What the Color and Consistency of Your Poop Says About You

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While talking about your poop may feel like a taboo topic, here’s the thing — we all do it. In fact, your bowel movements can give you great insight into your digestive health. Jess Bailey, ARNP, and Kendra Ulicki, ARNP, UnityPoint Health, explain how the color and consistency of your stool can give you clues about what’s happening in your gut.

Bowel Movement Basics

Bowel movements occur at the very end of the digestive process and are one of the best indicators of whether your body is correctly digesting food.

What Does My Stool Color Mean?

Stool colors reflect how fast the stool passed through the intestines, what foods, medications or nutrients you recently consumed and the general gut health of your digestive system.

Light to Dark Brown Poop

Poop is normally brown and mimics the color of a milk chocolate bar. Bowel movements achieve this color through a complicated process. A pigment, called bilirubin, is created when a protein, called hemoglobin, breaks down in the liver. From there, 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 of poop.

Green Poop

Green poop is more common than you might think and can be caused by a few different things. Bile, which is created in the liver and stored in the gallbladder, is naturally green. It’s present alongside stool in the intestines. If poop moves through the intestines too fast, the bilirubin and iron don’t have enough time to mix and complete the process of turning your stool brown.

Other reasons for green poop: Outside of moving through your gut too quickly, green poop can be caused by iron supplements, eating a lot of dark leafy greens, like spinach, antibiotics and other medications, having too many foods with green-colored dye, bacterial or viral infections and gastrointestinal disorders like Chron’s or celiac disease.

Black Poop

Black stool can mean there’s dried blood present in your poop, and internal bleeding occurred somewhere in the upper gastrointestinal tract — far enough away from the rectum that the blood had time to dry. Call your doctor if you notice you have black stool. This can be a sign of a serious digestive problem.

Other reasons for black poop: Iron supplements can cause black poop as well as eating a lot of black-colored food or consuming bismuth subsalicylate, an ingredient found in Pepto Bismol.

Yellow Poop

Poop can be yellow when fat isn’t absorbed from the stool. Fat absorption can be disrupted by parasites, illnesses or congenital diseases causing inflammation in the pancreas. Yellow poop is usually a sign of a medical problem that needs attention. If your yellow stool is present for more than two days, contact your doctor.

Yellowish, brown-colored stool, or pale poop, can sometimes be confused for yellow poop. The difference is subtle but noticeable. Yellowish brown-colored or pale stool has more of a gray tint and is less slimy.

Other reasons for yellow poop: Iron supplements can cause black poop as well as eating a lot of black-colored food or consuming bismuth subsalicylate, an ingredient found in Pepto Bismol.

Pale White Poop

Pale poop can look white, gray or like the color of clay. Pale poop is present when the liver doesn’t release enough bile salts into the stool in your intestines. This may occur due to bile duct blockages, gallstones or liver problems. Pale gray stool is usually a sign of a more serious problem. If your stool remains either of these colors for two days, contact your doctor.

Red Poop

Bright red poop is usually a sign of bleeding in the lower intestine. While the most common cause of red poop is hemorrhoids, it can also indicate inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulitis, polyps or an infection in the intestines. Contact your doctor if you have blood in your stool.

Other reasons for red poop: Food with red coloring, like fruit punch or Jell-O, can also temporarily add a tinge of red to stool.



What Does the Shape and Consistency of My Stool Say?

Similar to what determines stool color, the consistency and shape of stool can be influenced by diet, fluids, medications, exercise and how much time poop spent in the intestines.

Hard Poop - Type 1

Hard poop happens when you’re constipated. It’s passed in separate, hard lumps, similar to pebbles. Hard poop likely sat in the large intestine for a while. During an extended stay in the colon, water and nutrients are removed from the stool, causing it to harden and break apart into pebbles. This type of stool also lacks the healthy bacteria found in poop that’s housed in the colon. Since the bacteria is missing, there’s nothing to retain water, which makes poop soft.

Firm Poop - Type 2

Firm poop that’s connected and lumpy is another sign of constipation. This type of stool spent too much time drying in the intestines but didn’t dry enough to break into small pieces.

Type two poop often hurts the most when passed since it’s usually large and firm. In order for the stool to take this lumpy, sausage-shaped form, it needs to have been in the colon for a few weeks.

Cracked Poop - Type 3

Stool that’s shaped like a sausage with cracks on the surface is typical of a poor diet or sitting too much. A form of poop most often seen with organic constipation (constipation caused by lifestyle or diet), cracked stool has been in the bowels for about a week before passing.

Healthy Poop - Type 4

Healthy poop is shaped like a sausage, about the width of a banana and between four to eight inches long. It remains intact when flushed and has the right amount of water and nutrients when passed. It resembles soft-serve ice cream. Having normal, healthy bowels means pooping every one to three days, too.

Soft Blob Poop - Type 5

When stool passes in the form of soft blobs with defined edges, it’s slightly loose. It’s common for people who have bowel movements two to three times a day. This type of bowel movement usually follows major meals. Soft, blob-shaped poop quickly passes without any strain or effort.

Mushy Poop - Type 6

Mushy stool with fluffy pieces that have a pudding-shaped consistency is an early stage of diarrhea. This form of stool has passed through the colon quickly due to stress or a dramatic change in diet or activity level. When mushy stool occurs, it’s hard to control the urge or timing of the bowel movement.

When the body is under stress or not used to a healthy diet and lifestyle, it can push poop through the intestines faster than intended. If the stool doesn’t spend enough time in the intestines, it hasn’t undergone normal processes, meaning, it still has water and nutrients that haven’t been extracted from the body yet.

Liquid Poop - Type 7

Liquid poop is an advanced stage of diarrhea. It has no solid form and passes without control. Diarrhea occurs when the small intestine is irritated, forcing liquid into the intestine to flush out of the body without being properly processed. Liquid can be absorbed by the large intestine, too, but most pools in the rectum, causing explosive diarrhea.

Concerned About the Color or Consistency of Your Poop?

It’s normal to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed when your bowel movements are out of whack, but the exam room is a safe space. It’s important to let your doctor know if you suspect a problem with your digestive health. You can call or schedule an appointment through our patient app, MyUniytPoint.

What is Your Poop Trying to Tell You article