What is a Normal stool?
When it comes to toileting habits, the shape, size, and color of your feces can tell a lot about your overall health, not only about the health and proper functioning of your gastrointestinal system. By looking at the structure of your feces, many information and clues about serious medical conditions and diseases are collected such as a presence of an infection, digestive problem, or even the presence of cancer.
There is a wide variety of stool shapes, sizes, colors and textures, but it is important to know what is considered as normal, in order to recognize when a change occurs.
The human stool is made out of 75% water, while the rest is a combination of fiber, bacteria, mucus and miscellaneous cells. A very handy tool which will help you recognize different types of stools is the Bristol Stool Chart. Ideally, the stool should be as type 4, but type 3 and type 5 are also acceptable.
Types of Stool according to Bristol Stool Chart
A healthy stool is a medium to light brown in color, with an S-shape, soft and smooth, formed into one long shape, about 18 inches long and 1 or 2 inches in diameter, with a natural and not repulsive smell, with uniform texture, which also quietly and gently dives into the toilet water. Anything else from the above – mentioned stool characteristic, should be a sign of warning that something is not quite as it should with your health and gastrointestinal system.
When it comes to bowel movements, it is also important to know what is considered normal and what not. However, everyone is unique and you should know what is normal for you. A normal range of bowel movements varies from three bowel movements a day and up to three bowel movements per week. More than three bowel movements a day signifies diarrhea, while less than three bowel movements per week signifies constipation. (1)
When to worry about the Stool Color?
As mentioned, stool can come in a range of colors. Ideally, a stool should be a light brown in color. However, this is not always possible and sometimes stool due to various reasons can change its color. (2)
Possible stool colors are:
Bright red stool
Indicates a bleeding in the lower part of the gastrointestinal system, often caused by hemorrhoids or a bleeding in the rectum or large intestines. Certain foods can lead to a bright red stool as well, such as cranberries, beets, tomato juice, red food coloring, etc. If you have consumed the above – mentioned food types during the day or the previous day there is nothing to worry about. If not, then you should seek medical help and get the right cause of your bright red stool color.
Indicates a bleeding in the upper part of the gastrointestinal system, usually from the stomach. Seek immediate medical help as it could signify serious medical conditions, which when left untreated can lead to serious complications and even death. Iron supplements can lead to a black stool as well.
Yellow and greasy stool
It is an indicator of the presence of excessive fat in the stool, commonly caused by celiac disease or malabsorption.
Indicates that the food passes through the large intestine too quickly and the bile doesn’t have the time to completely break down as it normally should. Iron supplements, green leafy vegetables, as well as, green food coloring can lead to a green stool too.
Light colored stool
Indicates a lack of bile due to a bile duct obstruction, liver diseases, cancer, etc. Some medications such as anti – diarrheal medications or large doses of bismuth subsalicylate can lead to a light colored stool.
Different Stool Colors
If you are concerned about the color of your stool you should seek professional medical help and get the right diagnosis of your problem with the necessary treatment.
A light colored stool often referred to as clay – colored or white stool is not a normal stool and it indicates a problem with the liver, pancreas, gallbladder or the biliary system. If you notice a light colored stool, seek immediate medical help.
Normally, the liver produces bile which is released into the stool, giving the stool its characteristic brown color. If the liver does not produce enough bile, if the bile flow is blocked in the biliary system than normally the bile will not be able to drain into the intestines, leading to a light colored stool. (3, 4)
Common causes of the light colored stool are
Due to an inflammation of the liver with hepatitis viruses A, B, and C can lead to light colored stool. Hepatitis C is the type of viral hepatitis which often leads to liver diseases, affecting the normal function of the liver, including bile production.
It is an inflammation of the liver due to excessive alcohol consumption over a long period of time. Alcoholic hepatitis is known to lead to liver cirrhosis and even liver failure. In order to treat this type of liver disease, a person should stop drinking alcohol.
Structural defects of biliary system
Many are born with structural defects of the biliary system which interferes with the normal bile flow from the liver. These congenital defects are often repaired surgically.
They are stones created in the gallbladder which can block the normal flow of the bile from the gallbladder to the biliary system. In many cases, a surgical removal of these stones is needed.
It is a narrowing of the bile ducts, usually resulting after a surgical removal of the gallbladder. Stents are often needed in order to keep these bile ducts open and functioning properly so that the bile can flow normally into the biliary system.
Bile duct cysts
Will interfere with the normal bile flow. Often no treatment is needed if they don’t present a major problem. However, in many cases, these cysts are removed with laparoscopic surgery.
It is an inflammation of the bile ducts located inside the liver. This medical condition is very serious as it has no treatment. A liver transplant is needed in severe cases as the disease is fatal.
Tumors of the biliary system, both benign and malignant, will interfere with the normal flow of the bile from the liver into the biliary system and intestines. A surgical removal of the tumor is recommended, followed by a radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Once the right diagnosis is made and the real cause behind these light colored stools is determined, with the necessary treatment your stool should get back to normal again and have its brown color. However, in cases of liver diseases and cancer, when there is no treatment available, you will continue to have light colored stools.
- What you see in the toilet can give you valuable insight into your health, Retrieve from: http://www.articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/02/14/normal-stool.aspx
- Stool color: When to worry, Retrieve from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/stool-color/expert-answers/faq-20058080
- What are pale or clay – colored stools? Retrieve from: http://www.healthline.com/symptoms/pale-stools
- Causes of light or pale feces & fatigue, Retrieve from: http://www.livestrong.com/article/97409-causes-light-pale-feces-/