What – you don’t look?
Yeah, yeah – it’s gross. But come on, we all do it. As the popular kid’s book says, everybody poops.
And turns out, just as with the shade of your period blood, the hue, quality and consistency of your bowel movements can actually provide some valuable clues about your health. In fact, certain chronic conditions can make themselves known when you do a number two – so next time you go, pay attention before you flush.
Here are a few things to look for, and what they could mean…
If your stool comes out long and thin, like a pencil, it could be the result of excessive straining. You shouldn’t have to bear down too hard to poop; it should come as easily as passing gas or urinating. If you’re having trouble, and your poop looks like a pencil, it could be a sign that you have an obstructed bowel. This could be caused by a benign rectal polyp, an enlarged prostate (for guys only, obviously), or even colon or rectal cancer, so if it keeps up for a week or more, let your doctor know.
If you constantly battle with constipation, your bowel movements are likely to be hard, dry, and pebble-like. Occasional constipation isn’t a big deal (increase your fiber intake and drink plenty of water), but if this is happening on the regular, keep an eye out for these other symptoms: fatigue, weight gain, hypersensitivity to cold, dry skin, hoarseness, and muscle weakness. These are all symptoms of hypothyroidism – a condition that affects about five per cent of the population, is much more common in women than men and includes chronic constipation.
Regularly experiencing loose, runny stools, when accompanied by cramping, fatigue, and a low-grade fever, can be an indication of Crohn’s disease. This is a chronic condition that affects the colon and can range from mild to severe. Frequent diarrhoea can also be an indication of inflammatory bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, or dehydration, so if it’s been a while since you’ve had a truly solid bowel movement, head to your doctor and request a test.
People with gastroesophageal reflux disease (abbreviated as GERD) often have yellowish bowel movements. Other symptoms of GERD include heartburn, chest pain, a chronic sore throat or cough, and wheezing. Bottom line: the only thing that should be yellow in your toilet bowl is pee, so if your stool isn’t the hue it should be, let your doctor know about it.
If your poo is pale and ghostlike – either white or resembling clay – it’s an indication that your body isn’t producing enough bile, which is the thing that gives stool its signature brown hue. This can be caused by a number of things, such as cholecystitis, gallstones, giardia, a parasitic infection, hepatitis, chronic pancreatitis, or cirrhosis. The good news is all of these conditions are manageable if you nip them in the bud by getting to your doctor’s office for a check-up, stat.
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Comment: Do you suffer from digestive issues? How have they impacted on your life?