For most people, it is normal for bowel movements to occur from three times a day to three times a week; other people may go a week or more without experiencing discomfort or harmful effects. Normal bowel habits are affected by diet. The average American diet includes 12 to 15 grams of fiber per day, although 25 to 30 grams of fiber and about 60 to 80 ounces of fluid daily are recommended for proper bowel function. Exercise is also beneficial to proper function of the colon.
About 80 percent of people suffer from constipation at some time during their lives, and brief periods of constipation are normal. Constipation may be diagnosed if bowel movements occur fewer than three times weekly on an ongoing basis. Widespread beliefs, such as the assumption that everyone should have a movement at least once each day, have led to overuse and abuse of laxatives.
Eating foods high in fiber, including bran, shredded wheat, whole grain breads and certain fruits and vegetables will help provide the 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day recommended for proper bowel function.
More serious causes of constipation include growths or areas of narrowing in the colon, so it is wise to seek the advice of a colon and rectal surgeon when constipation persists. Individuals with spinal cord injuries frequently experience problems with constipation. Constipation may be a symptom of diabetes. Constipation may also be associated with scleroderma, or disorders of the nervous or endocrine systems, including thyroid disease, multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson’s disease.