The stool (medically: feces) is the excretion product of the digestive tract. Its nature, color, and smell may indicate diseases.
It is a by-product of digestive processes in the intestine and consists of a large extent of water and the undigested residues of the food. The solid portions or dry weight of the feces are mainly the indigestible fiber, rejected cells of the intestinal mucus, bacteria and other microorganisms of the normal intestinal flow, as well as their fermentation and putrefactive products.
Some diseases and infections cause the stool to change its texture, color, or smell. Blood or pus deposits can indicate irritable bowel diseases, infections, tumors, or hemorrhoids. In addition to diarrhea, abdominal pain, and abdominal cramps, blood and mucus sometimes indicate an inflammation of the bowel (enteritis), ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease. With intestinal infections and indigestion, undigested food is increasingly found in the stool. If there is an infection with parasites such as worms, these can also be excreted along with the stool.
Normal stool is uniformly yellowish-brown to dark brown in color and has a softer, clear-shaped appearance. The daily amount of stool depends on the diet. On average, people excrete 200 to 600 grams of stool per day. Fasting and a low-fiber diet reduce the amount of stool while in a vegetarian (cellulose-rich) diet, it often increases (up to 1000 grams per day).
The emptying rhythm fluctuates from person to person and from situation to situation. Bowel movements several times a day can be as normal as only one a day.
Stool examination is an important means of diagnosis in medical practice. Together with the complaints and the course of the disease, the nature, color, weight, and smell of the excretions provide important information about possible diseases. The stool can also be examined for bacteria, parasites, or worms.
The brown color of the stool is created by stercobilin, bilifuscin, mesobilifuscin, and broken down substances of the bilious pigment bilirubin. Some foods change stool color. A lavish spinach meal can temporarily turn the excretions green or a large portion of blueberries can make the stool appear black. Some medications also have a coloring effect. A well-known example are iron supplements, which typically lead to black stool. If the discoloration is not explained by diet or medication, it can be a sign of an intestinal disorder, metabolic disorder, or infection.
Greenish or yellowish diarrhea is usually an indication of bacterial intestinal inflammation (enteritis) like an infection with Salmonella (salmonellosis).
Fat digestion disorders (steatorrhea) can manifest themselves in large quantities of foul-smelling gray stools. A clay-yellow stool, especially in connection with a yellowing of the skin or conjunctiva, can be an indication of jaundice in the case of biliary stasis or hepatitis.
Blood in the stool varies and should be examined immediately by a doctor!
A light red color indicates fresh bleeding in a lower section of the intestine (large intestine, rectum), which can be caused by tumors, severe inflammation, and sometimes diarrhea. Light red blood on the stool may indicate hemorrhoids, an anal fissure, but also colon cancer (colorectal cancer) or rectal cancer (anal cancer).
Bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract (esophagus, stomach, duodenum) stains the stool black because the stomach acids change the red blood pigment. Black stool is referred to as a tar stool or melena. But it can also occur as a side effect of medications like iron supplements and coal tablets.
Also, red-brown stool, combined with blood and/or mucus and a possible change between hard and soft stool should always be clarified by a doctor. The cause can be colon polyps, diverticula in the intestine, Meckel diverticula, and intestinal tumors.
Feces can become thin and slimy in the case of diarrhea. Stool can also become firm and hard when constipated. Fat stools are voluminous and shiny. Narrowing in the intestine leads to the stool in the form of pencil or sheep droppings (very firm, small stool).
If large amounts of food are seen in the stool, this indicates an insufficient absorption of the food components by the intestine. If the bowel movements are significantly more frequent than usual with an increased amount or thinner appearance, one speaks of diarrhea. A reduced stool volume and stool frequency with aggravated excretion are known as constipation. The most common reason for this is insufficient water intake. Because the body does not get enough fluid, the indigestible residues in the intestine cannot swell sufficiently and are excreted with a delay.
In general, digestion problems and abnormal stool can have numerous causes. Speak to your health practitioner.
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