Bowel movements differ from person to person. People may poop a few times per week or several times per day. A sudden change in bowel movement frequency can occur due to stress, a change in diet or exercise, or an underlying illness.
If bowel movements return to normal within a few days, this should not be a cause for concern. However, persistently pooping much more than normal could signal an underlying medical condition that may require treatment.
This article outlines nine potential causes of needing to poop more frequently. It also provides information on treatment options and when to see a doctor for gastrointestinal discomfort.
Below are some potential causes of pooping more often than normal.
A change in diet can lead to a change in bowel movements. For example, consuming more fiber helps food move through the digestive system. As such, a person who adds more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains to their diet may find they need to poop more often.
Drinks with a lower alcohol content include beer and wine. After consuming these drinks, people may find they need to poop more often or more urgently. This effect should go away after the alcohol leaves their system.
A 2017 review suggests low-intensity exercise may decrease the time it takes for food to move through the gut. This could result in more regular bowel movements.
Some people report a need to poop during or immediately after physical activity. Strenuous exercise has a greater impact on the body and may cause the following symptoms:
Stress can have a significant impact on gut function and health. It speeds up the movement of food through the large intestine, while persistent stress could trigger a need to empty the bowels more often.
People may also report a greater need to use the bathroom if they experience acute stress or anxiety. This is due to the body’s gut-brain axis — the network that connects the central nervous system with the gastrointestinal (GI) tract nerves. The gut-brain axis is responsible for the “butterflies” a person feels in their stomach when they are anxious.
The definition of diarrhea is 3 or more loose, watery stools per day. Other symptoms may include:
- an urgent need to use the bathroom
- loss of control of bowel movements
- abdominal pain
Diarrhea can occur as a result of a viral, bacterial, or parasitic infection. The exact cause may not be obvious in some cases.
According to a 2014 study, people are more likely to experience abdominal pain and diarrhea in the days leading up to a period.
People who report emotional symptoms and fatigue before or during their period were more likely to experience multiple GI symptoms. The researchers conclude this may be due to shared pathways between the brain, gut, and hormones.
These symptoms that people experience typically disappear once their period finishes.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic GI disorder that may cause the following symptoms:
The cause of IBS is unclear, though some possible reasons include:
- hypersensitivity of the nerves within the gut
- food passing through the gut too quickly or too slowly
- genetic factors
Common food triggers for IBS include:
Food intolerances occur when a person is unable to digest certain foods properly. Symptoms include:
- abdominal pain or discomfort
Some examples of food intolerances include:
- lactose intolerance, where a person is unable to break down lactose in milk and dairy products
- fructose intolerance, in which a person is unable to break down the fruit sugar fructose
- non-celiac gluten sensitivity, where a person is unable to break down gluten proteins in cereal grains
Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes chronic inflammation of the GI tract.
The symptoms vary from person to person, partially depending on the part of the GI tract affected. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- an urgent need to empty the bowels
- a feeling of incomplete bowel emptying
- persistent diarrhea
- rectal bleeding
- abdominal cramps and pain
According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, there is no clear cause of Crohn’s disease, though genetic and environmental factors are likely to play a role.
The treatment for more frequent pooping depends on the underlying cause. If a person has an underlying medical condition, a doctor will need to treat this to alleviate symptoms.
However, people may also benefit from more general treatments.
For example, the following options could help someone with acute diarrhea:
- over-the-counter (OTC) anti-diarrheal medications
- sports drinks, or rehydration solutions to help prevent dehydration
- avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and sweeteners
- avoiding fatty, spicy, or dairy foods
A person who suspects their diet causes them to poop more frequently may wish to keep a food diary. This can help them recognize foods that may affect their bowel habits. Once a person identifies their trigger foods, they should avoid or limit those foods.
A need to poop more often than usual is not necessarily a cause for concern. However, a person should see a doctor if they experience any of the following symptoms:
- abdominal pain
- diarrhea that lasts more than 2 days
- pooping 6 times or more in 24 hours
- poop that is black or contains blood
- nausea or vomiting
- a fever of 102oF or higher
- symptoms of dehydration
These symptoms could indicate a serious underlying medical problem.
It is not always possible to stop the triggers of more frequent bowel movements. However, the following tips may help reduce the risk of digestive issues.
Increasing fiber intake
A person who consumes plenty of fiber can promote more regular bowel movements. People should consume more vegetables, whole grains, and pulses.
It is important to increase dietary fiber intake gradually and drink plenty of water. This will help prevent constipation.
People who experience stress-induced bowel issues may benefit from the following activities:
- relaxation therapy
- talking therapy
Practicing good hygiene
The following tips can reduce a person’s risk of contracting bacteria and viruses that can cause gastric upset and diarrhea:
- washing hands thoroughly after bathroom visits
- washing hands thoroughly before preparing and eating food
- cooking meats thoroughly
- avoiding sharing personal items, such as:
- eating utensils
A change in diet, exercise, or stress levels can make people need to poop more often. This should not be of concern if they are otherwise healthy. Typically, a person’s bowel habits should return to normal within a few days.
However, people should see a doctor if the need to poop more often accompanies other symptoms, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, or fever. These could indicate an underlying medical condition that requires treatment.