How Often Should You Poop?

What's normal tends to vary from person to person.

There isn't really a magic number for how often you should poop. However, most people fall within the general range of three times a day to three times a week.

According to one 2018 study, adults in the United States tend to have bowel movements between three and 21 times per week. A 2010 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology found the same frequency range: between three times per day and three times per week.

However, many factors can influence how many times you use the bathroom per day, from your diet to your overall health.

A man holds a roll of toilet paper in the bathroom.

boonchai wedmakawand / Getty Images

How Stool Consistency Can Affect Frequency

How often you poop is often related to stool consistency. If you have fewer than three bowel movements in one week, you may have constipation. Constipation can cause stools that are hard, dry, or pebbly, and may be difficult or painful to pass. You might feel bloated or have abdominal pain. And after going to the bathroom, you may still feel as though you need to poop.

Having looser stools or diarrhea may lead to more trips to the bathroom. If you have more than three loose stools in one day, you may have diarrhea. Diarrhea may last only one day or continue for weeks, depending on the type:

  • Acute diarrhea: Generally lasts one or two days
  • Persistent diarrhea: Spans between two and four weeks
  • Chronic diarrhea: Persists for at least four weeks, either continually or on and off

Your bowel patterns are unique to you. If you think something might be off, make note of whether you’re using the bathroom more often, if the consistency of your poops is harder or more liquid than usual, or if you have new pain or discomfort. If you’re concerned, reach out to a healthcare provider.

What Can Affect How Often You Poop?

Many factors can affect bowel movement frequency, including diet, hormones, exercise, medication, and certain illnesses.

Diet

What you eat and drink can affect your digestion. For example, a lack of fiber in your diet can make stool more difficult to pass, causing constipation.

Food allergies and intolerances can also impair digestion. When you have a food intolerance, your body has difficulty digesting that particular food. This can lead to diarrhea or constipation. One review found that 30% of children with lactose intolerance experienced constipation.

Diarrhea can be caused by:

  • An allergy to cow’s milk, eggs, soy, seafood, or cereal grains 
  • Lactose intolerance, a sensitivity to lactose (a sugar found in dairy products)
  • Fructose intolerance, a sensitivity to fructose (a sugar found in fruits, fruit juices, and honey, as well as high-fructose corn syrup)
  • Sugar alcohols like xylitol and sorbitol, which are sometimes in sugar-free products

What you drink can also affect stool consistency and frequency. Staying well-hydrated promotes healthy bowel movements, while not drinking enough water can contribute to constipation.

Some beverages can either stimulate or slow digestion. For example, coffee can stimulate bowel movements. Research shows that caffeinated coffee can increase activity in the colon 60% more than water and 23% more than decaf coffee.

Alcohol can contribute to both diarrhea and constipation. What effect alcohol has depends on the type of alcohol and how much you drink. Studies show that drinks with more than 15% alcohol tend to slow digestion and can cause constipation, while drinks with less alcohol—like wine and beer—tend to speed up digestion and can cause diarrhea.

Hormones

Bowel habits tend to vary throughout the menstrual cycle. One 2014 study found that 73% of healthy, premenopausal adult women with no known digestive conditions experienced gastrointestinal symptoms before or during their period. Abdominal pain and diarrhea were the most common symptoms.

Pregnancy can also alter bathroom habits. Studies show that during menstruation and pregnancy, higher levels of hormone-like compounds called prostaglandins can contribute to looser stools, while increased progesterone can contribute to constipation.

Stress hormones can also affect bowel movements. Your gut and brain are connected: Your gut influences your brain, and your brain influences your gut. This is known as the gut-brain axis. Psychological factors like depression and anxiety can also alter your bowel habits.

Exercise

Lack of exercise can affect regularity. Periods of inactivity can slow your digestive system and reduce your number of daily bowel movements. You might experience this if you’re stuck in bed during a long illness, recovering from surgery, or if you spend most of your day sitting.

Exercise can improve digestion by helping food move through your large intestine more quickly. One 2015 study found that regular physical activity improved gastrointestinal symptoms in women with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Medication

Constipation is a common side effect of many medications, including antacids, antidepressants, antihistamines, diuretics, and iron supplements. Some medicines, like certain antibiotics, can have the opposite effect, causing you to pass liquid stool.

If you notice a change in bowel movements and think it might be due to a medication, reach out to a healthcare professional. A pharmacist might be able to recommend an alternative medication or an over-the-counter remedy.

Illnesses

Some medical conditions, such as diabetes and other conditions that affect the muscles and nerves, may cause chronic constipation. Other conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), can cause both constipation and diarrhea.

Other medical conditions that can change bowel movements include:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Celiac disease
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)  
  • Diverticulitis
  • Gallbladder stones
  • Endocrine disorders, including hyperthyroidism and diabetes
  • Colon polyps

Infections and viruses can also change bowel habits. Traveler's diarrhea is often caused by bacterial or parasitic infections from contaminated food and water. Approximately 30-60% of travelers to resource-limited destinations, including sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and South Asia, develop Traveler's diarrhea.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you can reduce the risk of diarrhea-causing infections while traveling by:

  • Washing your hands often
  • Choosing hot, cooked foods and avoiding buffets 
  • Choosing factory-sealed beverages and avoiding ice

You may also experience diarrhea as a result of food poisoning. Many foods can carry harmful germs like Salmonella and Listeria, including raw eggs, meat, dairy products, fruits, vegetables, or seafood.

How to Stay Regular

Shifting some daily habits can promote healthy bowel movements. Here are a few tips for reducing constipation:

  • Include plenty of fiber-rich foods in your diet, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Keep a filled water bottle nearby to help you stay hydrated.
  • Fit in regular physical activity. It doesn't need to be difficult. Choose an activity you enjoy, whether walking, surfing, or yoga.
  • Practice stress-relieving techniques.
  • Wash your hands regularly.
  • Clean fruits and vegetables before eating them, and thoroughly cook meat, fish, and eggs.

When to See a Healthcare Provider About Your Poop

If your diarrhea or constipation continues for more than one week—or if you have other persistent bowel concerns—it may be a good idea to talk to a healthcare provider.

Seek out care if you experience any of the following:

  • Constant constipation or diarrhea
  • Weight loss not explained by other factors
  • Painful bowel movements
  • Pain in your abdomen or lower back
  • Bloody stools
  • Vomiting

Signs you should seek medical attention right away include black or tarry stool or sudden thin poops. Severe pain or fever with constipation or diarrhea, as well as severe dehydration, are also red flags.

A Quick Review

Everyone's poop habits are different, and having occasional bouts of constipation or diarrhea is generally nothing to worry about. Certain lifestyle changes, like adding more fiber to your diet and exercising regularly, can support your digestive system.

However, if you notice changes in your habits or usual stool appearance, it may be a good idea to talk with a healthcare provider about your symptoms. Regular bouts of constipation or diarrhea, bloody stools, or symptoms like fever or severe pain can be a sign of an underlying issue with your digestive system or overall health. 

Was this page helpful?
Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Foster JA, Rinaman L, Cryan JF. Stress & the gut-brain axis: Regulation by the microbiomeNeurobiol Stress. 2017;7:124-136. doi:10.1016/j.ynstr.2017.03.001

  2. Johannesson E, Ringström G, Abrahamsson H, Sadik R. Intervention to increase physical activity in irritable bowel syndrome shows long-term positive effectsWorld J Gastroenterol. 2015;21(2):600-608. doi:10.3748/wjg.v21.i2.600

  3. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Definition & facts for diarrhea.

  4. National Institute on Aging. Concerned about constipation?

  5. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Definition & facts for constipation.

  6. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. Symptoms & causes of diarrhea.

  7. Rao SS, Welcher K, Zimmerman B, Stumbo P. Is coffee a colonic stimulant? Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 1998;10(2):113-118. doi:10.1097/00042737-199802000-00003

  8. Chiba T, Phillips SF. Alcohol-related diarrheaAddict Biol. 2000;5(2):117-125. doi:10.1080/13556210050003702

  9. Werth BL, Christopher SA. Potential risk factors for constipation in the communityWorld J Gastroenterol. 2021;27(21):2795-2817. doi:10.3748/wjg.v27.i21.2795

  10. Grad S, Abenavoli L, Dumitrascu DL. The effect of alcohol on gastrointestinal motilityRev Recent Clin Trials. 2016;11(3):191-195. doi:10.2174/1574887111666160815103251

  11. Bernstein MT, Graff LA, Avery L, Palatnick C, Parnerowski K, Targownik LE. Gastrointestinal symptoms before and during menses in healthy womenBMC Women’s Health. 2014;14(1):14. doi:10.1186/1472-6874-14-14

  12. ALQUDAH M, AL-SHBOUL O, AL-DWAIRI A, AL-U’DAT DG, ALQUDAH A. Progesterone inhibitory role on gastrointestinal motilityPhysiol Res. 2022;71(2):193-198. doi:10.33549/physiolres.934824

  13. Judkins TC, Dennis-Wall JC, Sims SM, Colee J, Langkamp-Henken B. Stool frequency and form and gastrointestinal symptoms differ by day of the menstrual cycle in healthy adult women taking oral contraceptives: a prospective observational studyBMC Women’s Health. 2020;20(1):136. doi:10.1186/s12905-020-01000-x

  14. Huang R, Ho SY, Lo WS, Lam TH. Physical activity and constipation in hong kong adolescentsPLoS One. 2014;9(2):e90193. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0090193

  15. Bonetto S, Fagoonee S, Battaglia E, Grassini M, Saracco GM, Pellicano R. Recent advances in the treatment of irritable bowel syndromePol Arch Intern Med. 2021;131(7-8):709-715. doi:10.20452/pamw.16067

  16. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Digestive diseases.

  17. MedlinePlus. Small bowel bacterial overgrowth.

  18. MedlinePlus. Digestive diseases.

  19. Chiejina M, Samant H. Viral diarrhea. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  20. Dunn N, Okafor CN. Travelers diarrhea. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  21. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Traveler's diarrhea.

  22. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Foods that can cause food poisoning.

  23. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Symptoms & causes of constipation.

  24. American Cancer Society. Colorectal cancer signs and symptoms.

Related Articles