Poop, stool, or feces contains waste products, such as undigested food particles, bacteria, and salts. A bowel movement that is hard, runny, or has an unusual color may indicate a health problem that needs attention.
Sometimes, poop can vary in color, texture, amount, and odor. These differences can be concerning, but usually, these changes are not significant and will resolve in a day or two. Other times, however, changes in poop indicate a more serious condition.
Keep reading to discover more about the different types of poop, including what is and is not typical.
Fast facts on types of poop:
- Poop can come in different shapes, colors, and smells.
- A person should pass a normal, healthy poop easily and with minimal strain.
- Anyone who has blood in their stool should seek urgent medical attention.
Devised by doctors in the Bristol Royal Infirmary, England, and based on the bowel movements of nearly 2,000 people, the Bristol stool chart characterizes the different types of poop as shown above.
Poop is generally:
- Medium to dark brown: It contains a pigment called bilirubin, which forms when red blood cells break down.
- Strong-smelling: Bacteria in excrement emit gases that contain the unpleasant odor associated with poop.
- Pain-free to pass: A healthy bowel movement should be painless and require minimal strain.
- Soft to firm in texture: Doctors consider poop passed in one single piece or a few smaller pieces to signify a healthy bowel. The long, sausage-like shape of poop is due to the shape of the intestines.
- Passed once or twice daily: Most people pass stool once a day, although others may poop every other day or up to three times daily. At a minimum, a person should pass stool three times per week.
- Consistent in its characteristics: A healthy poop varies from person to person. However, people should monitor any changes in the smell, firmness, frequency, or color of poop as it can indicate an issue.
How long should a poop take?
It should take 10–15 minutes to pass the stool.
People that take longer than this may have constipation, hemorrhoids, or another condition.
While brown poop is considered the “usual” color of poop, some greenish-brown hues may also be acceptable.
Poop can be other colors too, such as:
Black stools, especially if they have the appearance of tar, suggest gastrointestinal bleeding. Other substances may also cause black poop, such as:
- iron supplements
- black licorice
- black stout
- bismuth medications
Poop that is red-colored may be the result of lower gastrointestinal bleeding. Small amounts of blood in the stool can indicate hemorrhoids.
Eating beets or red berries or drinking beet or tomato juice also turns poop red. Once these foods have passed through the digestive tract, poop should become brown again.
Most people will experience variations in stool color at some stage. Usually, this is down to diet or some other minor cause.
However, anyone who experiences changes in poop color that last 2 or more weeks or has red or black stool should consult a doctor.
If parents or caregivers notice any changes in their baby’s poop, it is usually not a cause for concern, but they can consult a pediatrician for further advice.
The following situations may suggest a digestive issue:
- pooping too often — more than three times daily
- not pooping often enough — less than three times a week
- excessive straining when pooping
- poop that is red, black, green, yellow, or white
- greasy, fatty stools
- pain when pooping
- blood in the stool
- bleeding while passing stool
- watery poop — diarrhea
- very hard, dry poop that is difficult to pass
- floating poop
People experiencing any of these types of poop should consult a doctor.
There is a range of reasons why a person may experience poop that is different from usual, including:
Stress can trigger and exacerbate digestive conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It can affect how quickly food moves through the body, which can cause either diarrhea or constipation for some people.
Not drinking enough water and other fluids can lead to constipation, as stool requires moisture to move more
Lack of dietary fiber
Fiber acts as a binding substance to give stool its form. It also helps poop to move smoothly through the digestive tract. A diet low in fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and pulses, can lead to bowel problems.
Food intolerances and allergies
People with an intolerance or allergy to certain foods can often experience diarrhea, constipation, or other traits of abnormal poop when they consume problematic food.
Certain conditions can cause constipation, diarrhea, or other poop abnormalities. Examples of such conditions include:
- an overactive or underactive thyroid
- inflammatory bowel disease
- Parkinson’s disease
A person may have constipation if they:
- have difficulty emptying the large bowel
- are straining when pooping
- are passing less stool than usual
- the stool is lumpy, dry, or hard
Alongside the above causes of constipation, it may also result from lifestyle or routine changes such as physical inactivity or the overuse of laxatives.
A person should contact a doctor if changes to poop persist for 2 weeks or more.
People should seek immediate medical treatment if the stool is bright red, black, or a tarry substance. These symptoms suggest blood loss, which could become a medical emergency if left untreated.
How to ensure healthy bowels
To help ensure healthy bowel function and healthy poops, people can follow the tips below:
- Eat enough fiber: Aim to get the recommended minimum daily amount of fiber, which is 25 grams (g) for women and 38 g for men under 50 years old. Women over 50 should aim for 21 g while men over 50 should consume 30 g daily.
- Drink plenty of water: A reasonable amount is about 8 glasses (64 ounces) per day. It is especially important to stay hydrated when consuming more fiber.
- Take probiotics: Probiotics may help restore the natural balance of bacteria in the gut. Although some yogurts and drinks can also provide probiotics, these beneficial bacteria are in capsule form.
- Try magnesium: Magnesium hydroxide
oftentreats constipation. It is safe for most people, although doctors do not recommend it for people with renal insufficiency.
- Lifestyle changes: This may include stopping smoking, type, and level of exercise, and anxiety management to help control a person’s bowel movements.
A well-functioning digestive system is essential for health and well-being. It also suggests that a person is eating a balanced diet.
Poop abnormalities that persist can lead to complications. For example, ongoing diarrhea can result in nutritional deficiencies or, in severe cases, malnutrition, while constipation can cause bowel obstructions.
A person’s poop tends to be brown, soft to firm in texture, and easy to pass. If someone experiences changes in poop, they should monitor the changes and consult a doctor if the issue does not resolve within 2 weeks.
To encourage bowel function, a person should eat a fiber-rich diet, exercise regularly, reduce stress, and drink lots of water to stay hydrated.