Whether you like to talk about it or not, everybody poops! However, sometimes you feel your usual frequency pattern change up on you a little bit, which can be unsettling…not to mention, uncomfortable. That might mean the occasional bout with constipation, or it could have you pooping more than the usual for you.
Fola May, PhD, a gastroenterologist at UCLA Health, and Cottonelle partner, explains: “Lifestyle and eating habits can cause a range of bowel movements that differ from person to person. If having more than four bowel movements a day is unusual from what you normally experience, that could be an indicator of a problem—but if it’s not out of the ordinary for you, there’s no need for alarm.”
If you do notice that you’re experiencing more frequent pooping, here are some possible causes as explained by gastroenterologists, who also highlight when you should seek medical attention.
A change in diet
Bowel movements come from what is left in the colon after your body has absorbed all the nutrients it can from the food and beverages you consume. “There’s a gastrocolic reflex that happens after someone eats a meal, and so often a bowel movement is common after breakfast, lunch, or dinner just because having food hit the stomach is another reflux that causes bowel movements,” explains Jill Carnahan, MD, a Colorado-based functional medicine specialist.
You might notice around certain holidays, though, that if you’ve changed your daily or weekly menu, that could be causing your frequent pooping. “Switching your diet can cause frequent, loose stools—for example, after eating a meal with a lot of lactose when you have lactose intolerance,” explains Dr. May.
You’re consuming more fiber than usual
Along with changes in your diet comes the possible consumption of more fibrous foods. Fiber is the parts of food, namely plant foods, that the Mayo Clinic’s blog explains the body isn’t able to digest or absorb.
Foods high in fiber include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes. “If you’re consuming more of these foods, like whole grains, for example, higher fiber intake can cause a change in stool,” explains Dr. May.
You have food poisoning or a food allergy
Acute changes in bowel habits can occur when you have food poisoning caused by consuming food with viruses or bacteria like Salmonella, E. coli, or Listeria.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, symptoms can include diarrhea for anywhere from 24 hours to one week. And because it can go away so quickly, many individuals who experience frequent pooping for 24 hours or less, may just assume they have food poisoning. “Food allergies can also be a cause of frequent bowel movements,” explains Dr. May.
In either case, stay well hydrated.
You started taking a new medication
Did you recently start taking a new medication or even a new supplement? That may be the culprit if you’re pooping more than usual. “A medication or supplement that is increasing the osmotic gradient, or in other words the water content in the bowel, like magnesium, vitamin C, Senna, or even aloe, can cause more frequent bowel movements,” says Dr. Carnahan.
Before stopping the medication or supplement, she recommends talking with your doctor to figure out the best course of action.
You may be more seriously ill
If you’re noticing that you’re pooping more frequently, and it’s been longer than a week—or, you’re experiencing blood in your stool, fever, or severe abdominal pain, along with nausea and vomiting mucus, explains Ali Rezaie, MD, medical director of the Gastrointestinal (GI) Motility Program at Cedars-Sinai, Los Angeles, CA, this could be a sign of a bigger disease like IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease, and you should speak to your doctor immediately.
When to see a doctor if you’re pooping more than usual
“If you’re experiencing a sudden onset of frequent bowel movements that last more than one to two weeks, it’s important to seek medical treatment,” explains Dr. May. “These symptoms can be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, a malabsorption process, or, in some cases, colorectal cancer.”
If you have symptoms concerning colorectal cancer (the third most common cancer diagnosed in the U.S.), including new diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, or rectal bleeding, you should have diagnostic testing with colonoscopy regardless of your age, explains Dr. May.