What is a normal bowel movement look like?

How to Have a Better Bowel Movement

Pooping is part physical, part mental. If you aren’t pooping as easily or often as you’d like, addressing these aspects can help.

Drink water

Water and fiber: These are two major components of poop that are part of your diet. Making efforts to drink more water daily can help make your bowel movements easier to pass.

Eat fruits, nuts, grains, and vegetables

In addition, it’s important to eat foods with plenty of fiber. This adds bulk to your stool, which stimulates the bowels to move and propel your stool forward. Foods that contain fiber include:

  • fruits, such as strawberries, raspberries, and apples
  • nuts and seeds, such as pistachios, almonds, or sunflower seeds
  • vegetables, such as broccoli, lima beans, and carrots
  • whole-grain breads, such as seven-grain, cracked wheat, or pumpernickel

Add fiber foods slowly

Don’t incorporate too much fiber into your diet at a time — it can have an opposite, constipating effect. Instead, try to add a serving every five days to allow your digestive tract time to acclimate itself to the increased fiber.

Cut out irritating foods

In addition to constipation that makes stools harder to pass, some people struggle with stool that is too loose. When this is the case, cutting out foods that can irritate the stomach can help. Examples include:

  • alcoholic beverages
  • caffeinated drinks, like tea, coffee, and sodas
  • fatty foods
  • foods that contain sugar alcohols, which end in the letters -ol. Examples include sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol
  • spicy foods

Try cutting out these foods to see if your bowel movements are less diarrhea-like. You can also keep a food and symptom diary to identify connections between the foods you eat and the symptoms you experience.

Move more

Your intestines have a natural motion that moves stool forward. If your body isn’t moving stool through fast enough, then you can help it out with increased exercise. Physical activity, such as walking, running, or swimming, can all promote motion that helps you poop better. Even short amounts of activity — 10 to 15 minutes — can help.

Change the angle you’re sitting in

Another tip you can try has to do with your posture on the toilet. Changing the angle of your legs changes the angle of your colon. Toilet footstools are one accessory that you can use in the bathroom to do this. Some people find that it helps them have a more comfortable and effective bowel movement. Researchers even studied its use with the help of 52 volunteers.

Even if you don’t have a Squatty Potty or other footstool to raise your feet above the ground you can still try adjusting your posture. While you’re sitting on the toilet try planting your feet on the ground so that your knees are higher than your seat or higher than usual.

Find bathroom footstools online.

Keep your bowel movements in mind

Doctors have identified a mind-body connection to pooping, for example, many people cringe at the idea of pooping in a public restroom.

Here are some ways to address the connection between your brain and intestines:

  • Remember that pooping is a natural part of every person’s physical needs. Everyone poops. You have nothing to be ashamed of if you have to go.
  • Try to poop at the same time every day (such as in the morning at home after you eat breakfast). This can help to train your body to go at the same time in a place where you’re more comfortable.
  • Go to the bathroom when you feel the need. Try to not hold it in or put off a bowel movement. If you feel the need to go, take advantage of your body’s readiness.
  • Try engaging in stress-relieving activities if your anxiety levels are creeping up and your stomach starts to cramp. Examples include taking deep breaths, doing seated stretches like rolling your shoulders backwards and forwards, listening to calming music, or repeating a positive mantra.

Stress and pooping are highly connected. Try to create a calming environment in your bathroom where you have privacy. Avoid rushing yourself — give yourself at least 10 minutes to go to the bathroom.

Gastrointestinal Bleeding or Blood in the Stool

What is gastrointestinal bleeding or blood in the stool?

The signs of bleeding in the digestive tract depend upon the site and severity of bleeding. If blood is coming from the rectum or the lower colon, bright red blood will coat or mix with the stool. The cause of bleeding may not be serious, but locating the source of bleeding is important. The digestive or gastrointestinal (GI) tract includes the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine or colon, rectum and anus. Bleeding can come from one or more of these areas — from a small area like an ulcer on the lining of the stomach or from a large surface, such as an inflammation of the colon. Bleeding can sometimes occur without the person noticing it. This type of bleeding is called occult or hidden. Fortunately, simple tests can detect occult blood in the stool.

Symptoms

Symptoms like changes in bowel habits, stool color (to black or red) and consistency and the presence of pain or tenderness may tell the doctor which area of the GI tract is affected. Because the intake of iron, bismuth or foods like beets can give the stool the same appearance as bleeding from the digestive tract, a doctor must test the stool for blood before offering a diagnosis.
Other symptoms:

  • Bright red blood coating the stool

  • Dark blood mixed with the stool

  • Black or tarry stool

  • Bright red blood in vomit

  • Coffee grounds appearance of vomit

Diagnosis

The site of the bleeding must be located. A complete history and physical examination are essential. A blood count will indicate whether the patient is anemic and also will give an idea of the extent of the bleeding and how chronic it may be.

Endoscopy

Endoscopy is a common diagnostic technique that allows direct viewing of the bleeding site. Because the endoscope can detect lesions and confirm the presence or absence of bleeding, doctors often choose this method to diagnose patients with acute bleeding. In many cases, the doctor can use the endoscope to treat the cause of bleeding as well. The endoscope is a flexible instrument that can be inserted through the mouth or rectum. The instrument allows the doctor to see into the esophagus, stomach, duodenum (esophagoduodenoscopy), colon (colonoscopy) and rectum (sigmoidoscopy); to collect small samples of tissue (biopsies); to take photographs; and to stop the bleeding. Small bowel endoscopy, or enteroscopy, is a procedure using a long endoscope. This endoscope may be used to localize unidentified sources of bleeding in the small intestine.

Other procedures

Several other methods are available to locate the source of bleeding. Barium X-rays, in general, are less accurate than endoscopy in locating bleeding sites. Some drawbacks of barium X-rays are that they may interfere with other diagnostic techniques if used for detecting acute bleeding, they expose the patient to X-rays and they do not offer the capabilities of biopsy or treatment. Another type of X-ray is a CT scan. Angiography is a technique that uses dye to highlight blood vessels. This procedure is most useful in situations when the patient is bleeding acutely, so that dye leaks out of the blood vessel and identifies the site of bleeding. In selected situations, angiography allows injection of medicine into arteries that may stop the bleeding.

Treatment

Endoscopy is the primary diagnostic and therapeutic procedure for most causes of GI bleeding. Active bleeding from the upper GI tract can often be controlled by injecting chemicals directly into a bleeding site with a needle introduced through the endoscope. A physician can also cauterize, or heat treat, a bleeding site and surrounding tissue with a heater probe or electrocoagulation device passed through the endoscope. Laser therapy is useful in certain specialized situations.

Once bleeding is controlled, medication is often prescribed to prevent recurrence of bleeding. Medication is useful primarily for H. pylori, esophagitis, ulcers, infections and irritable bowel disease. Medical treatment of ulcers, including the elimination of H. pylori, to ensure healing and maintenance therapy to prevent ulcer recurrence can also lessen the chance of recurrent bleeding. Removal of polyps with an endoscope can control bleeding from colon polyps. Removal of hemorrhoids by banding or various heat or electrical devices is effective in patients who suffer hemorrhoidal bleeding on a recurrent basis. Endoscopic injection or cautery can be used to treat bleeding sites throughout the lower intestinal tract. Endoscopic techniques do not always control bleeding. Sometimes angiography may be used. However, surgery is often needed to control active, severe or recurrent bleeding when endoscopy is not successful.

Hi, so last easter (2017) was when i first noticed some bright red blood on the toilet paper. This happened each time i went to the loo over the next 10 days or so. Although i only went about 4 times as i was that nervous about seeing more blood. Also, my entire life up until the last couple of months, I would usually only pass a stool about every other day, obviously sometimes it was consecutive days and other times it was longer than 2 days but I’m guessing that I would generally go every other day, so I didn’t think much of it, although it could have been slight constipation. However i also had another symptom. Just before I started passing blood with the stools, my gut started making gurgling nosies, and there was a lot of flatulence (gas). I could tell the noises weren’t from my stomach and it wasn’t hunger. When the noises and flatulance stopped after about 10 days, so did the bleeding (from what i could see anyway).

Skip forward to a few days ago and there was blood on the toilet paper once again, but only the once this time (i think) and i am passing gas frequently with a gurgling abdomen. This time, i am also experiencing some pain in the abdomen area (around where i think the colon is). The pain seems like it could just be trapped gas but i am not sure. Also, there have been two occasions over the last week where i think i have shown signs that I might faint (cold sweat, lightheaded) but haven’t. I’m not sure if this is connected, because the weather is extremely hot at the moment and it might just be dehydration, or it could be that both times, i was worrying quite a lot about my symptoms and it could have just been me worrying myself sick with stress. Also, if its IBD it could be to do with anemia.

The first time I didn’t go to see a doctor as I thought with the gurgling abdomen it might have just been some kind of bug. But i told myself that if the symptoms come back I would go to a doctor.

Looking online, my symptoms would suggest colorectal cancer or inflammatory bowel disease, but after looking into IBD more, and reading other people’s experience with it, it seems less likely to be that. Others have said they would need to rush to the toilet 10 times a day and that their flare ups would last for months. This hasn’t been the case for me. That’s why i think it might be cancer.

Im scared that after doing nothing about it for 16 months, if it is cancer, I might have missed the opportunity to catch it early. I also have no idea how to tell my parents and this is another reason why I’m scared of going to the doctors as I wouldn’t want to burden them with this. I would also have to justify why i left it so long and I don’t know if i can. Another thing I’m worried about is that if it is cancer, and it’s at a survivable stage, will chemotherapy stop me from having children one day. Im 20, so when I realised it might be cancer, one of the first things that came to mind is that I might not live to be able to have kids, which really got to me, but now I’ve found out that chemotherapy can also make you infertile.

Any help would be massively appreciated, especially in relation to telling my parents about my symptoms, or whether I should wait and first go to the doctor alone, and then tell them if there is cause for concern. Thanks.

Why Is There a Blood Clot in My Stool?

There are various medical conditions that can result in bleeding from the colon.

Diverticular bleeding

Pouches (diverticula) can develop on the wall of the large intestine. When these pouches bleed, it’s called diverticular bleeding. Diverticular bleeding can cause a large amount of blood in your stool.

The blood in your stool may be bright or dark red clots. Diverticular bleeding often stops on its own and, in most cases, it’s not accompanied by pain.

If diverticular bleeding does not stop on its own, surgery may be required. Treatment may also include blood transfusions and intravenous fluids.

Infectious colitis

Infectious colitis is an inflammation of the large intestine. It’s typically caused by infection from viruses, bacteria, parasites, or fungus. This inflammation is often associated with food poisoning.

Symptoms might include:

  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain or cramping
  • passage of blood in loose stools
  • feeling of immediate need to move your bowels (tenesmus)
  • dehydration
  • nausea
  • fever

Treatment of infectious colitis might include:

  • antibiotics
  • antivirals
  • antifungals
  • liquids
  • iron supplements

Ischemic colitis

When blood flow to the colon is reduced — commonly caused by narrowed or blocked arteries — the decreased flow of blood doesn’t provide enough oxygen to your digestive tract. This condition is called ischemic colitis. It can damage your large intestine and cause pain.

Symptoms might include:

  • abdominal pain or cramping
  • nausea
  • passage of blood clots (maroon-colored stool)
  • passage of blood without stool
  • passage of blood with your stool
  • feeling of immediate need to move your bowels (tenesmus)
  • diarrhea

In mild cases of ischemic colitis, the symptoms might virtually disappear in a few days. For treatment, your doctor might recommend:

  • antibiotics for infections
  • intravenous fluids for dehydration
  • treatment for the underlying condition that triggered it

Inflammatory bowel disease

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) represents a group of intestinal disorders. These include gastrointestinal tract inflammation such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Symptoms might include:

  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain or cramping
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • passage of blood clots (maroon colored stool)
  • passage of blood with your stool
  • reduced appetite
  • weight loss

Treatment for IBD might include:

  • antibiotics
  • anti-inflammatory drugs
  • immune system suppressors
  • pain relievers
  • antidiarrheal medication
  • surgery

Other possible causes

If there’s blood, there may be blood clots. Some diseases and conditions that could cause blood in your stool include:

  • colon cancer
  • colon polyps
  • peptic ulcer
  • anal fissure
  • gastritis
  • proctitis

What Your Poop Is Telling You

By Vasudha Dhar, MD, Special to Everyday Health

As a gastroenterologist, I am somewhat surprised that people don’t pay more attention to their bathroom habits. While it’s not the most pleasant topic, there really is no easier way to discover what’s happening inside your body than seeing what comes out of it.

One of the biggest misconceptions about our bowel movements is the common belief there is an ideal result. A few years ago, a well-known doctor suggested that we should all strive to see a “perfect S” and that anything else could indicate some kind of problem.

After this announcement, my appointment calendar was booked solid for weeks. I explained to worried patients that, in fact, the famous doctor’s blanket statement was incorrect. Everyone’s GI tract operates differently based on a combination of constant and changing factors – genetics, hydration, dietary habits, medication use, and ongoing health issues.

Think about it – sometimes certain foods just don’t agree with you, and occasionally you don’t drink enough water. Or perhaps you are taking a new medication. These factors can change the consistency and caliber of your stool for a short time but things usually revert back to normal in a few days.

The frequency of bowel movements also varies. Not everyone is wired to have a bowel movement every day. Some people have one every few days while other people go more than once a day. Regardless, both are normal.

Changes in Bowel Habits

What’s important to be aware of is how your GI tract normally functions and what typical bowel activity is for you. If you notice a prolonged change, that’s when you need to closely monitor what’s happening. In addition, if you are feeling pain or other pronounced symptoms, it’s time to call your doctor.

Keep in mind, if your stool changes for a week or longer, it doesn’t necessarily mean the medical issue lies in your GI tract. Recently, I saw a female patient in her mid-forties who was concerned her stools had changed from regular to much looser consistency and the frequency had increased. She was also losing weight.

After running her blood work and conducting other diagnostic tests, we learned she had hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid), a condition where the thyroid gland produces too much of the thyroid hormone, which causes symptoms including accelerated metabolism (causing sudden weight loss), heart rate increase, sweating, and changes in bowel movements.

5 Signs of Bowel Trouble

The body has a way of expressing itself when there is trouble inside by changing your bowel movements. Here are five warning signs you shouldn’t ignore:

  1. Blood in your stool. If you see even a small amount of blood in your feces on a recurring basis, see a doctor. Blood can be a sign of hemorrhoids or anal fissures, pre-cancerous colon polyps, or an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). In the worst case scenario, it could be a sign of cancer.
  2. Change in stool consistency. Everyone has bouts of diarrhea from time to time. But if you used to have solid bowel movements and now have diarrhea frequently, it could be a sign of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, two types of IBD – especially if you also have abdominal pain, bleeding, and weight loss.
  3. Color change. Bowel movements are generally brown in color because of bile, which is produced in the liver. If the stool is black, it can be a sign of internal bleeding. Green stool is usually nothing to be concerned about. Stool color also changes depending on the kinds of food you eat.
  4. Continual diarrhea. Diarrhea can be sign of infection or food intolerance. Ulcerative colitis and some other microscopic colon disorders can cause changes in frequency of the stool as well. It can also be a result of a change of medications or irritable bowel disease.
  5. Constipation. If you have a new onset of constipation, it can be due to lack of proper hydration or side effects from a medication. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may also be a consideration. If your symptoms don’t improve in a few days after an increase in fluids, see your doctor.

Better Lifestyle, Better Bowels

People who deal with chronic bathroom issues should be evaluated by a doctor. Most conditions can be treated with medication and lifestyle changes. Irritable bowel disease is one of the most common conditions affecting the large intestine (colon). It causes cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. It is a chronic condition that you will need to manage for the long-term with diet, exercise, stress management, and medication.

Most gastrointestinal problems can be resolved by making simple changes to your diet and lifestyle. For less severe cases, the following nutrition and exercise changes may prove helpful:

  • Eat unprocessed, natural foods including fiber-rich vegetables.
  • Avoid artificial sweeteners, fructose, chemical additives, MSG, excessive caffeine.
  • Boost your intestinal flora by adding naturally fermented foods to your diet – sauerkraut, pickles, and kefir, for example.
  • Add a probiotic supplement if you’re not getting enough good bacteria from your diet.
  • Strive to drink two quarts of water daily.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • If you use medication every day, ask your prescribing doctor if it could be affecting your bowel movements.
  • Take action to minimize chronic stress.

Be sure to talk to your doctor before making any changes to your healthcare routine. Pay attention to your bowel movements the same way you watch your weight, get your blood pressure monitored, and have your heart rate evaluated. Your bathroom habits can offer warning signs that something may not be quite right, and that you need to be checked out by a medical professional.

Vasudha Dhar, MD, is a board-certified gastroenterologist on staff at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold, New Jersey. She maintains a private medical practice and also serves as assistant professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University in New York City.

Is Your Poop Healthy? The Bristol Stool Chart Shows What It Should Look Like

When it comes to pooping, your bathroom strategy is most likely to get in and get out—but it’s a good thing to take a look every now and again to see what’s going on in the toilet. The size, texture, and color of your poop can tell you a lot about what’s going on in your body. And it will vary depending on lots of factors.

“It is important to check because it can help you identify a problem: digestion problems, structural diseases, motility disorders, or an adverse reaction or side effect to a medication,” Christine Lee, MD, a gastroenterologist at Cleveland Clinic, tells Health. “In general, the earlier a problem is discovered or identified, the better the outcome.”

If you don’t want to spend too long inspecting what’s in the toilet, there’s a super handy visual tool called the Bristol Stool Chart (also known as the Meyers Scale, Bristol Stool Form Scale, or BSF scale) to help you check everything is as it should be. It was developed in 1997 by a team of researchers, led by the late Ken Heaton, MD, an expert in bowel function and nutrition, at the Bristol Royal Infirmary in England, UK.

If something doesn’t look quite right, the Bristol Stool Chart can help you figure out what may be going on.

RELATED: 5 Ways to Make Every Poop a Great One

What exactly is the Bristol Stool Chart?

The Bristol Stool Chart details seven types of poop, ranging from constipation (Type 1) to diarrhea (Type 7). Basically, it helps patients and doctors identify abnormal poop without having to get too embarrassed about personal details. “Patients can better communicate to their doctors the appearance of their bowel movements,” says Dr. Lee.

Besides being used in the doctor’s office, it can be a super helpful chart to use day-to-day to check that things are OK within your digestive tract and body. The goal? Type 4.

Image zoom

“A diet rich in fiber tends to have more formed, brown stools, most commonly seen in Bristol Stool Chart Type 4,” says Dr. Lee. If your diet’s low in fiber and water, you might find your poops more consistently look like Types 1 through 3, she adds.

But it’s not just diet that changes how your poop looks. Here are a few other factors that can change what you see in the toilet bowl.

RELATED: 15 Foods That Help You Poop

Hydration

Your poop can tell you if you’re drinking enough water.

“If you are dehydrated, the large intestine and colon work like dehydrators, pulling water from stools and repurposing it for the body’s use, causing really hard stools,” says Dr. Lee. If your poop looks like Type 1 or Type 2 on the chart, you might need to up your H2O intake.

To ensure you’re drinking enough water, follow the CDC’s recommendations: carry a water bottle for easy access to water when you’re out and about and add a wedge of lime or lemon to your water to improve the taste.

Exercise habits

How much you’re exercising (or moving in general) can also play a big role in what your poop looks like.

“Exercise improves muscle strength, motility, and a healthy stool appearance,” says Dr. Lee. “A sedentary lifestyle greatly exacerbates constipation.”

Remember, your body needs more hydration when you’re physically active, so make sure you’re drinking plenty of water.

RELATED: 6 Ways Your Workout Can Change Your Poop

Medications

Tons of meds can mess with what your poop looks like.

“Bismuth subsalicylate (the active ingredient in many upset stomach medications) can change the color of your stools to black, as can iron supplements,” says Dr. Lee.

Blood pressure medications can cause constipation, while some prescription meds for gout or diabetes can cause the opposite problem, she adds.

According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, other meds that can cause constipation include antidepressants, antacids containing aluminum and calcium, which are commonly used to neutralize stomach acid, diuretics (these help the kidneys remove fluid from the blood), and opiates (prescribed for pain relief).

If you have any concerns about your meds affecting your stools, let your doc know.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics can really do a number on your gut, and therefore your poop as well.

“Antibiotics can kill bad and good bacteria. Losing your good gut bacteria can drastically alter your stool consistency and frequency and even leave you vulnerable to pathogen invasions such as C. difficile,” says Dr. Lee.

Always use antibiotics correctly—and seek medical attention should you develop diarrhea post-antibiotics, which could signal a C. diff infection, she says.

In most cases, antibiotics only cause a mild case of short-term diarrhea, and normal poop habits resume after treatment ends, says Harvard Medical School. But now and then, an antibiotic gets rid of so many of the “good” bacteria in the bowel that the “bad” bacteria are given free reign to cause trouble. In the case of C. difficile, it can produce chemicals that damage the wall of the bowel and lead to colitis, a type of bowel inflammation. Symptoms of this include abdominal pain, cramps, fever, and diarrhea.

If you develop diarrhea after taking antibiotics, make sure you seek medical attention, Dr. Lee says.

RELATED: 10 Side Effects of Antibiotics—and What to Do About Them

Autoimmune diseases

Another possible cause of frequent diarrhea is an autoimmune disease, such as celiac, lupus, thyroiditis, or an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, says Dr. Lee.

Digestive problems are common in lupus, says the Lupus Foundation of America, and it’s not always diarrhea. Sometimes, people with lupus experience constipation, which is often due to the failure of the muscles to properly move waste through the intestines. Digestive issues may also be caused by meds, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids.

Stress

If you’re super stressed, your poop may show it. “Stress levels can greatly affect the appearance of your stools, to either loose diarrhea or the other extreme, severe constipation,” says Dr. Lee.

According to a 2014 study published in the Expert Review of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, psychological stress can cause bowel dysmotility, a condition that affects the muscles of the digestive system and can result in either constipation or diarrhea.

RELATED: 8 Reasons Your Farts Smell So Bad

What if your poop is a different color?

In addition to looking like an optimal Type 4 on the Bristol Stool Chart, healthy poop is also a shade of brown (or sometimes green).

But plenty of factors can change your poop color. Pale or clay-colored stools might be a sign of a problem with your liver or pancreas. Black or red stools may suggest gastrointestinal bleeding, says Dr. Lee.

Even the foods you eat could be to blame. “Blueberries may turn the color of your stools to deep blue, and a diet rich in beta carotene (carrots, pumpkin, squash, etc.) may turn your stool orange,” Dr. Lee says. Candies or drinks with food coloring could change your poop color too, she adds.

In general, if your poop looks off and it isn’t just a one-time thing, Dr. Lee recommends making an appointment with your primary care doctor to get things figured out.

To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter

  • By Emily Shiffer
  • By Claire Gillespie

Poop 101: What your stool is telling you about your health

By Caleigh Rykiss

Date February 17, 2016

Poop: Chances are, hearing this word elicits one of three responses: Either you’re loling like a child, blushing with prudish embarrassment or using it as an excuse to launch into a TMI toilet bowl confessional. But aside from that over-sharing friend (we all have one, am I right?), most of the time, the topic of poop is used as a punchline and is rarely an issue discussed with any kind of thought or seriousness. And why not? The truth is, our poo is a window into how our bodies are functioning. It shouldn’t, in theory, be any different than sharing any other health revelation.

Self-proclaimed poo whisperer, nutritionist and acupuncturist Melissa Ramos is on a quest to spread the word about why shit-talk is so important. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of—everyone poops!” she says. “The more open we can be to talking about it, the more mindful we can be about our health and how we’re treating our bodies.”

Yes, everything from the size, colour, shape and consistency of what we leave in the toilet is a major indicator of what’s going on with our health. Dehydration, food intolerances, lack of nutrition—according to Ramos, poop is a litmus test for so many different ailments. “The more we can open up about it, the more people will start to ask the right questions about their health and even begin to question their food choices,” she says. Read on to learn what your poop is trying to tell you:

Colour

Ramos says healthy poop should be 50 shades of brown. But don’t panic if you see a different hue before you flush. It could be the result of a number of things: Anyone who is a fan of beets (guilty) knows that some foods’ colours can drastically alter the shade. Purple, red or black poop, post-beet-binge, is no biggie. But if you can’t directly link it back to eating beets or if it is ongoing, check in with the doc. “It could be indicative of internal bleeding,” explains Ramos. Dark red or black may be the result of bleeding higher up in the digestive tract, whereas a bright shade of red shade is more likely due to bleeding in the lower intestines, often a sign of internal hemorrhoids. Green poop is usually nothing to worry about. It could be a symptom of your love for kale or could be a result of super-fast digestion, which is often accompanied by a looser consistency (read: upset tummy). Regularly taking iron supplements can also cause a green pigment. Yellow poop could be caused by excess fat in the stool due to issues with absorption, such as celiac disease. Finally, grey poops could indicate a lack of bile in the poop that could be because of a blockage in a bile duct. If you’re not seeing a “chestnut brown,” as Ramos calls it, or something close to it, it’s best to contact your physician to make sure everything’s A-OK down there.

Shape

“Your poop should look like a dog’s tail, so smooth and long,” says Ramos. “Not like a baby’s arm, which is bumpy.” Those thick and lumpy formations or small, hard-to-pass drops, which Ramos calls “pellet poop,” could be from not drinking enough H2O. “Pellet poop is quite common and usually from dehydration, not enough fats or poor fat assimilation,” she says. Ramos also says that soft, loose stools or diarrhea could mean that something is off with your eating. “Loose poops are usually a sign of a food intolerance—especially when it fluctuates from constipation to loose.” Take note post-flush, as well. Did your bowel movement leave remnants in the bowl? “You want to make sure there are no streaks left in the toilet bowl, and if there are, it means that there’s mucous that needs to be removed from the diet—think sugar, gluten and dairy.”

Sink or swim

The sink versus swim debate is as contentious as the cardio versus weights argument. The most popular consensus when it comes to crap: Floating is not ideal. Common reasons for floaters are excess gas in the intestinal tract and malabsorption of nutrients. Most of the time, it’s linked to foods that don’t agree with you. For example, many people who have trouble digesting lactose get swimmers after an ice-cream indulgence. If your poop simply won’t sink, focus on clean eating. If it still doesn’t work itself out and lasts more than a few weeks, then it’s time to call an MD for some professional advice.

How to improve your poops

Truth be told, I don’t know anyone who has perfect poops all of the time. Most of my GFs are either ridden with constipation, bloating or food sensitivities. Fortunately, there is hope for us all, but it involves making some changes where eating habits are concerned. “First and foremost, remove the gluten,” says Ramos (and we groan). “I know some people think it’s a fad, but I’ve seen thousands of women’s health improve from removing it.” Not surprisingly, dairy is next on the chopping block, as it is not only a common dietary sensitivity, but also an inflammatory food. To keep the bacteria balanced, critical for gut health, add in a good probiotic. “My favourite are those from Natren, the only probiotics in North America that meet EU standards.” And to beat the bloat, Ramos suggests: “Try out a bitters tincture like St. Francis Canadian Bitters Combo about 5 to 10 minutes before each meal.”

Happy pooping, and don’t forget to look before you flush!

Stool Tests

  • Larger text sizeLarge text sizeRegular text size

About Stool Tests

Stool (or feces) is usually thought of as nothing but waste — something to quickly flush away. But bowel movements can provide doctors with valuable information as to what’s wrong when a child has a problem in the stomach, intestines, or another part of the gastrointestinal system.

A doctor may order a stool collection to test for a variety of possible conditions, including:

  • allergy or inflammation in the body, such as part of the evaluation of milk protein allergy in infants
  • infection, as caused by some types of bacteria, viruses, or parasites that invade the gastrointestinal system
  • digestive problems, such as the malabsorption of certain sugars, fats, or nutrients
  • bleeding inside of the gastrointestinal tract

The most common reason to test stool is to determine whether a type of bacteria or parasite may be infecting the intestines. Many microscopic organisms living in the intestines are necessary for normal digestion. If the intestines become infected with harmful bacteria or parasites, though, it can cause problems like certain types of bloody diarrhea, and testing stool can help find the cause.

Stool samples are also sometimes analyzed for what they contain; for instance, examining the fat content. Normally, fat is completely absorbed from the intestine, and the stool contains virtually no fat. In certain types of digestive disorders, however, fat is incompletely absorbed and remains in the stool.

Collecting a Stool Specimen

Unlike most other lab tests, stool is sometimes collected by the child’s family at home, not by a health care professional. Here are some tips for collecting a stool specimen:

  • Collecting stool can be messy, so be sure to wear latex gloves and wash your hands and your child’s hands well afterward.
  • Many kids with diarrhea, especially young children, can’t always let a parent know in advance when a bowel movement is coming. Sometimes a hat-shaped plastic lid is used to collect the stool specimen. This catching device can be quickly placed over the toilet bowl or your child’s rear end to collect the specimen. Using a catching device can prevent contamination of the stool by water and dirt. If urine contaminates the stool sample, it will be necessary to take another sample. Also, if you’re unable to catch the stool sample before it touches the inside of the toilet, the sample will need to be repeated. Fishing a bowel movement out of the toilet does not provide a clean specimen for the laboratory to analyze.
  • Another way to collect a stool sample is to loosely place plastic wrap across the rim of the toilet, under the seat. Then place the stool sample in a clean, sealable container before taking to the laboratory. Plastic wrap can also be used to line the diaper of an infant or toddler who is not yet using the toilet.

The stool should be collected into clean, dry plastic jars with screw-cap lids. You can get these from your doctor or through hospital laboratories or pharmacies, although any clean, sealable container could do the job. For best results, the stool should then be brought to the laboratory immediately.

If the stool specimen is going to be examined for an infection, and it’s impossible to get the sample to the laboratory right away, the stool should be refrigerated, then taken to the laboratory to be cultured as soon as possible after collection. When the sample arrives at the lab, it is either examined and cultured immediately or placed in a special liquid medium that attempts to preserve potential bacteria or parasites.

The doctor or the hospital laboratory will usually provide written instructions on how to successfully collect a stool sample; if written instructions are not provided, take notes on how to collect the sample and what to do once you’ve collected it.

If you have any questions about how to collect the specimen, be sure to ask. The doctor or the lab will also let you know if a fresh stool sample is needed for a particular test, and if it will need to be brought to the laboratory right away.

Most of the time, disease-causing bacteria or parasites can be identified from a single stool specimen. Sometimes, however, up to three samples from different bowel movements must be taken. The doctor will let you know if this is the case.

Testing the Stool Sample

In general, the results of stool tests are usually reported back within 3 to 4 days, although it often takes longer for parasite testing to be completed.

Examining the Stool for Blood

Your doctor will sometimes check the stool for blood, which can be caused by certain kinds of infectious diarrhea, bleeding within the gastrointestinal tract, and other conditions. However, most of the time, blood streaking in the stool of an infant or toddler is from a slight rectal tear, called a fissure, which is caused by straining against a hard stool (this is fairly common in infants and kids with ongoing constipation).

Testing for blood in the stool is often performed with a quick test in the office that can provide the results immediately. First, stool is smeared on a card, then a few drops of a developing solution are placed on the card. An instant color change shows that blood is present in the stool. Sometimes, stool is sent to a laboratory to test for blood, and the result will be reported within hours.

Culturing the Stool

Stool can be cultured for disease-causing bacteria. A stool sample is placed in an incubator for at least 48 to 72 hours and any disease-causing bacteria are identified and isolated. Remember that not all bacteria in the stool cause problems; in fact, about half of stool is bacteria, most of which live there normally and are necessary for digestion. In a stool culture, lab technicians are most concerned with identifying bacteria that cause disease.

For a stool culture, the lab will need a fresh or refrigerated sample of stool. The best samples are of loose, fresh stool; well-formed stool is rarely positive for disease-causing bacteria. Sometimes, more than one stool will be collected for a culture.

Swabs from a child’s rectum also can be tested for viruses. Although this is not done routinely, it can sometimes give clues about certain illnesses, especially in newborns or very ill children. Viral cultures can take a week or longer to grow, depending on the virus.

Testing the Stool for Ova and Parasites

Stool may be tested for the presence of parasites and ova (the egg stage of a parasite) if a child has prolonged diarrhea or other intestinal symptoms. Sometimes, the doctor will collect two or more samples of stool to successfully identify parasites. If parasites — or their eggs — are seen when a smear of stool is examined under the microscope, the child will be treated for a parasitic infestation. The doctor may give you special collection containers that contain chemical preservatives for parasites.

Stool test

A stool test examines the stool (poop). Stool tests are useful for looking at problems in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Why a stool test is done

A stool test may be done to check for:

  • bleeding inside the GI tract
  • infection from bacteria, viruses or fungus
  • parasites
  • digestive conditions

Screening for colorectal cancer uses stool tests to check for bleeding inside the GI tract. Find out more about screening for colorectal cancer.

Types of stool tests

There are several types of stool tests. The type of stool test used depends on why the test is being done and what the doctor is looking for.

  • A gFOBT (guaiac-based fecal occult blood test) uses a chemical reaction on a paper card to find traces of blood in the stool that you can’t see.
  • A FIT (fecal immunochemical test) uses specific antibodies for human blood to find traces of blood in the stool that you can’t see.
  • A stool culture looks for bacteria that are not normally found in the GI tract.
  • Stool fat testing looks for extra fat in the stool to see if the body is having trouble absorbing fat from food.

How a stool test is done

A stool sample is usually collected at home. Wear latex gloves and follow your doctor’s instructions for collecting and saving the stool sample.

Different methods can be used to collect the stool, including:

  • using a hat-shaped plastic container placed over the toilet bowl
  • placing plastic wrap loosely over the toilet bowl
  • lining a diaper with plastic wrap (for infants or toddlers)

If urine (pee) is mixed with the stool or if the stool touches the inside of the toilet bowl, another sample will have to be collected.

The stool sample will be looked at under a microscope at the lab.

What the results mean

Normal stool usually appears brown, soft and well-formed in consistency. It does not contain blood, mucus, pus or harmful micro-organisms.

Abnormal results from different types of tests may be caused by:

  • inflammation of the intestine, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
  • hemorrhoids (enlarged, swollen veins inside or outside of the anus)
  • polyps (growths attached to the colon or rectum)
  • anal fissures (thin tears in the lining of the anus)
  • peptic ulcers
  • infection
  • parasites
  • digestive conditions, such as not absorbing certain fats or other nutrients
  • use of aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • cancer

What happens if the results are abnormal

Your doctor may recommend more tests, procedures, follow-up care or treatment.

Special considerations for children

Preparing children before a test or procedure can help lower their anxiety, increase their cooperation and develop their coping skills. This includes explaining to children what will happen during the test, such as what they will see, feel and hear.

Preparing a child for a stool test depends on the age and experience of the child. Find out more about helping your child cope with tests and treatments.

Stool tests for IBD

How are stool tests for IBD done?

Your doctor or nurse will give you instructions as to how to collect your sample and these should be followed if they differ from the instructions below:

You will probably be provided with a specimen pot to put the stool sample into. If you aren’t then any clean, dry, screw top container will do.

Make sure the pot or container is labelled with your name, date of birth and the date you are taking the sample.

When collecting the sample try not to let it touch the toilet or toilet water and try not to collect any urine with it. To do this make sure you urinate first. To get the stool sample you could use a potty or a large, empty container to go to the toilet in or place plastic wrap or newspaper over the rim of the toilet seat to catch the stool.

You will then need to use a spoon or spatula (or the tool that came with the sample pot) to collect a piece of the stool. You should fill the sample pot about a third full – or collect a sample about the same size as a walnut if you are using your own pot.

After collecting the sample make sure you dispose of anything that you used to collect the sample by tying it in a plastic bag and putting in the bin. Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly afterwards. If you have an infection and you don’t do this you could pass it on to other people.