Stool Color and Consistency: What It Says About Your Health
Have you ever wondered about whether or not your stool is normal and healthy? Looking at the color and consistency of stool can give you a lot of clues to the health of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. It can also give you clues that you may need to seek medical attention.
There are several colors that stool can be, with multiple being caused by food and supplements. Brown is the normal, healthy color stool should be. The brown color is mainly due to bilirubin, which is in the bile your gallbladder secretes. As bilirubin is digested, it becomes brown. There are various shades of brown stool may be, from light yellow-brown to dark brown.
But if your stool is not brown, you may have a condition that needs to be addressed by a doctor.
- Green: Green stool can indicate that stool is moving too quickly through the GI tract, which does not allow your body enough time to fully digest bilirubin to create the normal brown color. Bilirubin, when it is first secreted, is green.
- Medical reasons: inflammation due to diseases like inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Dietary reasons: green, leafy vegetables, like spinach and kale, or green food coloring, iron supplements
- Beige, white, or light gray: A light-colored stool can be due to bile not being secreted properly. Since bile turns brown as it travels through the GI tract, a light-colored stool can mean that there isn’t any bile at all.
- Medical reasons: bile duct obstruction due to gallstones or other bile duct problems, liver damage, and liver diseases like Hepatitis C and liver cirrhosis
- Dietary reasons: high doses of anti-diarrheal medication like Kaopectate or Pepto-Bismol
- Yellow, greasy, foul-smelling: A yellow, greasy, foul-smelling stool can be due to excess fat being present in the stool.
- Medical reasons: malabsorption disorders like celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, or chronic pancreatitis, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI)
- Dietary reasons: yellow food coloring, carrots and sweet potatoes in large amounts
- Black: Black stool can indicate bleeding from the upper GI tract, such as the stomach. This is a stool color that can indicate a serious issue that requires immediate medical attention. However, there are a couple of dietary reasons your stool may be black.
- Medical reasons: bleeding stomach ulcers, esophagitis from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and esophageal varices
- Dietary reasons: Iron supplements, Kaopectate or Pepto-Bismol, black licorice
- Bright red: Bright red stool is due to blood from the lower GI tract – the colon, rectum, or anus. There are some serious causes of blood in the stool, but also some relatively harmless ones like hemorrhoids (though they can be uncomfortable!).
Stool can be many shapes and sizes, but healthy stool should only take a few minutes to pass and be a comfortable experience. The consistency of stool depends on how much water it contains. Several things change the water content of stool, including the amount of fiber and how long it takes food to digest and pass.
Doctors can use a tool called the Bristol Stool Chart as a way to discuss stool consistency with their patients. There are seven different types of stool, varying from very hard to liquid.
- Type 1: hard stool with separate pieces and is difficult to pass
- Type 2: log-shaped but lumpy and may be difficult to pass
- Medical reasons: certain medications like strong pain medications and antidepressants, and conditions like diabetes and IBS
Indicates health and normal
- Type 3: shaped like a sausage with cracks on the surface and is easy to pass
- Type 4: shaped like a sausage or a snake and is smooth, soft, and easy to pass
- Type 5: soft blobs with clear edges that are passed easily (this can also mean there is a lack of fiber in the diet)
- Type 6: fluffy and mushy, not fully formed but not entirely liquid
- Type 7: watery with no formed pieces
- Medical reasons: viruses, parasites, bacteria, medications like antibiotics, diseases like Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, ulcerative colitis, and IBS
Hopefully, you usually have bowel movements that are comfortable to pass and a healthy color and consistency. If you frequently pass stools that are abnormal in color and/or consistency, especially bloody or black stools, don’t wait and make an appointment today!