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Normal Bowel Movements – Frequency, Color, Shape, Size, Consistency

Updated on January 10, 2014

Normal bowel movement refers to the frequency and consistency of bowel movement that a person usually has. Though the regularity of bowel movement differs in every individual, it is normal for some to move their bowels 2 to 3 times a day while others do it 3 times a week. Bowel movement is a very important bodily function which could reveal so much about a person’s overall health.

There are various reasons why a person’s normal bowel movement suddenly changes. These changes shouldn’t be ignored as they may signal serious health problems. Certain things can be done to get abnormal bowel movements to back to normal. There are, of course, home-care treatments and lifestyle modifications. But if all these fail, it would be best to visit the doctor to get a definitive diagnosis and employ the most suitable treatment method.

What is considered normal bowel movement?

Normal movement of the bowels considerably varies in every individual, depending on his or her diet, lifestyle, activities and ailments. What is considered normal for one person may not be true for the other. The following are important factors that will help identify normal bowel movement.

  • Frequency

The frequency of defecation is between 3 times a day to 3 times a week. People who move their bowels within this range is said to have normal BM.

  • Consistency

The consistency of stool should be soft and easy to pass. It should have a toothpaste-like consistency that is not hard nor should it be watery.

  • Appearance

Normal stool takes on a sausage-like appearance with a brownish color. It should take the S-form of the colon and slide straight to the toilet bowl.

Stools are the waste products of digestion and exit the body through bowel movement or defecation. Regular bowel movement is important in keeping the colorectal area of the body healthy and clean.

When does bowel movement become abnormal?

Any deviation from the normal defecation of an individual is abnormal. Digestive problems, unhealthy lifestyle, certain medications, weak metabolism and poor diet can turn normal bowel movements abnormal. Bowel movements may also become abnormal as a result of constipation or diarrhea. Abnormal bowel movements can be recognized by the following:

  • Straining

Straining during defecation is an indicator that one’s bowel movement has turned abnormal. The stool has lost its softness as a result of constipation or staying long in the rectum. Affected individuals pass dry, hard and even blood-tinged stools.

  • Extremely foul smell

Abnormal bowel movement also results in extremely foul smell. This could be due to the unhealthy diet or overgrowth of bacteria in the large intestine. Animal fats and processed foods are notorious in causing extremely foul-smelling stools. Moreover, a foul-smelling stool is a hallmark of several health problems like Celiac Disease, Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis and pancreatitis.

  • Long thin stool

Stool shouldn’t be long and thin unless something is obstructing the passageway like tumors or polyps. Aside from these obstructions, long and thin stool could likewise be due to colon cancer which requires immediate medical attention. Having small rabbit pellets stool is another indication of abnormal bowel movement which occurs as a result of dehydration caused by excessive consumption of caffeinated drinks.

  • Black or gray stool

Black stool could be a result of upper gastrointestinal bleeding, although it could also occur if the individual drinks wine or consume beets and blueberries. The stool will also turn black because of a high-iron diet plan. On the other hand, gray stools indicate some blockage, probably a tumor in the gastrointestinal tract.

Middle-aged individuals should take notice of any changes in their normal bowel movements as digestive diseases arise more frequently in older people.

What can be done to have normal bowel movement?

It should be noted that bowel health significantly affects the overall health, so having normal bowel movements is the result of being in the pink of health. The following are the do’s and don’ts to maintain regular bowel movements.


  • Increase fluid intake

Water is a natural stool softener which helps achieve normal stool consistency. It also helps move the stool along the colon to the rectum easily.

  • Eat fiber-rich foods

Fiber provides the needed moisture and bulk to soften stool and make it easy to pass. They can be obtained in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.

  • Boost friendly bacteria in the digestive tract

Good bacteria help in keeping the digestive tract healthy and clean by preventing toxic buildup. It also helps prevent infection.

  • Stay active

Living a physically active lifestyle is essential in keeping normal muscle function. It also helps in managing stress.


  • Don’t hold back the urge to defecate

Holding back the bowels causes stool dehydration and results in hard stool formation.

  • Don’t engage in anal intercourse

Anal intercourse causes the anal sphincter to get out of tone which could eventually result in incontinence.

Normal bowel movement is reflective of a healthy digestive system, so knowing what’s normal and what’s not for an individual is important to help detect health problems early on.


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