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What Your Poop Says About Your Health

February 13, 2023

Have you looked at your poop lately?

It may be a habit worth adopting, says Joseph Cappa, MD, gastroenterologist with the Hartford HealthCare Digestive Health Institute.

“Every time you go to the bathroom, be aware of your bowel movements. It can be a good sign of how quickly things are going through your system, how hydrated you are, how much fiber you have in your diet and if there is anything you should be concerned about,” says Dr. Kappa.

So what exactly should you be looking for during these fecal examinations? Dr. Kappa explains.

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How SHOULD my stool look?

When asked about how stool should look, Dr. Cappa refers patients to the Bristol Stool Chart. The visual aid shows seven types of stools that range from “separate hard lumps” to “liquid consistency with no solid pieces” and everything in between.

The middle type – described as “smooth, soft sausage or snake” – is considered ideal, but others fall into the normal range, says Dr. Cappa.

Diet determines color

Stool color is normally brown, ranging from tan to dark brown, says Dr. Cappa.

Red can indicate blood unless you’ve been eating beets, cranberries or drinking tomato juice, which can impact the color.

You can also see darker stool after eating blueberries or increasing your iron, and green from leafy green vegetables.

Pale white pasty stool is a concern, he says, because it can be caused by a bile duct obstruction.

Other concerning signs are stool that looks greasy or smells foul and floats. That can signal malabsorption, a sign that nutrients aren’t being absorbed through the small intestine due to infection, medication or disorders, such as celiac disease.

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What if my stool isn’t “normal”?

The types of stool at either end of the scale shouldn’t alarm you, as long as they’re only happening occasionally. If they happen more frequently or with other symptoms, you should contact a doctor.

Other warning signs to watch for include pain or straining when you go, night-time bowel movements, or stools that are consistently black, red or pasty white without being colored from food you recently ate.

Patients, Dr. Cappa advises, should describe what they see to their gastroenterologist. Digital photos are also good, but he advises against bringing in a sample.