man sitting on the toilet

Types of Stool and What They Mean

One of the easiest ways to evaluate the health of your digestive tract is to pay attention to your stool. Of course, many health concerns in your digestive system have symptoms that do not manifest themselves in the way you pass stool. However, other health concerns cause a variety of symptoms that do affect your stool. Therefore, you can still learn a lot about your digestive health from looking at the shape, size, color, and smell of your stool.

Stool Shape

Doctors agree that there are seven general shapes that your stool can take. In reality, there is actually a lot more than seven options, but it is easier for doctors to categorize your stool into seven options with well-defined parameters. Healthy stool looks like a sausage with a surface that either has cracks on it or is completely smooth. When it has cracks, it can be a little bit more difficult to pass and it might be a sign of future constipation. Healthy stool can also look like a series of smaller pieces with clear edges, but this type of stool can indicate that you might be lacking some fiber. However, some doctors believe that these smaller pieces are typical for someone who passes stool two or three times a day after meals and it might actually be healthier than the larger pieces.

Meanwhile, the stool in someone who is severely constipated looks like little balls or nuts that are difficult and sometimes even painful to pass. It indicates that certain bacteria are not present to help with water retention. Antibiotics is the most common cause of this type of constipation, but any health concern that commonly kills off gut bacteria can result in constipation. Milder constipation usually looks like a big and lumpy sausage. It often gets this big because it was sitting in the colon for longer than 72 hours due to some sort of problem with digestive tract motility.

man curling his toes while seated on the toiletSevere diarrhea, on the other hand, is watery with no solid pieces. It usually occurs when the large intestines are blocked for some reason, allowing only liquid contents of the small intestines to pass through. Less severe diarrhea will be mushy or fluffy and it suggests hyperactive colon, too much potassium, dehydration, blood pressure increase, or stress.

Stool Size

You do not want your stool to be too big to pass easily, but you also do not want it to be so small that you cannot adequately control your bowel movements. Normal stool is about one or two inches in diameter and about eighteen inches long. When it is too short, it usually means that you need more fiber. On rare occasions, it can be even longer than eighteen inches, which is usually a sign that you are sticking to a healthy diet. Wide stool is usually a sign of constipation, but when stool is too narrow, it is not normally considered a problem. However, consistent narrow stool can be a result of certain bowel obstructions like a tumor somewhere towards the end of your digestive tract, so you might want to visit your doctor if your stool seems to always be very narrow.

Stool Color

You probably know that your stool is supposed to be brown. The exact shade of brown depends on your diet and on how much bile is present in your stool. Therefore, many different shades of brown are considered healthy. Even certain shades of green is probably okay because it is usually a result of eating many green vegetables. There is no reason to give up on those leafy greens, so you should not worry too much if you have green stool. Sometimes, green stool is a result of too much green artificial flavoring, which is not as healthy as leafy greens.

If your stool is green and you do not have a diet that consists of so many green vegetables, then you may want to limit how much green food coloring is in your diet. If your stool is consistently green and does not ever appear brown, it may be a sign that you are digesting food too quickly for your bile to break it down. Therefore, consistent green stool that often turns into diarrhea may actually be a sign of serious health concern. However, having green stool every now and then, is usually not something that you have to worry about. On the other hand, other colors are usually a much bigger problem. Red stool, for example, can be a sign of internal bleeding in your intestines.

man holding a roll of toilet paper and gesturing ok signBlack stool is often caused by internal bleeding in your stomach. Yellow or white stool can be a sign of problems with absorbing nutrients or a clogged bile duct. Red, yellow, and black stool can also be a sign of perfectly normal dietary choices and it can also be a harmless symptom of certain medications, but you should still contact a doctor if the color of your stool is consistently abnormal in order to make sure you do not have a serious problem.

Stool Smell

All stool is going to smell bad. However, when the smell goes beyond what is reasonably expected, it could be a problem. Stool with a strong odor is associated with a number of health concerns, including celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and chronic pancreatitis. The odors can usually be ignored, but if you find that your stools is always extremely smelly, then you may want to talk to a healthcare professional.


Abnormal stool is sometimes harmless, but it can also be a symptom of serious health concerns, including dehydration, internal bleeding, tumors, and more. Therefore, it is always a good idea to pay close attention to your stool and you should not dismiss anything that looks out of the ordinary. If you consistently have abnormal stool, do not ignore it. It may be embarrassing to talk about your stool, but you should never hesitate to see a doctor if you suspect that you might have a problem.