Poop can be a taboo topic: some people are very open to talking about it, but many avoid the subject at all costs. But here’s the thing… we all poop! It’s important to remember that there is no reason to be ashamed to ask questions about bowel movements.
March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month and a good time to talk about poop — because it says a lot about your gastrointestinal and digestive health. Let the experts at UnityPoint Health help you understand this taboo topic!
Bowel Movement Basics
Since bowel movements occur at the very end of the digestive process, they are one of the best indicators of whether or not your body is correctly digesting food. Are you listening to your stool?
What Does My Stool Color Mean?
Stool colors reflect how fast the stool passed through the intestines, what foods and nutrients were recently consumed and the overall general health of the digestive system. Learn more about the various stool colors and what they mean.
Light to Dark Brown Stool
The medically desired color of poop should mimic a bar of milk chocolate. Bowel movements achieve this color through a rather complicated process. In simple terms: a pigment called bilirubin is created when a protein called hemoglobin breaks down in the liver. From there, the bilirubin enters the intestines, and if a healthy digestive system allows it to travel through the intestines at a normal speed, it achieves the typical brown color we associate with poop.
Having green poop is more common than one might think! Bile, which is created in the liver and stored in the gallbladder, is naturally green. Bile is also present alongside stool in the intestines, and if the poop moves through the intestines too fast, the bilirubin and iron do not have enough time to mix and process. Long story short, if your poop is green, it moved through your intestines too fast to complete the process of turning brown.
Black stool usually means there is an excess of dried blood present in the poop. Usually, this is not a good sign. It means there was internal bleeding somewhere in the intestinal tract -- far enough away from the rectum that this blood had time to dry. If this is a consistent color of poop for you, reach out to your provider.
Poop can be a yellow color when fat is not being absorbed from the poop. Fat absorption can be disrupted by various sources such as a parasite, illness causing inflammation in the pancreas or congenital disease. Yellow poop is usually a sign of a medical problem that needs attention sooner rather than later. If your yellow stool is present for more than two days, contact your family medicine doctor!
Clay-colored stool or pale poop can sometimes be confused for yellow poop. The difference will usually be subtle but noticeable when looking carefully. Clay-colored or pale stool will have more of a gray tint and be less slimy.
White Poop or Clay-Colored Stool
This type of poop can be described in many ways, including pale, clay-colored or even white. This white poop is present when the liver does not release enough bile salts into the stool in your intestines. This may occur due to bile duct blockages, gallstones or liver problems. Clay-colored or pale gray stool is usually a sign of a more serious problem. If your stool remains consistently pale or clay colored for two days, contact your provider.
Blue poop is uncommon, but it does happen! Some forms of edible blue dye, when consumed in large amounts, are known to cause poop to turn blue, especially if they pass quickly through the digestive tract. As long as blue poop is genuinely blue (not blue-green), it is not cause for concern.
Bright red poop is usually a sign of bleeding in the lower intestine. The cause of this bleeding is usually hemorrhoids. You can find more information about blood in your stool--and decide if you need to call the doctor--here.
What Does The Shape and Consistency of My Stool Say?
Similar to what determines stool color, the consistency and shape of stool can be determined by diet, fluids consumed, medications, exercise and how much time the feces spent in the intestines.
Hard Poop (Pebble Poop) - Type 1
Hard poop is passed in separate, hard lumps, similar to pebbles. This kind of stool is painful to pass. Pebble like, hard poop only occurs when you are very constipated. The stool has sat in the large intestine and colon for an extended period.
During this extended stay in the colon, water and nutrients are removed from the stool, causing it to harden and break apart into pebbles. This stool also lacks the healthy bacteria found in poop that is housed in the colon; since this bacteria is missing, there is nothing to retain water. When stool takes this form, it has been in the colon and intestines for several weeks instead of three days.
Firm Poop (Lumpy, Sausage-Shaped Poop) - Type 2
Firm poop that is connected together but still rather lumpy is also a sign of constipation. The poop spent too much time drying in the intestines, but it has not dried out enough to break apart into small pieces.
This form of poop often hurts the most when being passed since it is generally large and quite firm. In order for the stool to take this lumpy, sausage-shaped form, it needs to remain in the colon for a couple weeks instead of the regular 72 hours.
Cracked Stool - Type 3
Stool that is an even, round sausage shape but has cracks on the surface is typical of a poor diet or sedentary lifestyle. A form of poop most often seen with organic constipation (constipation caused by lifestyle or diet), cracked stool has sat in the bowels for about a week before passing. Cracked poop requires strain as it passes but is not painful.
Healthy Poop - Type 4
Healthy poop is sausage or snake-shaped and about the diameter of a banana. This healthy, normal bowel movement is typical for an individual pooping every one to three days. Optimal healthy poop will remain intact as it is flushed, indicating that it had the desired amount of water and nutrients inside when passed. This poop will have a soft and smooth look to it and will resemble soft-serve ice cream.
Soft Blob Poop - Type 5
When stool passes in the form of soft blobs with defined edges, it is a slightly loose stool. It is common for individuals who have bowel movements two to three times a day. This form of bowel movement usually follows major meals of the day. Soft blob-shaped poop quickly passes without any strain or effort.
Mushy Stool - Type 6
Mushy stool with fluffy pieces that run together into a pudding-shaped consistency is an early stage of diarrhea. When mushy stool occurs, it is often hard to control the urge or timing of the bowel movement. This form of stool has passed through the colon quickly, due to stress or a dramatic change in diet or activity level.
When the body is under stress or not used to a healthy diet and lifestyle, it can push the poop through the intestines faster than intended. If the stool does not spend enough time in the intestines, it has not undergone normal body processes, meaning it still has too much water and nutrients that have not been extracted from the body yet.
Liquid Poop - Type 7
Liquid poop is the most advanced stage of diarrhea. It has no solid form and passes without control. Diarrhea occurs when the small intestine is irritated, forcing the liquid into the small intestine to flush out of the body without being properly processed. Liquid can be absorbed by the large intestine, but most pools in the rectum, causing explosive diarrhea that is not controllable.
Concerned About The Color or Consistency of Your Poop?
Even though you may be uncomfortable or embarrassed to talk about your bowel movements, it is important to contact your provider if you suspect a problem. It is better for your doctor to determine if there is a problem early to avoid further damage or complications.
If your concerns persist for more than 24 hours, contact your primary care doctor. If you have a My UnityPoint account set up, you can easily log in and send a message to your doctor. If not, call your doctor’s office today to get answers about your stool and learn how to sign up for My UnityPoint!