Dear Lifehacker, Like most people, I've pooped a lot in my lifetime. Usually things follow a fairly predictable pattern, but now and then I've seen unusual colours and shapes. I don't feel bad or have any discomfort, but I'm concerned these changes might mean something. How can I figure out when I should be concerned about the shape and colour of my poop? Sincerely, Crapping the Rainbow
The colour of your poop does mean something, but it often has more to do with what you eat than what horrible things could be happening in your body. If you have a concern, you should always play it safe and consult your doctor or another medical professional -- something none of us at Lifehacker are, by the way. For that reason, we asked Dr Spencer Nadolsky, medical editor at Examine.com, and Dr David Dragoo, MD, to help get to the bottom of this problem (so to speak).
What the Shape of Your Poop Can Tell You
As it turns out, there's a chart dedicated to the shape of your poop. Dr. Nadolsky explains:
There is something called the "Bristol Stool Chart" which we use sometimes in the office when dealing with patient's GI health (e.g. constipation). This chart gives a good idea of what the consistency and shape should be of our stools.
What does the Bristol Stool Chart look like? Here's one courtesy of Wikipedia (that you might want to view on an empty stomach).
You can probably identify your own poop on this chart, but what do all the types mean? Here's a breakdown:
- Type 1 and 2: You've got constipation! Those little pellets or lumpy sausages you struggled to push out mean you're having some difficulty. Constipation can become very painful if it isn't already, and there are different solutions based on the problem. Go to your doctor and get examined. Generally they'll just push on your stomach to see what's up, so don't worry -- you probably won't end up with a finger up your butt.
- Type 3 and 4: Good work! You're in the ideal camp. Nicely formed sausage and smooth and silky snake-like poops are the ideal turds we all try to achieve. If you've pooping these little daily miracles, you're doing something right.
- Type 5, 6, and 7: Blobs, fluff, and (essentially) brown "pee," is on its way to becoming -- or actually is -- your old friend diarrhoea. You can get diarrhoea for a lot of reasons. Sometimes you just ate something that didn't necessarily agree with your stomach. Sometimes you might be really sick. This post can't tell you which it is, so talk to your doctor if you're concerned.
As you can see, poops come in a variety of shapes, sizes and consistencies. A very temporary change probably won't mean much, but if you experience non-ideal bowel movements for more than a couple of days you should speak with your doctor.
What the Colour of Your Poop Can Tell You
Much like reading rune stones, interpreting what the colour of your poop actually means requires some serious interpretation. A shade of dark red could mean absolutely nothing or something very significant. Dr Dragoo explains:
The colour and consistency of your stool is one of the most important signs of you're underlying health. Bloody stool is either the sign of hemorrhoids or possibly something more serious like cancer. Bloody stool is a particular one that you want to get checked out if you see that. Of course, on a lighter note, purple/reddish stool might just mean that you've eaten a lot of beats lately! Lastly, green poop is also not a good sign as it may reflect that your GI tract is having issues breaking down your bile and may warrant a trip to the doctor. Be one with your poop and use it to learn about your health and how to improve it!
Dr Nadolsky offers a few other fun colour-based observations:
Beets or red popsicles can make a red/dark red appearance, and this could obviously be concerning because blood looks similar. Iron supplements can make the stool turn very dark, but tar/black stools could mean a GI bleed as well. If you have biliary system issue your stool may lose that brown/yellow appearance and become "clay" coloured.
If it isn't obvious, pay attention to what you eat. When you see a strange colour in your poop, you'll know it doesn't mean much if you had a beet salad in the last 40 hours. If you can't attribute a cause, or experience pain along with your bowel movements, speak to your doctor.
A Brief Note About Rectal Mucus
Most people don't know about a wonderful, grossly named substance called rectal mucus -- or, as I like to call it, your spinchter's best friend. It's a not a butt booger, but rather a good thing because it lubricates your poops. If you ever feel like you're straining to get that turd out of your butt and things feel a little (or a lot) dry, it's likely because you're not producing enough rectal mucus. You wouldn't go down a water slide without water, right? So don't poop without rectal mucus or you're asking your BMs to do just that.
You should never produce so much that you can actually see the stuff, but rather feel the ease of a healthy bowel movement. If you do see the presence of a lot of mucus in your stool, you may have one of a handful of problems and should consult your doctor. If you feel strained, you should consider a small adjustment in your diet. Chances are you're not drinking enough water and/or eating enough. You can easily can more fibre with psyllium husks, but you're always better off with fibre that occurs naturally in the foods you eat. If you don't like the taste of water but need to drink more, take a look at these suggestions. You don't want too much or too little water, so check out this post to make sure you're getting the right amount.
Overall, you can easily achieve regular good, healthy bowel movements with pretty minimal effort and not have to worry if there's something wrong with your poop. Again -- and we can't say this enough -- if you think you have a real problem you should consult your doctor. But if you just ate a beet and it looks like your anus is bleeding (I know, I've been there), now you'll know you don't have to worry so much.
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