Sunday, October 01, 2006

Stool Colour And Texture

There is no one colour that can be regarded as healthy. The colour depends on your diet and can range from a light, almost mustard, brown to a dark brown that is nearly black. The darker the colour the more iron there is in the diet. A more a diet is vegetarian the lighter the stools. It's not the colour that should worry you but the texture. Stools that are too loose show a lack of proper digestion processes and you could end up with a vitamin B12 deficiency as lose stools tend to travel though the intestine too quickly and don't allow the B12 to digest. It is possible that a course of injections may be needed to rectify this since eating more B12 laden foods will not cure the problem. A diet containing more roughage should help and less frequent visits to the toilet. Hard stools indicate constipation which should, ideally, not last more than three days. A mild laxative can help that contains senna. If the problem persists see a doctor. The other thing to look out for is blood in the stools. If this occurs consult your doctor as it could signify a variety of problems, some quite simple, but others such as colitis or Crohn's Disease more serious. A word of warning though.

Changes in colour
Healthy bowel motions are brown. If your faeces change colour, seek medical attention immediately, as some of the causes may include serious illnesses. Common colour changes and their range of possible causes include:

  • Red - blood smears on the toilet paper are usually caused by haemorrhoids or anal fissures. Bright red blood in the faeces (haemotochezia) usually means internal bleeding, and the causes could include bowel cancer or a bleeding stomach ulcer.
  • Black - one of the most common causes of black faeces is taking iron supplements. However, bleeding higher up in the digestive tract, such as from the oesophagus or stomach, can cause the faeces to appear black (melena). The cause could include bleeding from an ulcer.
  • Maroon - blood is the usual cause of maroon-coloured faeces. Some of the causes can include bleeding from the bowel - often from diverticulosis, angiodysplasia (abnormal and leaky blood vessels in the intestinal lining) or bowel cancer.
  • Cream or light coloured - light-coloured faeces usually means that bile salts are absent. This could be caused by a range of digestive diseases affecting the pancreas, gall bladder or liver. Hepatitis, for example, can make the faeces appear silver, white, grey or yellow.
Changes in texture
Healthy bowel motions are firm and moist. Common texture changes and their range of possible causes include:
  • Watery - short bouts of diarrhoea can be caused by a range of factors, including food poisoning, gastroenteritis and anxiety. Chronic diarrhoea can be a symptom of more serious illnesses such as coeliac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulosis or bowel cancer. It can also be caused by medication, diet (high fibre diets, coffee and diet soft drinks can cause diarrhoea) and, frequently, from irritable bowel syndrome. Lactose intolerance can also cause diarrhoea, often with cramping and wind.
  • Hard and dry - when you are constipated, bowel motions tend to be hard, dry and uncomfortable to pass. Common causes of constipation include a low fibre diet, and some medications. Constipation can cause haemorrhoids to produce symptoms because of the straining involved to pass a hard, dry motion.
  • Stringy - parasitic infections of the gut can cause bowel motions to become thin and stringy. For example, worms can affect the faeces in this way.
  • Greasy - a high fat meal can result in fatty, smelly faeces that tend to float in the toilet bowl. However, the constant passage of greasy stools could indicate a problem with fat digestion.

Stool color What it may mean Possible dietary causes
Green Food is moving through the large intestine too quickly, such as due to diarrhea. As a result, bile doesn't have time to break down completely. Green leafy vegetables, green food coloring, such as in Kool-Aid or popsicles.
Pale or clay-colored A lack of bile. This may indicate a bile duct obstruction. Certain medications, such as large doses of Kaopectate and other anti-diarrheal drugs.
Yellow, greasy, foul-smelling Excess fat in the stool, such as due to a malabsorption disorder. Sometimes the protein gluten, such as in celiac disease. But see a doctor for evaluation.
Black Bleeding in the upper intestinal tract, such as the stomach. Iron supplements, Pepto-Bismol, black licorice.
Bright red Bleeding in the lower intestinal tract, such as the large intestine or rectum. Red food coloring, beets, tomato juice or soup, red Jell-O.


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