A man makes a horrified face while looking at toilet paper; weird stool concept

Most people don’t give much thought to what they leave behind in the toilet, but paying attention to what you have gifted the porcelain throne could actually be beneficial to your health. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly: understanding your bowel movements, patterns, and excrements can give you better insight into your health.

What Does It Mean?

When it comes to stool, anything can be an indicator of health (good or bad): consistency, color, frequency, and more. If you’re new to decoding the health messages your body has left you in the toilet, keep reading. So, just what is your poop trying to tell you?…

10. Green Stool

What happens when you check the porcelain throne and discover that your waste is green? And is this discovery cause for alarm?

Why is it green?

There are plenty of reasons why your stool can be green. The good news? The most common reason isn’t a cause for concern: eating a diet loaded with leafy greens. You see, plants contain a green substance called chlorophyll. When you eat high amounts of foods containing chlorophyll, you can cause your stool to take on a greenish color.

What else causes green stool?

Not eating lots of leafy greens? There might be other reasons why your stool is looking odd (and you should discuss these concerns with a licensed medical provider):

  • Antibiotics – these medications alter gut bacteria, which can affect stool color temporarily
  • Diarrhea – food moving too quickly through the digestive tract can result in excess bile pigmentation, causing a green stool color
  • Infections, such as Giardia, norovirus, and Salmonella
  • Medical procedures that result in diarrhea

Green stool may look odd, but it is most commonly the result of something harmless (leafy green-rich diets); the same cannot be said for the following…

9. Black Stool

Dark stools, also called melena or tarry stools, can occur for various reasons, some much more serious than others.

Why is it black and tarry?

Like green stool, black stool can simply be the result of eating dark foods. If this is the case, there typically isn’t a cause for concern.

What else causes black stool?

If you haven’t eaten anything darkly colored, you should discuss your stool with a medical provider, as the following could be to blame for your tarry poop:

  • Bleeding – whether it’s from ulcers or something else, intestinal bleeding can darken stool; any time you see blood in stool or suspect bloody stool, contact your medical provider right away
  • Medications – medications, especially those with bismuth, can also darken your waste
  • Too much iron – while you need iron, taking too many iron supplements can cause issues, including tarry stool

What if your stool isn’t an odd color, but an odd shape?…

8. Thin, Pencil-shaped Stool

Stringy, thin, pencil-shaped, narrow: whatever you want to call it, you stool is looking downright weird. Why, though?

Why is it thin?

There are several explanations for why your stool might be thinner than usual. One common reason that is not necessarily a cause for concern is constipation, or defecating 3 times a week or less. In such cases, simply eating more fiber and drinking more water can help clear up constipation-related issues.

What else causes thin stool?

More serious causes of pencil-shaped stool include:

  • Anal cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Fecal impaction (where stool becomes stuck)
  • Hernias
  • Infections
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Polyps
  • Stretched colon/distended colon
  • Volvulus (twisted bowel)

What’s to blame if you leave behind a yellow submarine in your toilet bowl?…

7. Yellow Stool

What’s causing your excretements to take on such a gnarly appearance?

Why is it yellow?

Once again, your diet may be the cause of your stool-related woes. Foods with certain yellowish colors—like tumeric, carrots, or yellow food coloring—as well as gluten-filled and fatty foods can also affect stool color.

What else causes yellowish stool?

Don’t think your diet is to blame? Your yellow stool could also be the result of:

  • Celiac disease
  • Gallbladder issues
  • Gilbert syndrome
  • Infection, specifically a parasitic infection known as giardiasis (“beaver fever”)
  • Liver problems
  • Pancreatic disorders
  • Stress

All of these issues require medical attention, much like the following issue…

6. Stool with Mucus

To clarify: your stool normally has small amounts of mucus. In fact, you typically cannot even see it. So, when you notice an excessive amount of mucus in your excrements, something could be wrong.

Why is there mucus?

What you eat may affect how much mucus you have in your stool… if you have a food allergy. In other words, food intolerances or food allergies may be to blame for your mucus-lined stool.

What else causes stool with mucus?

Other potential causes of this issues include:

  • Anal tears
  • An inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
  • Constipation
  • Dehydration
  • Fecal impaction
  • Hernias
  • Infections
  • Tumors

Normally, stool has a definitive shape. So, what causes stool that is runny?…

5. Liquid Stool

Stool typically has a firm or semi-firm consistency, which means that liquid or runny stool can come as a surprise.

What is runny stool?

Runny stool or liquid stool are simply other terms for diarrhea. It’s common to experience bouts of diarrhea now and again, and they are not always cause for alarm. For instance, eating a liquid-based diet or using laxatives can result in runny stool.

What else causes diarrhea?

Other potential causes of liquid stool include:

  • Anxiety and stress
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Food intolerance
  • Food poisoning
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
  • Infections
  • Irritable bowel diseases, like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Pancreatitis, or chronic pancreas inflammation

Diarrhea is no fun, but neither is the opposite problem…

4. Hard, Small Stool

It’s hard and lumpy or maybe just looks like small rocks. Why is that?

Why is it hard?

Hard stool can be the result of constipation. While constipation is no fun and can be painful to pass, it is not always a sign of a serious problem. In many cases, poor diet is to blame. Drinking more water and eating more fiber, for instance, can help clear many cases of hard, lumpy stool.

What else causes hard stool?

Other reasons your stool may be hard or that you may have constipation include:

  • Advanced age
  • Anxiety or stress
  • Celiac disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Lack of exercise
  • Laxative abuse
  • Medications
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Traveling

Clearly, constipation is quite common and isn’t always a cause for alarm, unlike the following…

3. Pale Stool

Frequently passing clay-colored, pale, or white stool can be a cause for alarm and should be discussed with a licensed medical provider.

Why is it pale?

Pale stool can be the result of biliary system (gallbladder, liver, pancreas) issues. In other words, this stool can make an appearance when your body has problems producing and processing bile correctly.

What causes these issues?

Potential causes of biliary system issues include:

  • Cysts
  • Gallstones
  • Hepatitis, caused by either alcohol, medications, or a virus
  • Infections
  • Inflammation (i.e., biliary cirrhosis and sclerosing cholangitis)
  • Narrow or otherwise deformed biliary system
  • Tumors

The following cause of abnormal stools require medical attention, as it can be a sign of a serious medical condition…

2. Bloody, Bright Red Stool

It should go without saying that bloody stool is not good. What causes this alarming condition, though?

Why is it red?

There are many reasons why blood may appear in your waste. One simple cause is tearing around the opening of the anus, which may be the result of constipation or wiping too hard with toilet paper.

What else causes bloody stool?

Other potential causes of bloody stool that are serious include:

  • Angiodysplasia (bursting of abnormally fragile blood vessels)
  • Cancer
  • Colon inflammation (colitis)
  • Diverticulitis and Meckel’s diverticula
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Polyps
  • Proctitis (inflamed inner lining of the rectum)
  • Ulcers

So far, we’ve covered what stool should not look like. What is the ideal stool you want to find in your toilet bowl?…

1. Brown Stool

It’s brown, it’s painless and fairly effortless to pass, it’s in one piece or just a few, and is soft or semi-firm in texture: if these terms describe your stool, congratulations! You have what experts consider healthy poop.

What does healthy stool look like?

When you inspect your waste, you want to find stool that is:

  • Brown
  • Painless to pass
  • No or minimal effort to pass
  • In one piece or a few pieces
  • Soft or semi-firm consistency
  • Does not stick to the sides of the toilet bowl
  • Does not float

How do you get healthy poop?

There are plenty of easy ways to get healthier poop, including:

  • Drinking enough water
  • Eating enough fiber
  • Wiping gently with toilet paper
  • Not straining to pass stool
  • Seeing a licensed medical provider if you sense something is wrong

Disclaimer: this article does not constitute or replace medical advice. If you have an emergency or a serious medical question, please contact a medical professional or call 911 immediately. To see our full medical disclaimer, visit our Terms of Use page.

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