of loose stools per day).

Who is affected by frequent bowel movements?

Frequent bowel movements occur in both males and females of any age.

What causes frequent bowel movements?

Some cases of frequent bowel movements last for a short time only and are not a cause for concern. These can be caused by digestive upset from eating spoiled, fatty or spicy food, a food that is not tolerated, or an intestinal “bug” that clears in a day or two.

Other possible causes of frequent bowel movements include an increase in physical exercise, certain medications like antibiotics or metformin, or a change in the diet (more fiber, water, fats or sugars). Bowel movements may return to the usual after the person adapts to these changes or makes modifications to his or her diet.

When the person has other symptoms to go along with the greater number of bowel movements, there may be other causes, including the following:

  • Bacterial infection
  • C. difficile infection (which can be serious if untreated)
  • Viral infection
  • Parasitic infection, such as from worms or protozoa
  • Diverticulitis (the small pockets along the wall of the colon fill with stagnant fecal material and become inflamed)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (a group of disorders, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, that cause irritation and swelling of the digestive tract)
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Celiac disease (an autoimmune disease that causes sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye or barley)
  • Cancer of the colon or elsewhere in the digestive tract
  • Food allergies
  • Gallbladder problems
  • Lactose intolerance (the inability to digest lactose, the sugar primarily found in milk and dairy products)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (a disorder of the colon or lower bowel with symptoms that include abdominal pains or cramps)
  • Side effects of medications (including antacids, laxatives, stool softeners)
  • Foods and beverages, including certain herbs and herbal teas, alcohol and caffeine
  • Use of antibiotics, which can upset normal bacteria in the gut
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Complications of intestinal or abdominal surgery
  • Complications of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy