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4 Types of Bowel Habits Change You Should Know

Nov 12, 2017

Bowel habits change is a vague term, which refers to almost any condition including changes in color, consistency, frequency, stool caliber, or even when an individual has a bowel movement. Bowel habits vary for different people, problems occur when you've experienced great changes in a day. Such changes may just be temporary infections that pose no great risks, or it may also indicate serious medical conditions. Therefore, it is important to know when these changes may signal a problem and seek medical help to prevent any condition from getting worse.

4 Types of Change in Bowel Habits You Should Know

A bowel movement is the last stop for your digestion. Regular bowel movements do not mean that you have to pass your stool daily, as long as your bowel movements are within the range of 3 times in a day to about 3 times in a week, it is normal and regular.

1. Changes in Color

Colors changes are commonly attributed to medications and foods but, in some cases, they may represent an underlying medical condition. See the common color changes in bowel movements below:

  • Black or tarry stool

A disorder or injury in the digestive tract will lead to dark or tarry stool, so does bleeding in the upper digestive track. Bleeding may result from inflammation or an ulcer. The combination of digestive juices with the blood gives your stool the tarry color. Other causes of black stool include taking lead, black licorice, iron pills, medications with bismuth and blue berries.

  • Red stool

Blood in the lower gastrointestinal track, including blood from the rectum, large bowel and anus, will cause red stool. Diverticulosis or a pouch in the colon and hemorrhoids may cause bleeding in this section. Other rare causes of bleeding include abnormal blood vessels and intestinal tumor. Red stool may also be caused by constipation and a recent meal of red food coloring tomatoes, and beets. As for children, if red stool occurs, it could indicate a milk allergy, whichrequires immediate medical care.

  • Pale white or clay-colored stool

The liver releases bile, which gives a healthy stool its brown color. Sallow or colorless stool indicate that there is an underlying condition in the liver, gall bladder or pancreas. The condition could be a tumor, infection, cysts, blockage, or gallstones. Medications such as anti-diarrhea and bismuth sap the color of stool.

  • Green stool

Adults may have green stool because of diarrhea or eating some foods with a deep-green color, such as leafy vegetables. Iron supplements cause green stool as well. Persistent green color in stool may represent an intestinal condition or infection.

  • A Note about the Color of Baby Stool

Babies pass green or yellowish stool more than adults do. Newborns pass meconium, which is dark green, thick stool. Meconium is made of bile, fine hair, mucus, shed skin cells and amniotic fluids. The stool changes to a more mustardy-yellow tinge after some days. Breast-fed infants pass yellow-brown stool after meconium while formula-fed infants pass darker stool with paste-like consistency. The stool color changes to dark brown when the baby starts eating solids. The color depends of what the baby eats.

2. Changes in Consistency

Constipation and diarrhea causes a change in bowel habits. The stool may become harder or softer. Any other changes in composition indicate an underlying condition or illness.

  • Narrow stool

Occasional narrow stool is normal. However, thin stool is sometimes a sign of irritable bowel syndrome. If the stool is pencil-thin, it may indicate an obstruction in the colon and colon cancer is possibly to blame.

  • Hard, dry, or rough stool

If stool takes a long period to move along the intestinal tract, it will lead to constipation with hard stool. Rough, hard, or dry stool is a common constipation sign.

  • Watery stool

A quick stool movement through the large intestine could indicate diarrhea characterized by loose, watery stool.

  • Floating stool

Excess gas causes buoyant stool. If gastrointestinal infections and diarrhea are present, the gas that bacteria produce in the intestines will be greatly increased, leading to floating poop. Also, certain gas-producing food as well as food absorption problems would lead to undigested nutrients and fat, resulting in floating stool.

  • Stool with pus or mucus

Stool with small amounts of mucus is normal. However, large amounts of pus or mucus may be a sign of gastrointestinal tract irritation, infection, or inflammation. The underlying conditions may include colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, and Crohn's disease.

  • Stool with undigested food

In many cases, the undigested food in stool is indigestible. For instance, high-fiber vegetables are indigestible.

3. Changes in Frequency

Your stools can become less or more frequent. Sudden or serious change in bowel habits should be reported to a doctor. For example,you should seek help from your doctor if you do not have a bowel movement in more than three days, or if your diarrhea lasts for more than a day and if you cannot control your bowels.

4. Changes in Odor

The large number of bacteria in the intestinal tract gives stools a bad smell. You know the odor of your stool and can notice changes in the smell. Dietary changes and malabsorption are common causes of smelly poop. Malabsorption is often associated with intestinal disease or infection that hinders normal absorption. Some medications and supplements could also be the cause. An extreme change in odor may indicate an underlying condition such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, or celiac disease.

When to See a Doctor

You should see your doctor immediately if you notice the following changes in your stool:

  • Pus
  • Blood
  • Severe abdominal pains
  • Watery and diarrhea-like stools that last more than 24 hours

Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you:

  • Pass very narrow stool
  • Experience mild abdominal pain
  • Have urges to pass stool and cannot control bowel movements
  • Cannot pass gas
  • Do not pass stool for three days
  • Experience abnormal weight loss

How Will Your Doctor Treat Your Condition?

The treatment for a change in bowel habits depends on the underlying cause. A gastrointestinal specialist may treat a bleeding area that causes blood in your stool or the area may heal without any treatment. In case of constipation, your doctor will recommend methods of preventing this condition. Some of these methods include:

  • Increasing your water intake
  • Regular exercises
  • Passing stool as soon as you have an urge instead of postponing
  • Increasing your intake of fiber

Your doctor may recommend other forms of treatment depending on your diagnosis.