It is common knowledge that when we eat food, our stomachs digest it. Then it distributes the useful nutrients for use throughout our body. After this process, we excrete waste in the form of feces. However, did you know that if we just turned around to observe the feces, we could find out so much more about our health?
The color and consistency of stools alone shows the type of food we eat and amount of fluids we take. This is a very effective way to identify any potential health issues. Hence, it is important that we inspect our stools regularly, focusing on their color and appearance. Not just is this beneficial, but it is also one of the easiest and most basic health screening measures. Anyone can, and everyone should do this at home.
Brown and yellow coloration is a sign of a healthy stool, meaning that the digestive system is functioning normally. Light brown feces shows that the liver bile is digesting our food well. If the stools are faint yellow colored, greasy and distinctly pungent in aroma, it could be a result of excess fats present in the feces. This could signify that there are problems with the liver bile. Alternatively, it could mean there are abnormalities affecting the digestive system or nutrient absorption issues within the colon. Therefore, if you excrete pale and oily stool for several consecutive days, make a doctor’s appointment to undergo diagnosis.
Green coloration could be down to overconsumption of green vegetables. However, if the stools are also runny, this could be due to the onset of diarrhea or some forms of medication.
Black coloration may be a warning that there is bleeding in the upper digestive system, especially if the stools are tar-like in color. In such cases, immediately seek medical attention for a digestive system screening. If one excretes dark black stools regularly and doesn’t get treated, it could eventually result in the onset of colon cancer. Nonetheless, some cases of dark black feces may be caused by diet or some types of medication. For instance, eating liver, congealed blood, black sticky rice or mulberries could all lead to dark stool color. Conversely, it may be because of taking nutritional supplements containing iron or some drugs used to treat diarrhea.
Red coloration is usually a result of our diet, such as eating beetroot, roselle, papaya, watermelon, or consuming large amounts of red beverages. However, if red stools contain blood, hemorrhoids tend to be the main cause. It may also be a sign that there is bleeding in the lower digestive system, or could be inflammation in the colon walls or even a tumor.
Gray coloration, particularly dark gray coloration, can occur when there is bleeding in the upper digestive system. Otherwise, it could also be a result of iron-based supplements, as in the case of dark black stools. If feces take on an ash gray color, it may be a warning sign for disorders related to the liver or pancreas. Furthermore, light gray, almost white stools may signify any of the following conditions: an obstruction in the gallbladder resulting in a bile deficiency, issues associated with the pancreas or side effects caused by the over consumption of some drugs.
Small, hard stools similar in appearance to bullets or rabbit droppings usually indicate constipation. The dry fecal matter may become difficult to pass and may have been trapped in the colon over a long period of time. Eating foods which are low in fiber or not drinking enough fluids may have led to this constipation. If one doesn’t treat the condition, it could become chronic, which may eventually lead to colon cancer.
Numerous small, pellet-shaped stools similar to a cluster of bullets are another constipation symptom. People experiencing such bowel movements should increase fiber intake, drink plenty of water and exercise regularly to get the body moving. Every now and then it would also be good to indulge in fun activities to reduce stress levels. These measures can all help ensure that fecal matter does not become trapped in the colon.
Long, sausage-like stools with a rough texture which are quite hard but pass without great difficulty are generally considered healthy. However, they may point towards a lack of hydration, so try to drink more fluids.
Long, smooth stools similar in form to a banana, which are neither too hard nor too soft, are the healthiest type of stool.
Stools that break up into numerous small pieces are still a sign of good health. Even so, the person may have mineral or fiber deficiencies. This could be due to a sudden loss of weight or being on a diet.
Semi-liquid, semi-solid stools that are soft and easily passed usually signal early diarrhea or an imbalance in colon bacteria. If liquid stools become frequent, it could lead to dehydration or nutrient deficiencies. Eating a balanced, healthy diet, consisting of the five main food groups in moderation can help redress any imbalances in colon bacteria. Apart from that, consume yogurt regularly.
Liquid stools are a sign of diarrhea, and could also mean that the colon has contracted an infection. In this case, consume electrolytes and sip water frequently. If the symptoms persist for more than a week, seek medical attention.
Regularly checking your stools is an effective, basic form of health screening that anyone is capable of doing. Alternatively, you can use the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) to screen by yourself. This stool test effectively identifies the presence of any blood, and provides doctors with key information needed to make a quick diagnosis for numerous forms of health disorder.
All in all, if you do see any abnormalities in your stools, try to stop eating the food that may be causing said irregularities. Then check your stools again in 2-3 days’ time. If abnormalities persist, go for a thorough diagnosis. Also, if the stools have undergone a sudden change in shape and form for no apparent reason, make a doctor’s appointment to get a diagnosis, which may include a colonoscopy. Noticing changes like smaller than usual stools or stools resembling animal droppings also call for medical attention.
Aside from the above, attend your annual health checkups. Regular checkups play a vital role in preventing any conditions deteriorating, or in identifying a disorder before it is already too progressed.
Endoscopic procedures are capable of providing protection against colon cancer. Since 2015, Samitivej has been coordinating with SANO Hospital in Japan – an institution with world-leading expertise in all related GI endoscopies – to bring the Japanese technique to Thailand. These techniques enable Samitivej to double the rate of accurate diagnoses, and remove the polyps before they develop into cancer.
Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University , 2009