The dark or tar-like appearance of poop is a common condition. The medical term for black or tarry poop is Melena. It may happen due to simple reasons, such as a change in diet or certain medications. Sometimes, however, black poop may signify underlying medical conditions. Black or tarry poop may be caused by bleeding in the upper part of the gut (gastrointestinal or GI tract), such as the food pipe (esophagus), stomach, or the first part of the small bowel (duodenum). Bleeding in the upper GI tract causes dark stools as the blood gets digested on its way through the gut.
Thus, if your poop looks black or tarry, you need to consult your doctor to know whether there is an underlying medical condition.
The causes of black poop include:
- Certain medications, such as iron supplements, activated charcoal, or bismuth medicines like Pepto-Bismol
- Certain foods, such as black licorice, blueberries, and blood sausages
- Peptic ulcers (a sore or lesion that develops on the lining of the esophagus, stomach, or small bowel)
- Abnormal blood vessels in the gut
- Mallory-Weiss tear (a tear in the esophagus due to violent vomiting)
- Bowel ischemia (blood supply is cut off to parts of the bowel)
- Trauma/injury or a foreign body
- Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining)
- Varices (widened, overgrown veins in the esophagus and stomach, commonly caused by scarring or cirrhosis of the liver)
- Upper GI malignancies, such as cancer of the esophagus, stomach, or duodenum
Should I go to the doctor if my poop appears black?
The dark or tarry appearance of poop may also imply a benign or severe underlying medical condition. These underlying medical conditions could be peptic ulcers, cancer, and bowel ischemia. Peptic ulcers are one of the most common causes of black, tarry stools. A small amount of blood in the stool may be seen in children. It is usually not a serious sign and may occur due to constipation or worm infestation.
Even if you believe that you have zeroed down to the cause of black stools, you may consult your doctor to be sure of the diagnosis.
Urgent medical attention is needed if you:
Which foods cause dark stools?
Certain foods may cause dark stools. They include:
- Black licorice
- Chocolate sandwich cookies
- Grape juice
- Red-colored gelatin
- Blood sausage
- Red fruit punch
If the dark color of stools does not go away after you stop eating the possible problem foods, you must consult your doctor.
What is the treatment for black poop?
The treatment for black poop varies depending on the underlying condition or reason. If the dark-colored poop is caused by certain foods, stopping those foods will make the condition go away.
If the black poop is due to peptic ulcers, certain medications, such as proton pump inhibitors or PPI, may be prescribed by the doctor. You may also be advised to stop taking spicy foods. Your doctor may perform a procedure, such as an endoscopy (a procedure in which a flexible tube-like instrument with a camera and light source is used to view the inside of the gut), to treat a bleeding ulcer.
You may need antibiotics or anti-protozoal medicines if the bleeding is due to certain infections.
Surgery and other appropriate therapy may be needed in case of variances and cancer.
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