How to Identify Abnormal Bowel Movements

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Discuss persistent abnormal bowel movements with your doctor for insight into your overall health. Paying attention to your bowel movements is important when monitoring your health. Know what to look for in the color, consistency, shape and frequency of a bowel movement, so you can recognize when something is not right.

  • Check the color of the bowel movements. Healthy stools come in a wide range of colors depending your diet. Stools should not be gray or pale in color. This may indicate a problem in the digestive tract. Stools should not be black or red. These colors may indicate bleeding. Talk with your doctor if your stool appears abnormal in color.

  • Examine the stool's consistency. Bowel movements should not be watery nor hard and dry. Healthy bowel movements are large, easy to pass, fluffy and tend to float. Hard stools may indicate that your diet lacks fiber. Watery stools may indicate a bacterial infection, virus or problem with digestive absorption. Speak with your doctor if you experience poor stool consistency.

  • Look at the shape of the bowel movement. Healthy bowel movements are large, thick and have a curve to them. Pencil-thin bowel movements may indicate a serious problem such as a blockage or colon cancer. If your bowel movements are pencil-thin on a regular basis, talk with your doctor about this issue.

  • Pay attention to the frequency of your bowel movements. There is a large variation on what is normal. You know what is "normal" for you. Changes in frequency are due to your changing diet as well as medical conditions. If you experience sudden changes in your bowel movement frequency, such as persistent constipation or diarrhea, talk with your doctor about your concerns.

Tips & Warnings

  • Abnormal bowel movements are common. Changes in color, shape, consistency and frequency often are due to your diet. However, if the abnormal bowel movements happen frequently, address the issue with your doctor.

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