Q. I move my bowels every three days and I wonder if this is normal?
A. Although the advertisements for commercial laxatives would have you think otherwise, there is a wide range of what is normal in terms of how frequently people move their bowels. For some people, moving their bowels once or twice a day is normal. Others move their bowels only once or twice a week. You should aim for elimination at least every third day; prolonged contact of waste matter with the colon increases your chances of colon cancer.
Constipation is usually temporary and caused by changes in lifestyle or diet: frequent travelers, for example, often experience constipation because of irregular schedules, unfamiliar surroundings and foods, and time pressure. Chronic constipation can have a number of causes; your doctor can recommend a whole series of tests to decide on what the problem actually is. Thyroid malfunction, colonic inflammation, or a tumor can all cause constipation.
Some patients have impaired colonic motility; others have a weakness or malfunction of the pelvic muscles that help evacuate stool from the body. The remedies are as varied as the causes; laxatives are usually only a temporary solution. But biofeedback, pelvic muscle retraining, and even surgery can all help.
Your bowel movements should not be difficult or painful. If you have discomfort when you defecate, if there is blood in your stool, or if you have chronic diarrhea, check with your doctor.
Dr. Marianne Legato, Professor Emerita of Clinical Medicine at Columbia University is an internationally known academic physician, author, lecturer, and specialist in gender-specific medicine. She is founding member of the International Society for Gender Medicine and also the founder and director of The Partnership for Gender-Specific Medicine at Columbia University and its next iteration, The Foundation for Gender-Specific Medicine. These enterprises are the first collaborations between academic medicine and the private sector focused solely on gender-specific medicine: the science of how normal human biology differs between men and women and of how the diagnosis and treatment of disease differs as a function of gender and sex. Her ground breaking textbook on Gender-and Sex Specific Medicine has been published in 2017 in the 3rd edition.
She has published extensively on Gender and Sex Specific Medicine, both scientifically and for the lay public. She is also the founding editor of the journal Gender Medicine, and the Journal Gender and Genome, published for the scientific community. In 1992, Dr. Legato won the American Heart Association’s Blakeslee Award for the best book written for the lay public on cardiovascular disease. She is a practicing internist in New York City and has been listed each year in New York Magazine’s “Best Doctors” since the feature’s inception in 1993.