Stool Colors for Adults: What Do Different Stool Colors Mean?

Concerned about the color of your poop? Learn about what causes abnormal stool color, what different stool colors mean, and when to follow up with a medical professional about discolored stool.

Stool Colors for Adults: What Do Different Stool Colors Mean?

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Taking a look at your own poop in the toilet may not be most pleasant part of your day, but it's actually a very effective way to monitor your overall health. Stool isn't always just plain brown, especially when there's something abnormal going on in your body.

Here is some information about what different colors of stool may mean and what health issues they may be signs of. We'll look at the reasons for dark stool in adults, what causes light color stool, and other color variations that can appear when you take a look before you flush.

What the Color of Your Poop Says About Your Health

Poop comes in various shapes and colors, but what you excrete out can reveal many different things about your physical and metal health. For instance, it's important for people with Crohn's disease to check their stool regularly to note changes in their condition. Stool samples also indicate the types of bacteria that live in your gut, microbes that may lead to future health issues, and changes in your mood. Stool is also affected by your regular diet and even certain foods that you eat on an occasional basis.

In addition to stool color, the texture and consistency of your poop is also a window to your health. Poop that is hard or that appears in small pellet form may mean that you are dehydrated or aren't eating enough fiber-rich foods. Loose stool that isn't quite diarrhea indicates that your digestive system is sensitive to something that you ate. Very thin poop may just be a result of your diet, but it could also be an early warning sign of colon cancer that needs to be checked out. And if your stool smells worse than usual, this is often a sign that the stool is staying in the body longer than normal or that you are constipated.

Identifying Discolored Stool

Normal, healthy stool is light brown to dark brown in color. It also tends to be in a banana shape, about a foot long, and approximately the consistency of toothpaste. Please don't let this description ruin fruit or dental hygiene for you!

Each time you pass a bowel movement, take a quick look at the toilet bowel to see if anything abnormal stands out to you. Think about the foods you've recently eaten, medications you've been taking, and call a doctor if you have concerns about the color of your poop.

Different Types of Abnormal Stool Color

In the sections that follow, we're taking a closer look at the specific colors that stool can be and what those colors mean.

Dark Stool in Adults: What Causes Your Stool to Be Black?

Dark stool in adults is quite common, but stool that is black can be a cause for concern. That's because this type of discolored stool can mean that you are experiencing upper gastrointestinal tract bleeding. Stool that is truly black may also have a tarry appearance and a very foul smell. Tar-like black stool may indicate ulcers or acid reflux that is causing bleeding sores in the esophagus.

In rare cases, it is possible to experience black stool after swallowing a large amount of blood from a mouth injury or even a nosebleed. Other conditions associated with black-tar colored stools and constipation are irritable bowel syndrome, colon cancer, peptic ulcer, anal fissure, and kidney infection.

Eating large amounts of black licorice may also cause stool to become black, as well as iron supplements and anti-diarrheal drugs like Pepto-Bismol. A gastrointestinal endoscopy may be needed to test for bleeding and stop the GI tract from continuing to bleed.

What Causes Your Stool to Be Green?

Some greenness in the stool is considered to be normal because bile is a greenish fluid that helps to digest fats in the body. Bile travels through the gastrointestinal tract and is affected by enzymes to change much of that color from green to brown.

Green poop often means that food that you eat is traveling through the large intestines at a rate that is faster than normal. In this instance, bile does not have enough time to break down, so the poop appears green in color. Green poop may be a result of diarrhea because the transit time is shortened when this condition is present.

As far as diet goes, your stool may look mildly green if you have been eating lots of leafy green vegetables or foods that have been dyed with green food coloring. Iron supplements also have a tendency to turn poop green.

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What Causes Light Colored Stool?

The answer to what cause light colored stool or stool that appears white in color is usually a lack of bile. Unlike green stool, white or light-colored stool can be caused by an obstruction of a bile duct that isn't letting a proper amount of bile through the digestive system.

Without an adequate amount of bile, stool loses its natural color and appears pale. Light colored stool is often an early warning sign of liver disease, pancreatic cancer, gallstones, a tumor, or biliary atresia.

Also, light colored stool may be caused by Pepto-Bismol and other drugs used to control diarrhea. This is typically true only when the medications are taken in large doses or consumed for a long period of time.

What Causes Bright Red Stool?

There are quite a few reasons why your stool can appear bright red in color. This color can indicate that you have hemorrhoids or another condition that is causing lower intestinal tract bleeding. This bleeding often occurs in the rectum or large intestines to produce bright red poop.

Diverticular bleeding, tumors, and inflammatory bowel disease are other causes for bright red poop. It can also be caused by ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, and biological miscommunications between the veins and arteries in the intestinal wall.

Consuming beets, tomato juice, cherries, or cranberries can also create a reddish stool color, but this is typically a milder color without other symptoms. As with black stool, patients who seek care for bright red stool may need to take an endoscopy to address a potential bleeding disorder.

What Causes Maroon-Colored Stool?

Maroon, or reddish-brown stool may also indicate upper GI tract bleeding. The bleeding associated with this color often occurs in the stomach or esophagus. This color of stool may not seem as alarming as a bright red stool, but the cause may still be serious. A maroon color is the result of partial digestion in the intestines, and the shade of the color is determined by how quickly the blood moves through the intestines.

What Causes Yellow-Colored Stool?

Stool can also have a yellow appearance, which is often accompanied by a bad odor and a greasy texture. This means that there is a large amount of fat in the stool. Fat will collect in the stool when it is not absorbed properly in the body, such as in patients with celiac disease. This is because gluten in bread products can lead to a malabsorption disorder if the body is sensitive to it. The foul odor is caused by undigested fat that is excreted.

Other diseases that are associated with yellow stool include chronic pancreatitis, cancer of the liver, cystic fibrosis, and pancreatic cancer. Diseases of the intestinal lining show symptoms of yellow poop because of the malabsorption of fat, while diseases of the pancreas cause yellow poop because the pancreas can't manufacture the digestive enzymes it needs. If an inadequate amount of bile is transported to the intestines, yellow poop may result due to blocked bile ducts. Diarrhea may also cause yellow stools.

Yellow stool may also occur if there not enough bilirubin in the liver. Bilirubin is a pigment created during the breakdown of red blood cells and is excreted into bile. Certain medications, like theophylline, can lead to low bilirubin levels.

Common Questions Asked About the Color of Your Poop

Now that you have a basic understanding of what causes abnormal stool color and what the color of your poop may mean, let's take a look at some of the most common questions people ask about their stools.

Can green poop be a sign of infection?

This is another common question with green poop, and it can be caused by an infection in the body. The most common infections that cause green stool are salmonella, a bacterium, and giardia, which is a parasite. If one of these types of infections is causing your green poop, it will usually be accompanied by fever, diarrhea, and severe abdominal cramps.

Why is my poop green when I'm pregnant?

While green poop may be a sign of a serious medical condition, it's often very normal and common during pregnancy. Pregnant women often take prenatal supplements that contain iron, and iron can cause discolored stool. In an effort to eat healthier, pregnant women may be consuming more leafy green vegetables that turn their poop green. Pregnant women are also undergoing many totally natural hormonal changes, which may result in differently colored stool.

Why does my green poop smell like sulfur?

What you eat has a big impact on the color of your stool and how it smells. Many green-colored vegetables contain sulfur, including kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. This may explain why green poop smells like sulfur. Cruciferous vegetables take more energy to digest, sending your digestive system into overtime and increasing the amount of gasses produced that cause strong odors.

When should you seek medical attention for dark brown stool?

Normal stool is typically light brown to dark brown, so you may not need to be concerned about dark brown stool at all. But if your stool begins to look black and tar-like or contain blood, it is highly recommended to seek medical attention immediately because internal bleeding may be causing the discoloration.

Why do I have dark brown stool when I'm constipated?

In addition to gastrointestinal bleeding, dark stool in adults can be a result of constipation. Constipation is defined as having less than three bowel movements in a week, and it's often accompanied by abdominal pain and hard stools when they are finally released.

Do certain medications cause dark brown stool?

Yes, some medications can cause dark stools in adults as a side effect. Also, Pepto-Bismol and other medications containing bismuth can have this effect. Iron supplements are known to cause discolored stool as well.

Why do I have dark brown stool with no pain?

Just because a stool is dark brown doesn't mean that it is the sign of a health disorder. Some dark brown stools are totally normal and therefore cause no pain or other symptoms. You may also have no pain if the dark brown stools are caused by foods that you have eaten or due to food coloring additives.

Why do I have dark brown stool before my period?

When the stool is dark, it often means that blood is entering the along the intestinal tract. If you are experiencing vaginal bleeding with bowel movements, it is a good idea to contact your doctor for a checkup. Dark brown stool is usually normal, but tarry and black stool is not. On the flip side, some women experience noticeably lighter brown stool before their periods.

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

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