Poop, or stool, is a normal part of our daily digestive processes.
It is made up of undigested food, bacteria, mucus, and dead cells.
At times, you might notice changes in color, texture, amount, and frequency.
In most cases, poop is nothing to worry about! However, there are times when your stool can be a sign of something more serious going on in your body.
So, how do you know if you should be concerned?
In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about your bowel movements, the causes for changes in stool, when to see a healthcare provider, and what type of changes to look out for.
What Is a Bowel Movement?
A bowel movement is the passing of stool through the rectum and anus.
Stool is mostly made of water (about 75%). The rest consists of bacterial biomass, protein or nitrogenous matter, carbohydrate or undigested plant matter, and fat.
Protein and fat come from the colon due to secretion, epithelial shedding, and gut bacterial action.
These proportions vary considerably depending on many factors, primarily diet and body weight.
How Often Should You Have One?
While there isn’t an exact number of times you should be having a bowel movement, most people generally have one between three times per week to three times per day.
This number can vary based on diet and other lifestyle factors.
Most people have their own routine and go to the bathroom the same number of times per day, generally around the same time.
What Bowel Movements Are For
Bowel movements are necessary for excreting waste and toxins from the body.
They also help to regulate digestion and keep the digestive system healthy.
There are many processes that occur as food moves through your stomach and intestines and down to your colon.
Various enzymes and hormones work in conjunction with your circulatory system to ensure that food is broken down into usable nutrients that are then taken up in the body as needed.
When your digestive system is working well, you’ll process food efficiently and your waste will quickly and painlessly pass through your body.
Your gut is essentially a healthy garbage disposal unit, effectively ridding your body of what it doesn’t require—and pooping is the way you do this!
How To Increase Comfort
To have a comfortable bowel moment, consider the following actions:
- Drinking plenty of water: Fluids add water to the stool, making it softer and easier to pass.
- Eating enough fiber: A diet rich in fiber helps add bulk to the stool, which again makes it softer and easier to pass.
- Exercising regularly: Physical activity can help stimulate the digestive system and make bowel movements more regular.
- Avoiding high-fat foods: Fatty foods can slow down digestion and make stool harder to pass.
- Managing stress levels: Stress can impact the digestive system and lead to gastrointestinal problems.
- Changing your bathroom posture: Squatting—rather than sitting—can help you pass stool more easily.
Adding some of these habits to your routine may help make your bowel movements more comfortable.
What the Color Of Your Poop Means
The color of your poop can be an indicator of your health.
While most colors are nothing to worry about, there are some that may warrant a trip to your healthcare provider.
If your poop is light-colored, yellow, clay-colored, or very light brown, this may be a sign of:
- An infection or inflammation (swelling) in your gallbladder, liver, or pancreas
- Alcoholic hepatitis, which is inflammation in your liver caused by alcohol consumption
- A blockage in the bile ducts, the part of your digestive system responsible for moving a fluid called bile from your liver and gallbladder to your small intestine. Such blockages may be caused by gallstones or narrowing of the ducts.
Certain foods, supplements, and medications can temporarily turn stool black.
- Iron supplements
- Activated charcoal supplements
- Dark foods, such as black licorice, blueberries, Oreo cookies, blackberries, grape juice, or blueberries
However, stool that is almost black, dark, or tar-like with a thick consistency may indicate there is bleeding in the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract.
Red poop can be caused by consuming beets, cranberries, tomato juice or soup, or products containing red food colorings, like Kool-Aid or red licorice.
Some medicines, such as cefdinir, may also turn stool red.
If there is blood in your stool, the color depends on where the bleeding takes place in the digestive tract.
Poop’s brown color is mostly due to bile and bilirubin. Bile, which has a yellowish-green color, plays many roles in your digestion process.
Your liver makes about 500-600 milliliters (17-20 fl. oz.) of bile every day, which is stored in your gallbladder and helps break down fats in the body.
Another factor that contributes to poop’s brown color is bilirubin.
This is a yellow-colored substance in your blood.
It forms after red blood cells break down and are excreted through your liver and gallbladder and into your digestive tract.
When the digested food mixes with the yellowish-green bile and yellow-colored bilirubin, the result is a brown color that can range from dark brown to pale brown.
Issues With Bowel Movement Frequency
A person is considered to be constipated when bowel movements result in the passage of small amounts of hard, dry stool and happen less frequently than is normal for that individual person.
Diarrhea is a condition that results in the passage of loose or watery stool more often than usual for the afflicted person.
Note: People who eat large amounts of vegetable fiber may produce more than a pound of stool a day, but the stool in such cases is well-formed and not watery—thus, this is not diarrhea.
Causes of Constipation & Diarrhea
While everyone is different, there are a few factors that can influence bowel movement frequency and cause either constipation or diarrhea.
A diet that is low in fiber or does not include enough fluids can cause constipation.
On the other hand, diarrhea may be caused by a diet that is high in fat or sugars.
This is because fatty foods and sugary drinks can act as laxatives, stimulate the intestine, and cause diarrhea.
Not drinking enough fluids can lead to constipation, while drinking too much fluid at once can cause diarrhea.
A sedentary lifestyle can cause constipation.
On the other hand, diarrhea may be caused by excess exercise, which can stimulate the intestine.
Various gastrointestinal issues can cause constipation or diarrhea.
High levels of stress can lead to changes in the digestive system muscles and nerves, which can impact bowel movements in either direction.
Other Changes in Your Poop
In addition to changes in color, constipation, and diarrhea, your poop may also change in other ways.
The following are some examples:
Sinking stool is generally considered normal and is an indication that food is being digested properly.
Poop that floats may be a sign of excess fat and gas in the stool.
Floating stools may also happen if you have a gastrointestinal infection.
Severe malabsorption, particularly if you are losing weight, can also cause floating poop.
Malabsorption means your body is not properly absorbing nutrients.
Foul-smelling stools are ones exhibiting an unusually strong, putrid smell.
In many cases, foul-smelling stools occur due to the foods people eat and the bacteria present in their colon.
However, foul-smelling stools can also indicate a serious health problem.
Some causes of foul-smelling poop include:
- Celiac disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Cystic fibrosis
- Intestinal infection
- Short bowel syndrome
- Blood in stool from the stomach or intestine
Monitor Your Pooping Habits
While it is not necessary to monitor your poop on a daily basis, it is important to be aware of any changes in your bowel habits.
Some changes may be indicative of a more serious health problem.
The Bristol Stool Chart
The Bristol Stool Chart categorizes poop into seven types, based on its appearance.
Here are the seven types, according to the Bristol Stool Chart:
- Type 1: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass)
- Type 2: Sausage-shaped, but lumpy
- Type 3: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface
- Type 4: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft
- Type 5: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (passes easily)
- Type 6: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges (a mushy stool)
- Type 7: Watery, no solid pieces; entirely liquid
Rocks & Pebbles Poop
Rocks and pebbles poop refers to hard, pebble-like lumps of feces that occur when a larger mass of fecal matter breaks apart into smaller pieces.
Pebble poop is a sign of constipation, which occurs when bowel movements happen less often than expected or when stools become hard and difficult to pass.
As we discussed, normal poop color can range from green to brown to black.
The color of your stool is usually a reflection of the foods you have eaten or the medications you have taken.
However, there are some cases where stool color can indicate a serious health problem.
For example, green stool may be a sign of bacterial infection or malabsorption.
Black stool may be a sign of bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract.
If you experience any concerning changes in stool color, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider.
Black & Tarry Stool
Black and tarry poop refers to stools that are black and sticky.
This type of poop presenting with a foul smell is a sign of a problem in the upper digestive tract.
It most often indicates that there is bleeding in the stomach, small intestine, or right side of the colon.
Oily or Greasy Poop
Oily or greasy poop is a sign that you are not digesting fat properly or that you’re experiencing intestinal malabsorption.
It is associated with conditions such as celiac disease, chronic pancreatitis, lactase deficiency, and others.
These conditions disrupt the processes of fat breakdown and absorption.
In principle, any food that exacerbates these underlying conditions can cause greasy stool.
Pencil-Thin, Stringy Poop
Stringy poop may also be referred to as stools that are pencil-thin, ribbon-like, thin, or narrow.
Chronic constipation often leads to blockages that develop in the colon, leading to the passage of these stools.
When To Seek Medical Attention
Usually, irregular changes in a person’s pooping habits resolve within a short amount of time and are no cause for concern.
However, you should visit your healthcare provider if your bowel changes last longer than 1-2 weeks, or if you notice other symptoms such as:
- Blood in the poop
- Black poop
- New onset of “pencil-thin” poop
- Weight loss or fever that accompanies diarrhea or constipation
- Severe abdominal pain
- Vomiting blood or a substance that looks like coffee grounds
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K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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