Alternative practitioners often ask clients about their stool as part of their assessment. Find out what normal stool should look like, and learn about the causes of green stool, pale stool, yellow stool, blood in stool, mucus in stool, pencil thin stool, infrequent stool, and more.
What Does an Ideal Bowel Movement Look Like?
An ideal bowel movement is medium brown, the color of plain cardboard. It leaves the body easily with no straining or discomfort. It should have the consistency of toothpaste, and be approximately 4 to 8 inches long. Stool should enter the water smoothly and slowly fall once it reaches the water. There should be little gas or odor. (type 4 and 5)
Stool That Sinks Quickly
Rapidly sinking stool can indicate that a person isn’t eating enough fiber-rich foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, or drinking enough water. This stool is often dark because they have been sitting in the intestines for a prolonged time.
Stool that is pale or grey may be caused by insufficient bile output due to conditions such as cholecystitis, gallstones, giardia parasitic infection, hepatitis, chronic pancreatitis, or cirrhosis. Bile salts from the liver give stool its brownish color. If there is decreased bile output, stool is much lighter in color.
Other causes of pale stool is the use of antacids that contain aluminum hydroxide. Stool may also temporarily become pale after a barium enema test.
Pale stool may also be shiny or greasy, float, and be foul smelling, due to undigested fat in the stool (see soft and smelly stool).
Soft, Smelly Stool
Soft, foul-smelling stool that floats, sticks to the side of the bowl, or is difficult to flush away may mean there is increased fat in the stools, called steatorrhea. Stool is sometimes also pale. Learn more about the causes of soft, foul-smelling stool.
Mucus in Stool
Whitish mucus in stool may indicate there is inflammation in the intestines. Mucus in stool can occur with either constipation or diarrhea. Read more about the causes of mucus in stool.
The liver constantly makes bile, a bright green fluid, that is secreted directly into the small intestine or stored in the gallbladder. Continue reading about the causes of green stool.
In traditional Chinese medicine, loose stools, abdominal bloating, lack of energy, and poor appetite can be signs of a condition known as spleen qi deficiency. It doesn’t necessarily involve your actual spleen, but it is linked to tiredness and weak digestion brought on by stress and poor diet. Learn more about the causes of loose stool.
Pencil Thin Stool
Like loose stools, stool that is pencil thin can be caused by a condition known in traditional Chinese medicine as spleen qi deficiency.
Other symptoms of spleen qi deficiency are: easy bruising, mental fogginess, bloating, gas, loose stools, fatigue, poor appetite, loose stools with little odor, symptoms that worsen with stress, undigested food in the stools, and difficulty ending the bowel movement. Spleen qi deficiency can be brought on by stress and overwork.
Eating certain foods in excess is thought to worsen spleen qi deficiency. Offending foods include fried or greasy foods, dairy, raw fruits and vegetables, and cold drinks, all believed to cause “cold” and “dampness” in the body. Dietary treatment of spleen qi deficiency involves eating warm, cooked foods. Ginger tea and cinnamon tea are also warming.
Pencil thin stool can also be caused by a bowel obstruction. Benign rectal polyps, prostate enlargement, colon or prostate cancer are some of the conditions that can cause obstruction.
With constipation, infrequent or hard stool is passed with straining. Learn about the causes of infrequent stool.
Pellet stool is stool that comes out in small, round balls. In traditional Chinese medicine, pellet stool is caused by a condition known as liver qi stagnation. Liver qi stagnation can be brought on by stress. Lack of exercise can worsen the problem. Find out more about the causes of pellet stool.
Yellow stool can indicate that food is passing through the digestive tract relatively quickly. Yellow stool can be found in people with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Symptoms of GERD include heartburn, chest pain, sore throat, chronic cough, and wheezing. Symptoms are usually worse when lying down or bending. Foods that can worsen GERD symptoms include peppermint, fatty foods, alcohol, coffee, and chocolate.
Yellow stool can also result from insufficient bile output. Bile salts from the liver gives stool its brownish color. When bile output is diminished, it often first appears as yellow stool. If there is a greater reduction in bile output, stool lose almost all of its color, becoming pale or grey.
If the onset is sudden, yellow stool can also be a sign of a bacterial infection in the intestines.
Stool that is almost black with a thick consistency may be caused by bleeding in the upper digestive tract. The most common medical conditions that cause dark, tar-like stool includes duodenal or gastric ulcer, esophageal varices, Mallory Weiss tear (which can be linked with alcoholism), and gastritis.
Certain foods, supplements, and medications can temporarily turn stool black. These include:
- Bismuth (e.g. Pepto bismol)
- Activated charcoal
- Aspirin and NSAIDS (which can cause bleeding in the stomach)
- Dark foods such as black licorice and blueberries
Dark stool can also occur with constipation.
If you experience this type of stool, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.
Bright Red Stool
When there is blood in stool, the color depends on where it is in the digestive tract. Blood from the upper part of the digestive tract, such as the stomach, will look dark by the time it reaches exits the body as a bowel movement. Blood that is bright or dark red, on the other hand, is more likely to come from the large intestine or rectum.
Conditions that can cause blood in the stool include hemorrhoids, anal fissures, diverticulitis, colon cancer, and ulcerative colitis, among others.
Eating beets can also temporarily turn stools and urine red.
Blood in stool doesn’t always appear bright red. Blood may be also present in stool but not visible, called “occult” blood. A test called the Fecal Occult Blood Test is used to detect hidden blood in stool.
Note: Speak with your doctor about any change or abnormality concerning bowel movements.