Adults tend to shy away from the subject of bowel movements. However, in the interest of your health, it’s a good idea to take a look at them once in a while.
If you know what your stools normally look like, it’s easier to spot changes. In most cases, changes aren’t serious and clear up quickly — but you should still discuss them with your doctor.
"Three changes may be cause for concern — in particular, there are three colors you don’t want to see show up in your stools," says Abhitabh Patil, MD, an interventional gastroenterologist at Rush University Medical Center.
1. Tar-black stools. These aren’t your normal dark stools, Patil says, but jet-black stools with the consistency of mushy tar (such as you might see when a parking lot is being paved). The color may come from digested blood -— blood turns black when it comes in contact with stomach acid. Black, tarry stools might indicate bleeding in the upper intestine or stomach. However, don’t panic, Patil says. This color can also appear if you ingest iron pills, bismuth (the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol), blueberries or black licorice. If your stools are black, give your doctor a call so the two of you can figure out the cause.
2. Red, bloody stools. If blood comes out of your bottom, and you see it either on toilet paper or in the toilet bowl, pay attention — even if it’s sporadic and just a few drops of blood. It may not be blood but something you ate, such as beets, tomatoes or red food coloring in gelatin, Popsicles or other foods. Many people also blame hemorrhoids. However, it could be a sign of colon cancer, Patil says, so it’s important to get checked out by your doctor.
3. Gray-colored stools. Stools the color of gray clay are rare, Patil says. Normally, food mixes with bile and bacteria in the colon, giving stools their brown color. If there’s no bile in the colon, then the stool comes out gray or light colored. Pancreatic cancer causes bile blockage. This is not something you will notice just once — it will be a persistent problem. No food or medicine can cause this, so if you do notice it, see your doctor right away.
Abhitabh Patil, MD, is board certified in gastroenterology and internal medicine. His research interests include pancreatitis and gallstone disease.
Looking for a Doctor?
Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, is a leader in caring for people of all ages, from newborns through older adults.
Just phone (888) 352-RUSH or (888) 352-7874 for help finding the doctor at Rush who's right for you.
Looking for More Health Information?
Visit our Health Information home page.
Visit Discover Rush's Web Resource page to find articles on health topics and recent health news from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. You will also find many helpful links to other areas of our site.
Looking for Information About Medical Treatment and Services at Rush?
Visit the Clinical Services home page.
Looking for Clinical Trials at Rush?
Visit the Clinical Trials home page.