Whether we admit it or not, very often our day is defined by our bowel movement and whether our morning ablution has been a peaceful experience or a source of “extreme pressure” and irritation. With so much riding on daily bowel movements, which can decide your mood for the rest of the day, it is vital to know more about them.

Bowel Movement and Constipation

Our body functions in an amazing manner—and highly efficiently. The food that we consume is extracted to remove all the liquids and nutrients from it within a few hours, and then is processed in the bloodstream; the remaining is left over for disposal. This waste travels the length of both intestines, which equates to approximately 20 feet, and then it is stored in the colon temporarily, where further water is removed from it. Then, within a day or two, the residue is excreted from the body via the bowels—this is called a bowel movement.

What is constipation?

Constipation does not have a universal definition per se—it means different things to different people. For instance, infrequent stools is constipation for some people, while experiencing difficulty or straining while passing stools is constipation for others, or some consider an incomplete emptying of the bowels as constipation. The causative factor for each of these types of constipation is different, and thus the treatment for each should also differ.

Normal bowel movements vs. constipation

Differentiating between what would be considered normal bowel movements and constipation depends on a lot of factors. Many are under the misconception that having a daily movement of the bowel equates to a normal bowel movement, but that may not be the case for everyone. One’s age, daily food consumption, activity level, and the regularity of the bowels are some of the factors that can cause bowel movements either three times a day or even three each week, and both can be considered normal.

Constipation occurs when the fecal material is still sitting in the colon and the stool becomes harder, thus making it very difficult to pass the stools. Therefore, what is considered normal is when the stools can pass easily, without any strain, and when they are neither too hard nor too soft.

A number of individuals have a bowel movement on average from three times a week to 21 times a week and this is considered normal. This number may decrease with age. But in medical terms, when there are fewer than three bowel movements in a week, it is considered to be constipation, and when there is less than one bowel movement per week, it is categorized as severe constipation.

Causes of constipation

The causes of constipation are many, from the lifestyle we lead to the food consumed (less water and less fiber are usually causative agents). Lack of enough exercise, or taking certain medications, or maybe certain diseases, such as stroke, depression, or diseases of the abdomen and nervous system, can also lead to constipation.

Thus, bowel movement and constipation are connected, but very difficult to define specifically.