Your bodily emissions are an important health topic that deserves serious attention, regardless of the “ick factor.” In fact, if you ignore what you deposit in your toilet, you could be flushing your health down the drain!
Did you know the average person generates about five TONS of stool in his or her lifetime? Turns out, there is much to be learned from this mountain of poop.
The shape, size, color, and other fecal features can tell you a great deal about your overall health, how your gastrointestinal tract is functioning, and even give you clues about serious disease processes that could be occurring, like infections, digestive problems, and even cancer. Poop comes in just about all the colors of the rainbow… and please forgive us for using the words poop and rainbow in the same sentence.
Your stool is about 75 percent water. The rest is a fetid combination of fiber, live and dead bacteria, miscellaneous cells and mucus.
The characteristics of your stool will tell you a good deal about how happy and healthy your digestive tract is – the color, odor, shape, size, and even the sound it makes when it hits the water and whether it’s a “sinker” or a “floater” are all relevant information.
Look, Listen and Smell Before You Flush
What’s normal and what’s not when you look into the toilet? The following table will help you narrow down what to look for, so that you aren’t needlessly alarmed. Of course, there are a few signs that ARE cause for concern, and those are listed too. If you have a change in stools accompanied by abdominal pain, please report this to your physician.
|Medium to light brown
||Stool that is hard to pass, painful, or requires straining
|Smooth and soft, formed into one long shape and not a bunch of pieces
||Hard lumps and pieces, or mushy and watery, or even pasty and difficult to clean off
|About one to two inches in diameter and up to 18 inches long
||Narrow, pencil-like or ribbon-like stools: can indicate a bowel obstruction or tumor – or worst case, colon cancer; narrow stools on an infrequent basis are not so concerning, but if they persist, definitely warrant a call to your physician
|S-shaped, which comes from the shape of your lower intestine
||Black, tarry stools or bright red stools may indicate bleeding in the GI tract; black stools can also come from certain medications, supplements or consuming black licorice; if you have black, tarry stools, it’s best to be evaluated by your healthcare provider
|Quiet and gentle dive into the water…it should fall into the bowl with the slightest little “whoosh” sound – not a loud, wet cannonball splash that leaves your toosh in need of a shower
||White, pale or gray stools may indicate a lack of bile, which may suggest a serious problem (hepatitis, cirrhosis, pancreatic disorders, or possibly a blocked bile duct), so this warrants a call to your physician; antacids may also produce white stool
|Natural smell, not repulsive (I’m not saying it will smell good)
||Yellow stools may indicate giardia infection, a gallbladder problem, or a condition known as Gilbert’s syndrome – if you see this, call your doctor
||Presence of undigested food (more of a concern if accompanied by diarrhea, weight loss, or other changes in bowel habits)
||Floaters or splashers
||Increased mucus in stool: This can be associated with inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis, or even colon cancer, especially if accompanied by blood or abdominal pain
The Bristol Stool Chart is a handy tool that may help you learn what you’re going for. Ideally, your stool should approximate Types 3, 4 and 5, “like a sausage or a snake, smooth and soft” to “soft blobs that pass easily.” Type 4 is the Holy Grail.
Does Your Stool Have a Really Bad Odor?
If your stool has an extraordinarily bad odor, it should not be ignored. Stinky stool can be associated with a number of health problems, such as:
- A malabsorptive disorder
- Celiac disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Cystic fibrosis
How Often Should You Move Your Bowels?
Normal bowel habits vary. When we talk about regularity, what we’re really talking about is what’s regular for you. Three bowel movements per day to three per week is considered the normal range.
What’s more important than frequency is the ease with which you move your bowels. If you need to push or strain, something is off – moving your bowels should take no more effort than urinating or passing gas.