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Stool color indications: Stool Color Changes and Chart: What Does It Mean?

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Stool Changes and What They Mean

When should I see my doctor about changes in stools?

You should talk to your doctor if you have stool changes in any of the following:

Color

The color of stools varies, but typically falls within the spectrum of brown color, depending on the foods you eat. You should be concerned if your stools are deep red, maroon, black, or “tarry,” especially if they have a noticeable odor. This may mean that there is blood in the stool.

Small amounts of bright red blood on stool or toilet paper are likely caused by hemorrhoids or a scratch in the rectal area, and generally should not cause concern. However, if more than a few bright red streaks are visible in the stool or on the toilet paper, or you develop bloody diarrhea, you should tell your healthcare provider.

In addition, pale stools that are clay or white in color and often accompanied by a change in urine color (dark urine) could indicate a problem with your biliary tree, such as bile duct stones, or liver-related issues. You should notify your healthcare provider or go to your local Emergency Department if you develop fevers, chills, right-sided upper abdominal pain, or yellowing of the skin.

Consistency (degree of firmness)

Stools should be soft and pass easily. Hard, dry stools might be a sign of constipation. You should notify your healthcare provider if constipation lasts longer than two weeks. Also, if you have nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and have not been able to pass gas or stools, this could mean that there is an obstruction (blockage). You should tell your provider or go to your local Emergency Department.

If stool becomes impacted (lodged) in the rectum, mucus and fluid will leak out around the stool, leading to fecal incontinence. Call your healthcare provider if you have mucus or fluid leakage from the rectum.

Diarrhea is bowel movements that are loose and watery. Diarrhea is a common condition and is usually not serious. You should call your healthcare provider if:

  • You have severe abdominal pain or discomfort with your diarrhea that does not go away when you pass stools or gas.
  • Diarrhea is accompanied by fever of 101 degrees or higher, chills, vomiting, or fainting.
  • Severe diarrhea lasts longer than two days in an adult, one day in a child under age 3, or eight hours in an infant under 6 months.
  • You develop severe diarrhea and have taken antibiotics recently.
  • You are elderly, were recently hospitalized, pregnant, or immunocompromised (take steroids, TNF-alpha inhibitors such as infliximab [Remicade®] or etanercept [Enbrel®], or transplant rejection medications).
  • You have diarrhea that lasts for more than two weeks.

Frequency

The normal length of time between bowel movements ranges widely from person to person. Some people have bowel movements several times a day, others only once or twice a week.

Going longer than three days without having a bowel movement is too long. After three days, the stool becomes harder and more difficult to pass. Constipation then occurs as bowel movements become difficult or less frequent. If you have constipation for more than two weeks, you should see a doctor so that he or she can determine what the problem is and treat it.

Only a small number of patients with constipation have a more serious underlying medical problem (such as poor function of the thyroid gland, diabetes, or colon cancer). For a patient who has colon cancer, early detection and treatment might be lifesaving.

You should also contact your healthcare provider if you have unexplained, sudden urges to have a bowel movement. This could be a sign of a mass in the rectum or inflammatory bowel disease.

What Does Stool Color Mean?

We can learn a lot from poop. Seriously, hear me out. What comes out can tell us a lot about what’s going on inside. Color, consistency, appearance, and odor are all indications of how healthy, or unhealthy, you are. Think of it like reading tea leaves, except with hard science to back it up.

So What Can We Learn from Stool Color?

Brown might be the standard color of bowel movements, but it’s not the only color. Actually, if it comes out another color, it’s a good idea to start asking questions. While it’s probably nothing, you can’t be too cautious. The human body isn’t like a machine where you can simply take a look under the hood to make sure everything is functioning properly. What you excrete is one of the best indicators of your wellness. Let’s take a look at what some common “alternative” colors can mean.

Green Stool

Green stool is not usually a cause for concern; it’s probably just something you ate. Foods high in chlorophyll, like kale and spinach, can lend your voidings that viridian hue. Certain types of algae or other supplements can also cause stool to be green. [1]

If you’re sure, however, that such foods aren’t the culprit, it’s time to start looking into possible digestive concerns. The liver produces bile, which is green in color, and uses it to break down fats. Stool should pass from the small intestine to the colon, changing color along the way from green to yellow to brown. Green stool could mean that food is passing through the digestive system too quickly and the color change doesn’t finish. [1]

It’s worth noting that infants have a much faster bowel transit time than adults. Green stool is common in breastfeeding infants and usually nothing to worry about.[2]

White Stool

Mucus is the most common cause of white stool and it’s not unusual. Mucus traps bacteria and helps waste pass through the colon. If the white disintegrates into the water, it’s likely just mucus. It can also be a sign of fast bowel transit time. [3][4] However, kidney health concerns or issues in the biliary system are serious causes of white stool.

Yellow Stool

Like green stool, yellow stool is common and benign with newborns and something that will pass, pardon the pun. [2] Yellow stool is not normal for adults. The lone exception to this would be a situation in which a massive amount of yellow food coloring had been recently ingested. If you see yellow stool, organs such as the stomach, liver, large intestine, or small intestine, may be experiencing trouble. See a health professional sooner than later. [5]

Red Stool

A reddish color can indicate a few things, among them and most important, the presence of blood in your stool. The hue or tone of red in your stool can tell you something about its source. For example, a bright red color may be caused by hemorrhoids or an anal fissure. Other reasons for a red color can be foods like beets and blueberries or excess iron. [8]

Other Stool Colors

A dark black can indicate that the source of blood is the upper digestive tract. If your stool is dark black, you should seek immediate medical attention. [6][7]

Dark brown can result from red wine, excess salt, or not eating enough vegetables.

References (8)

  1. Picco, Michael F., M.D. “Stool Color: When to Worry.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, 12 Oct. 2012. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.
  2. den Hertog J, van Leengoed E, Kolk F, van den Broek L, Kramer E, Bakker EJ, Bakker-van Gijssel E, Bulk A, Kneepkens F, Benninga MA. The defecation pattern of healthy term infants up to the age of 3 months. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2012 Nov;97(6):F465-70. doi: 10.1136/archdischild-2011-300539. Epub 2012 Apr 20.
  3. Shah I, Bhatnagar S, Dhabe H. Clinical and biochemical factors associated with biliary atresia. Trop Gastroenterol. 2012 Jul-Sep;33(3):214-7.
  4. Bakshi B, Sutcliffe A, Akindolie M, Vadamalayan B, John S, Arkley C, Griffin LD, Baker A. How reliably can paediatric professionals identify pale stool from cholestatic newborns? Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2012 Sep;97(5):F385-7. doi: 10.1136/fetalneonatal-2010-209700.
  5. Morris, Susan York, and Natalie Butler, RD, LD. “Why Is My Stool Yellow?” Healthline. Healthline, 21 Apr. 2015. Web. 17 Feb. 2016.
  6. Witting MD1, Magder L, Heins AE, Mattu A, Granja CA, Baumgarten M. ED predictors of upper gastrointestinal tract bleeding in patients without hematemesis. Am J Emerg Med. 2006 May;24(3):280-5.
  7. Huang J, Zhong M, Tang Y, Lu J, Li X, Li G. Clinical features of 50 cases of primary gastric lymphoma. Zhong Nan Da Xue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban. 2012 Oct;37(10):997-1002. doi: 10.3969/j.issn.1672-7347.2012.10.005.
  8. Lancaster J, Sylvia LM, Schainker E. Nonbloody, red stools from coadministration of cefdinir and iron-supplemented infant formulas. Pharmacotherapy. 2008 May;28(5):678-81. doi: 10.1592/phco.28.5.678.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.

This entry was posted in Cleansing, Colon Cleanse, Constipation, Digestive Issues, Gut and Digestive Health, Gut Flora, Health