Poop can vary in color, odor, amount, and texture. If you have noticed a change in your normal bowel movements and are worried that it may indicate a problem, your doctor may ask you to use the Bristol stool chart.
The Bristol stool chart is a tool used to assess the shape and consistency of the poop, with 7 types:
- Type 1: Separate, hard lumps
- Type 2: Sausage-shaped but lumpy
- Type 3: Like a sausage but with cracks on the surface
- Type 4: Smooth and soft sausage-shaped or snake-like
- Type 5: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges
- Type 6: Mushy consistency with ragged edges
- Type 7: Entirely liquid or watery (no solid pieces)
Healthy poop is type 3 or 4, as these types are well formed and easy to pass.
Type 1 or 2 is typically hard to pass and a sign of constipation.
What conditions can be diagnosed using the Bristol stool chart?
Abnormal bowel movements could be due to conditions such as:
What will your doctor ask about your poop?
When it comes to your bowel movements, your doctor may ask you about:
- Time it takes to pass
- Presence of blood or mucus
- Tenesmus (pain in the rectal region or urgency to pass the stool)
Your doctor may also order stool tests such as a stool culture to determine what kind of bacteria is in the stool and whether there is an infection.
Using the ROME criteria for diagnosis, your doctor may rule out conditions such as functional gastrointestinal disorders. The ROME criteria are established guidelines that are used to diagnose irritable bowel syndrome.
What factors affect your bowel habits?
Generally, pooping anywhere from 3 times a day to 3 times a week is considered normal. Most people poop around the same time every day.
However, a change in bowel habits may be caused by:
- Water intake
- Activity level
- Viral infections
- Age-related changes
- Hormonal changes, such as during pregnancy
If you feel that there has been a drastic change in your bowel habits and the way your poop looks, let your doctor know. It could be a sign of a serious condition, from inflammatory bowel disease to colon cancer. The earlier you see a doctor for a diagnosis, the earlier you can receive appropriate treatment.
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Lewis SJ, Heaton KW. Stool form scale as a useful guide to intestinal transit time. Scand J Gastroenterol. 1997 Jan 1;32(9):920-4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9299672/
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