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Video:What Is a Normal Bowel Movement?

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Many people are often concerned that their bowel movements are not normal. Fortunately there is a wide variety of what is considered normal. Learn more and stay informed on your gastrointestinal health.See Transcript

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Transcript:What Is a Normal Bowel Movement?

What Is a Normal Bowel Movement?

Many people are often concerned that their bowel movements are not normal. Fortunately there is a wide variety of what is considered normal.

In general a stool should be “well-formed,” meaning that it is soft but solid and can pass easily without straining. Generally stools are dark to light brown but can range from pale yellow todark brown/black or green depending on the diet or medication. 

Size, Consistency & Number of Times a Day

Size and exact consistency may vary from day to day depending on diet and use of medications. Stools that are overly hard and difficult to pass or persistently watery or loose generally deserve attention, but they may be normal for an individual.

Many people worry about going the “correct” number of times a day. Again, this can vary widely from person to person. One does not have to have a bowel movement every day. A person may goes 2-3 times a day or once every 3-4 days and be considered normal if there are no symptoms of pain, bloating or discomfort. Also, it is not uncommon for people to go less frequently as they grow older.

A Guide to Stool Color

Very black, maroon or grossly bloody stools should not be considered normal and should be evaluated by a physician in a timely manner.

More important than the exact frequency, color, size or consistency is a persistent distinct change from ones normal pattern, especially if it associated with symptoms such as pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting or loss of appetite.

A general guide is that small hard, stools that are painful to pass usually indicate constipation, which may be due to lack of fiber or fluid in the diet.

Watery stools may indicate infection or problems with digesting or absorbing food. A common cause is lactose intolerance.

"Pencil" thin stools are often thought of as being due to narrowing or partial blockage of the intestine. Most often this is not the case but should usually be evaluated by a doctor.

Black stools: Black, tarry stools with a foul odor can be the result of eating certain foods, taking iron supplements, or possibly from internal bleeding high up in the gastrointestinal tract. Melena, or black tarry stools from upper gastrointestinal bleeding, typically represent an emergency requiring prompt medical attention.

Red or maroon stools: Red or maroon stools could be from something benign, such as eating red-colored foods, or they can be caused by blood in the stools. Several different conditions can cause bleeding, including hemorrhoids, anal fissures, colon polyps, colon cancer, diverticular bleeding, or inflammatory bowel disease.

Green stool: Green stool may be caused by green or artificially-colored foods, iron supplements, or decreased colonic transit time. In newborns, green stools are common in the first few days of life.

Pale or clay-colored stools:  may be due to antacids or barium from a recent barium enema test. They can also be caused by biliary/liver problems, typically associated with dark urine and yellow eyes/jaundice. When this is noted, one should seek prompt medical attention.

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