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What your poop is trying to tell you

  • A normal stool should look almost like the poop emoji!
  • A sudden change in your stool’s size, color and texture can signal a change in your digestive health.
  • How slowly or how quickly food moves through your system can affect the color and consistency of your poop.

You might giggle while reading this. That’s OK. Although we all poop, it can be a little embarrassing to talk about. But, a sudden change in your stool’s size, color and texture can signal a change in your digestive health.  For example, your poop can signal if you’re not drinking enough water or eating enough fiber-rich foods.

Learn more about what your “poo” may be telling you, and why you should let your health care provider know.

Your poop’s appearance

Your stool is mostly water, undigested food and dead bacteria. Food takes about three days to pass through the entire digestive system, depending on the person. How slowly or quickly food moves through your system can affect the color and consistency of your poop.

Normal poop

A normal stool should be medium to dark brown in color and look almost like the poop emoji. The combination of stomach bile and bilirubin, which forms when red blood cells break down, is what give your waste this pigment.

Why is my poop yellow?

A light-colored stool (yellow, light brown or light gray) may be a sign of an issue in your liver, pancreas or gallbladder.

Why is my poop red?

A red stool might be as simple as having eaten red foods such as beets. It can also be caused by having your period, hemorrhoids or constipation. It can also be a sign of inflammation or an infection in your lower GI tract, bowels or stomach.

Why is my poop black?

If your stool is black, it could also be food related. Have you recently eaten black licorice or blueberries? It can also be a side effect of taking an iron supplement. It could also signal bleeding or tumors in your intestinal tract.

The Bristol Stool Chart

Health care providers use a tool called the Bristol Stool Chart to help identify the type of stool. The seven categories go from hard stools (types 1 and 2) to soft stools (types 5 to 7). It also identifies color and consistency of your poop.

Bristol stool chart_Types of Poop

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Bristol Stool Chart

  • Type 1, separate hard lumps, like nuts
  • Type 2, lumpy and sausage-like
  • Type 3, sausage shape with cracks
  • Type 4, like a smooth, soft sausage or snake
  • Type 5, soft blobs with clear-cut edges
  • Type 6, mushy consistency with ragged edges
  • Type 7, liquid consistency with no solid pieces

When should I see a doctor?

How often you poop varies. Most people poop every 1 to 3 days. Other people poop 3 times a day. Instead of focusing on how often you poop, pay attention if what is normal for you. That includes occasional bouts of diarrhea or constipation. You should pay attention if the color, shape or texture of your stool changes drastically and lasts for more than a few days. Talk to your health care provider as this could point to something more serious going on.

Avoid busy waiting rooms and start a virtual visit now.

Symptoms that may indicate something more serious if lasting more than a few days include:

  • constipation or diarrhea
  • red, black, or pale stools
  • stomach pain
  • indigestion
  • unintentional weight loss
  • stinky stools that float.

Pictured is a woman laying down holding her stomach. The caption says Indigestion or stomach pain? Get care now.

How to keep your poops healthy

Here are some tips to keep your digestive system, including your poop habits, healthy:

  • Eat fiber-rich foods
    Eat a balance of colorful foods including fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetable, nuts and whole grains. Start with this black bean slow cooker soup recipe.
  • Drink plenty of water
    Most people need about eight, 8-ounce glasses of water every day to keep our systems working well. Follow these tips to help you stay hydrated.

  • Move it!
    Regular exercise helps keep your digestive system “moving” and can help prevent constipation.

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