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You may be surprised by how much your bathroom habits say about your health.

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Pooping problems can really stink…both literally and figuratively. Although we may not feel comfortable talking about it, the fact is that everybody poops and it’s not something to be embarrassed about. What comes out can provide a lot of info about your health—and when things don’t seem right, you shouldn’t hesitate to mention it to your doctor.

Here are some answers to common questions you may not want to ask—but probably should.

Is there such a thing as “normal” poop?

When it comes to bowel movements, what’s normal for one person may not be normal for another. But there are still some general guidelines of what’s considered healthy. These include:

      • Color: Medium to dark brown
      • Smell: Strong but familiar
      • Feel: Painless, requiring minimal strain to pass
      • Texture: Passed in one single piece or a few smaller pieces
      • Frequency: As much as twice a day or as little as three times per week

If your stool is different on a consistent basis, that may just be what’s normal for you. But it’s worth mentioning to your doctor just to be sure.

How do you know if something is wrong?

Even though a healthy poop can vary from person to person, there are still certain health indicators you should watch for, such as:

      • Light-colored: Possible infection or inflammation of the gallbladder, liver or pancreas.
      • Black-colored: Black licorice, blueberries and iron supplements can cause this to happen, but it could also indicate bleeding or tumors in the digestive tract.
      • Red-colored: A small amount of bleeding can be a result of constipation or hemorrhoids, but it could be more serious if it continues for more than a few days.
      • Diarrhea: This is characterized by stool that is loose and watery and you have to go more than three times in one day. Some causes include viruses, bacteria or parasites from contaminated food or water, medications with magnesium (antibiotics or antacids), food intolerances or a disease of the stomach, small intestine or colon.
      • Constipation: Stool that’s hard, dry and/or painful to pass is a sign of constipation. Causes can include a diet low in fiber, dehydration, lack of exercise or a reaction to medications such as antidepressants or opioids.
      • Floating poop: If this happens once in a while, it’s not cause for concern. But if it happens more often, it could be caused by problems absorbing nutrients, too much gas, a gastrointestinal infection or pancreatitis.
      • Change in smell: No one’s poop smells like roses, but if the odor suddenly changes, it could be a sign of a problem.

What causes problems with your bowel movements?

Foods that are fried, spicy and highly acidic can cause gastrointestinal symptoms for a lot of people. This usually results in symptoms that are temporary. Some sufferers find relief by consuming high fiber and low fat foods, as well as non-carbonated, non-alcoholic and caffeine-free drinks (water is best).

Several health conditions can cause digestion to be off track on a more regular basis, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gallstones, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and diverticulitis, among others. These conditions may cause constipation or diarrhea, as well as general irregularity.

Each person’s “normal” is going to be slightly different. But if you notice sudden changes to your stool and you haven’t changed your diet, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about it.

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Date Last Reviewed: August 12, 2021

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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