February 10, 2022/Digestive

Poop Shape, Color and Smell: What’s Healthy and What’s Not

Your #2 can be the #1 sign of a medical issue

running to toilet

When you look in the toilet after you poop, you may find something unexpected: Key pieces of information about your health.

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The shape, color and smell of your bodily waste can signal if something inside of you isn’t operating at 100% efficiency. Hard, lumpy doo-doo may mean you’re dehydrated, for instance. Red stool? That may be a sign of rectal bleeding. A pungent poop could indicate an infection or other concerns.

Basically, there’s a treasure trove of information for those willing to take a peek. You just have to know what you’re looking for.

Let’s get to the bottom of it with gastroenterologist Christine Lee, MD.

What does the shape of your poop mean?

Poop isn’t exactly a one-size-only personal product. Your fecal matter can be big or little depending on the day. It can be round or oblong. It can be hard or soft or even liquid in form. There’s a lot of potential variation.

Luckily, there’s a handy visual aid to give you a sense of what’s ideal and what’s not.

The Bristol Stool Chart classifies feces into seven types based upon shape and consistency, says Dr. Lee. The types are as follows:

  • Type 1: Separate hard lumps, like little pebbles.
  • Type 2: Hard and lumpy and starting to resemble a sausage.
  • Type 3: Sausage-shaped with cracks on the surface.
  • Type 4: Thinner and more snakelike, plus smooth and soft.
  • Type 5: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges.
  • Type 6: Fluffy, mushy pieces with ragged edges.
  • Type 7: Watery with no solid pieces.

Explaining the Bristol Stool Chart

So, what type should you be hoping to find in the bowl? “Type 3 or Type 4 is optimal and reflective of a healthier diet and lifestyle,” says Dr. Lee. (As an added bonus, those types of poo also are easier to pass.)

The other five types may be signaling that something is off internally. For instance:

  • Type 1 and Type 2 poops signal constipation and can be difficult or painful to pass. The most common cause is not enough fluids. “It’s often a sign you should be drinking more,” explains Dr. Lee. Adding fiber to your diet and exercise to your daily routine will also help move things along.
  • A Type 5 poop can indicate a lack of fiber, which can help soak up fluid and firm things up. Continually pooping in this part of the scale may be a sign of bowel issues.
  • Type 6 and Type 7 are in diarrhea territory and could signal an illness, food poisoning or some other digestive or intestinal issue. Stress can cause it, too. See a doctor if your stool consistently registers on this part of the chart.

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Is it normal to have different-colored poop?

Before we explore the fascinating world of “technicolor” poop, let’s start with what hue it should be — a basic brown. That ho-hum color comes from mixing various ingredients sloshing around in your digestive tract, including:

  • Bile that breaks down fats passing through your digestive system.
  • Bilirubin, a substance created when red blood cells reach the end of their life cycle and exit your body as a waste product.
  • The digested remnants of all the food you ate.

So, what makes a wild color appear from time to time? It’s usually tied to something that you ate. Vegetables, fruits and food dyes can all paint your poop — and it’s perfectly normal (even if it doesn’t look like it).

Know this, though: A food-related tint should disappear within a day or so once the source is out of your system

If odd colors linger, it could be a warning sign for other medical issues. For instance:

  • Greenish poop could be from a bacterial or viral infection, a parasite or irritable bowel syndrome. It also may be connected to new medications you’re taking.
  • Reddish poop could indicate rectal bleeding or conditions such as hemorrhoids, anal fissures, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcers or even colorectal cancer.
  • Blackish poop could signal that there’s blood in your upper digestive system from ulcers. It may also be a byproduct of taking iron supplements or Pepto-Bismol®.
  • Yellowish or greyish poop could signal liver, gallbladder or pancreas disorders.

Most of the time, though, a funky color can be traced back to food. (Hello, green-frosted cupcake!) But if your poo stays on the wrong part of the color chart for more than a few days, contact your healthcare provider.

Why does poop smell bad?

There’s no air freshener promising to deliver the pleasant aroma of fecal matter. Poop smells bad. That’s just a basic fact.

But there is poo that smells worse than bad — and that’s where you want to pay attention.

Foul-smelling poop is often connected to unwanted bacteria taking up residence in your gut and upsetting your usual digestive process, says Dr. Lee. That strong smell is often in conjunction with diarrhea, too.

Symptoms should clear up quickly if the smell is because of something you ate. If the issue lingers, though, touch base with your healthcare provider to see if there’s an underlying medical condition behind the smell.

Final information flush

Is it good to pay attention to your output in the bathroom? Absolutely. But it’s also not something that demands constant, thorough review. You’ve been pooping your whole life. When something’s wrong, you’ll know.

“It shouldn’t be a daily concern,” says Dr. Lee. “But when something seems off, don’t just ignore it. Listen to what your body is telling you.”

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