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Harvard Medical School
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General Medical Questions
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Question : I normally have a bowel movement about two times a week. But sometimes, the time between is even longer. When I do go, it seems like a lot. Or I’ll go a few times in one day. I eat a lot of fiber and exercise 5 times a week. Could I just have a large colo
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The Trusted Source
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Stephen E. Goldfinger, M.D., is the faculty dean for Continuing Education and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is a graduate of Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, and his clinical base is at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

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September 23, 2011
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A:

You would be surprised at how many people have this sort of bowel irregularity.

Still, gastroenterologists consider three or more bowel movements a week normal. The fact that you usually have only two would place you in the “constipation” range.

At a doctor’s visit, you would be asked a set of questions to make sure that your constipation isn’t from something serious, such as a colon cancer that is blocking your bowels. Your doctor might ask:

  • Do you have blood in your stool?
  • Have you noticed any unexplained weight loss?
  • Is the constipation of recent onset?
  • Is the constipation getting worse week by week?

Your doctor might also order a blood test to rule out an underactive thyroid. That could cause a sluggish bowel as well.

If none of these apply to you, I would say your constipation is “functional,” meaning no medical causes that can be identified. This constipation is not caused by a large colon. But the colon might swell over time from of retained stool.

You did not ask about treatment, so I assume you’re not having lower discomfort or pain that is interfering with your daily activities in any way. But if this were the case, try an over-the-counter medicine for relief. There are a range of them: stool softeners (i.e. Colace), “saline” cathartics (i.e. milk of magnesia, Miralax) and stimulant cathartics (i.e. Senokot, Dulcolax). If your symptoms are extreme and won’t go away, talk with a gastroenterologist.

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