Everybody poops, but most of us don’t talk about it. And when it comes to your poop, everyone is different. Your stool is affected not only by what you eat, but also your sleep, water intake, hormones, exercise and medications.
As strange as it may sound, there are some important reasons to pay attention to your bowel movements, says Dr. Mahendran Jayaraj, a board-certified gastroenterologist with the Orlando Health Digestive Health Institute.
“The consistency, color and frequency of your stool can tell you a lot about your digestive health,” Dr. Jayaraj says.
The Bristol scale categorizes stool types into seven classifications:
Type 1: Pebble-like, made up of hard lumps like nuts
Type 2: Lumpy and sausage-like, hard to pass
Type 3: Firm, but with cracks on the surface
Type 4: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft
Type 5: Soft blobs with clear edges
Type 6: Mushy, ragged edges, fluffy
Type 7: Watery, no solid pieces, entirely liquid
Type 1 and 2 stools are considered constipation, while Types 6 and 7 are considered diarrhea. Stool Types 3 to 5 are ideal.
You should note any changes in stool color, consistency and frequency. “These could be warning signals that something is wrong with your health or diet,” Dr. Jayaraj says.
The color of your stool can vary daily, depending on what you’ve eaten and any medications you’ve taken. It also can be a sign that something is wrong, with potential issues including:
Brown. Brown is the most normal poop color — ranging from light brown to fairly dark brown.
Pale. This indicates a potential blockage in the bile duct.
Black. If you haven’t taken Pepto Bismol (which can change your poop to black), a dark stool can indicate bleeding in your upper gastrointestinal tract.
Green. If you’ve been eating a lot of leafy green vegetables or foods with green food coloring, your stool may be greener. It’s also common in people with conditions like colitis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Red. Some foods — such as beets, tomatoes and food colorings— can cause red stools. If what you’ve consumed isn’t the culprit, red stools may mean hemorrhoids, a polyp, diverticulitis or even colon cancer.
White. Some medications, like those containing barium, can cause pale stools. White stools also may indicate lack of bile, which is common in people with liver conditions leading to a blocked bile duct from strictures or cancer in the bile duct.
Yellow. Yellow stools that float may indicate that your body is having trouble digesting fats.
You may occasionally notice your bowel movement floating. This means the stool is less dense and is not always an indication that something is wrong. Sometimes it can be caused by an increased amount of gas, water or both.
Hard stools indicative of constipation can be because of inadequate water intake or excessive water loss from the body, medications or problems with colon movement. This could also be due to colon cancer or problems with the anal sphincter or the pelvic floor muscles.
Alternating constipation and diarrhea is worrisome and needs immediate attention to determine whether it’s caused by IBS or potential colon cancer.
How To Improve Your Poop
- Eat a healthy, high-fiber diet. Beans, fruits, whole grains and vegetables can help prevent constipation and improve digestion.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise can help improve digestion.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day will help prevent constipation.
- Judicious use of medications. Some pain relievers may affect the movement and health of the colon and intestine, so only use them when you really need to.
When To See a Doctor
The occasional bout of constipation or green poop is generally not cause for concern. However, there are times when it’s important to speak with your doctor, particularly if you’ve experienced:
- Blood in your stool
- Changes in consistency or color
- Chronic diarrhea or chronic constipation
- Foul-smelling stools
Your doctor can work with you to come up with a treatment to restore your bowel health.
Concerned about your bowel movements? Talk with your primary care physician about whether you need to see a gastroenterologist at Orlando Health Digestive Health Institute.