How often do you examine your poops? You may be amused at this question, or maybe you’re thinking, “Ewwww.”
But so many things about bowel movements can tell a LOT about a person’s health, about what might be going on–ranging from benign (though annoying) conditions to cancer.
“Most of us understandably think about how often we have a bowel movement and why our stool changes in appearance and consistency,” says G. Shelton McMullan, MD, board certified gastroenterologist at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center.
“It is very normal for our defecation frequency to fluctuate and also for the size/shape and appearance of our stool to vary, without any seeming pattern,” continues Dr. McMullan.
“Often when our stool is loose, it will break up easily in the toilet or sometimes float at the top of the bowl; this is not specifically a cause for concern,” says Dr. McMullan.
“When the stool in addition appears to be ‘slimy’ and/or associated with what looks like oily deposits, this can potentially be representative of a condition called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), involving dysfunction of the pancreas in digesting fats and protein,” explains Dr. McMullan.
“Anyone with concern should mention this to his or her healthcare provider for possible further investigation; a simple submission of stool with testing of something called fecal elastase allows for the diagnosis of EPI.”
How often do you check your bowel movements’ color?
There’s no need to obsess over this, but definitely from time to time you should take note of your poop color.
Dr. McMullan explains, “In terms of the color of one’s stool, my attention is heightened when I hear about pitch-black stool with a sticky consistency, as this could represent a bleeding source within the gastrointestinal tract.
“This type of bloody stool is termed melena and has the appearance of what one would expect lava from a volcano to look like.
“Maroon or bright-red bloody stool obviously is abnormal, so this should always be reported.
“In addition, if one’s stool remains light or clay colored [greyish], this raises suspicion for a possible blockage of the main drainage duct of the gallbladder, liver and pancreas.
“Outside of these mentioned colors, color of one’s stool is in general not concerning.” This means that fluctuations in any shade of brown (light, chocolate-brown, deep brown, brownish tan, etc.) is normal. Varying tinges of green with the brown is also normal.
Still Overly Poop Worried?
Check out the very helpful articles below to see what different gastroenterologists have to say about bowel movements. .
It’s time to start getting familiar with your BMs. What your poops look like can be very telling of your health.
Dr. McMullan has published numerous medical abstracts and presented posters related to the management and treatment of inflammatory bowel disease and other gastroenterological conditions.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.