Delayed Bowel Movement – Causes of Delays in Passing Stools

Bowel movements are not always coordinated according to a specific time slot on a regular basis. With proper bowel training, some people will experience the urge to have a bowel movement at approximately the same time daily. For others a bowel movement may come at any time in the day or within a few days of the last stool. This may not always be the same time on a regular basis. Despite these differences in bowel habit among individuals, there are instances where a bowel movement may be delayed. This occurs for various reasons.

Normal Timing for Bowel Movements

As discussed, there is no specific time interval for bowel movements that can be deemed normal for all individuals. Some people may have a bowel movement twice a day while others only have a bowel movement every second or even third day. These variations are considered normal.

However, if the time interval between bowels movements become longer than 3 days apart or three or more bowel movements occur within a 24 hour period then it can be considered as constipation or diarrhea, respectively. For some people, constipation and to a lesser extent diarrhea can be chronic conditions.

It is not uncommon for people to feel an urge for a bowel movement after exercise or eating a large meals. The vigorous movements during exercise as well as pressure within the abdomen can stimulate a bowel movement. With large meals, the excessive stretching of the stomach can stimulate reflexes that may promote defecation. Therefore these activities among a host of other triggers can disrupt the normal timing of bowel movements.

What is a delayed bowel movement?

The term ‘delayed bowel movement’ may not be a medical term but simply means that a bowel movement does not occur when expected. For people with a well trained bowel habit, the delay bowel movement may not occur at the same time as it normally would.

It could be anywhere from an hour to a day or two delayed. With irreguar bowel habit that is still within a normal range, a delayed bowel movement is usually not calculated in hours but when a bowel movement is delayed by days.

Read more on slow bowel movements.

Causes of Delayed Bowel Movements

There are various conditions that cause a delay in bowel movement. Some of these diseases can be serious and is discussed further under constipation. However, not every case of delayed bowel movement should be classified as constipation.

Missing a bowel movement by a day or two may not be a cause for concern if it occurs occasionally and bowel habit is quickly restored thereafter. Often the more common causes of delayed bowel movements are not serious and are rather due to dietary and lifestyle changes.

Water and Fiber

Insufficient water and fiber intake are among the leading causes of delayed bowel movements and constipation. Both water and fiber play an integral role in bowel movements and bowel habit. Fiber provides bulk to stool since it is indigestible. It also absorbs water to keep stool soft yet firm. Therefore without sufficient fiber and water intake, bowel movement can become less frequent while stool can be hard and difficult to pass.

Change in Diet

Other dietary factors apart from fiber and water can also play a role in delayed bowel movements. Foods that are not commonly consumed can affect different people in different ways, such as leading to delays in bowel habit or even resulting in constipation. However, even some everyday foods like milk and other dairy products can also contribute to bowel movement delay and constipation in some people.


Constipation is a symptom that may be due to a host of different dietary and lifestyle factors as well are various diseases. For example, constipation may occur with diseases like diabetes and hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), weak pelvic muscles, bowel obstruction, colorectal cancer, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and several types of neurological conditions.

Read more on causes of constipation.

Constipation is defined as passing bowel movements less than 3 times a week. However, not every case of constipation neatly fits in this definition based on frequency of bowel movement. Straining to pass hard stools are other features of constipation. Apart from insufficient water and fiber intake, constipation is also more common in people who are sendentary.

Physical Strain

A sudden change in physical activity levels, especially when a person strains themselves, can lead to delays in bowel movement. This is usually due to dehydration that can occur with physical strain. However, the movements during physical activity plays a role in expediting bowel movements. On the other extreme, a sedentary lifestyle may also be one of the factors that contribute to delayed bowel movements.


Apart from climatic conditions, some people may find that the environment is not conducive for a bowel movement for various reasons. For example, some people may find it difficult to have a regular or easy bowel movement in a new environment or in a toilet other than their own. Others may find that the crowds or people around them hamper normal bowel movement thereby leading to delays and constipation.

Anxiety and Stress

Psychogenic factors can also play a role in delayed bowel movements. As discussed, a change in environment may be the trigger for anxiety which results in delays and difficulty with passing stool. However, anxiety and psychological stress due to any cause may also play a role. Sometimes this can occur with missing meals or being so stressd that normal bowel movements are not possible.

Medication and Other Substances

Various drugs may cause constipation, usually a side effects. For example, frequent or excessive use of antacids can contribute to delays and even result in constipation. Alcohol may also be responsible for a delayed bowel movement, usually due to its dehydrating effect on the body. Illicit drugs may be a central nervous system (CNS) depressant which affect bowel habit. These substances may also hamper normal eating habits by suppressing appetite which can therefore culminate in delayed bowel movements and even constipation.

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