Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Women's Health

Font Size

The Scoop on Poop

WebMD helps you answer the most common and sometimes sensitive questions about bowel movements.
By
WebMD Feature

We have a lot of silly names for it: BMs, caca, doo-doo, turds, and of course, poop.

We don't generally discuss it in our daily conversations.

Recommended Related to Women

7 Childhood Conditions You Can Still Correct

Josie Richardson was surprised when her dentist suggested she get braces. Although she'd always been embarrassed by her overlapping teeth, at 46 she'd resigned herself to her imperfect smile. But when the dentist pointed out that it was more than just a cosmetic issue -it's harder to clean between crooked teeth -Richardson, a jewelry designer in Boca Raton, FL, signed on for the mouthful of hardware normally associated with teens. Indeed, soon after, she and her 14-year-old son became a matched pair...

Read the 7 Childhood Conditions You Can Still Correct article > >

But asking some important questions about your bowel movements might give you some insight into your gastrointestinal health. Here's the scoop on poop.

ABCs of Poop

Bowel movements are the end result of your body taking the nutrients it needs from the food you eat and eliminating what's left. 

“Bowel movements are important for your health because they are the body’s natural way of excreting waste from the body,” says Eric Esrailian, MD, section head in general gastroenterology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

When it comes to frequency, color, shape, and size, a general rule of thumb is that normal bowel movements are defined as what’s comfortable for you. But being knowledgeable about your digestive process can help you identify when normal goes awry.

Frequency: “There is no normal when it comes to frequency of bowel movements, only averages” says Bernard Aserkoff, MD, a doctor in the GI Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

It’s average to go once or twice a day, he says, but many people go more, and some go less -- maybe every other day, and or as infrequently as once or twice a week.  As long as you feel comfortable, you don’t need to give your BMs much thought.

Color: “Bowel movements are generally brown in color because of bile, which is produced in the liver and important to the digestion process,” Aserkoff tells WebMD.

The food you eat typically takes three days from the time you eat it until it finishes its journey in your toilet, Aserkoff says. If it takes a shorter time, the result may be greener stool because green is one of the first colors in the rainbow of the digestive process.

Color can be a red flag when it’s a drastic change, Aserkoff says.

“If stool is black, it can mean that you are bleeding internally, possibly as a result of an ulcer or cancer,” he says.  Stool that is black due to bleeding is also "sticky" (tarry) and smells bad. However, black stools are common when taking a vitamin that contains iron or medications that contain bismuth subsalicylate.

Stool that is light in color -- like grey clay -- can also mean trouble if it’s a change from what you normally see. Although it doesn’t happen often, very light-colored stool can indicate a block in the flow of bile or liver disease.

Size and shape: “We used to believe that size was indicative of a problem if the stool was ‘pencil-thin,’” Aserkoff says. “But recent research indicates that this is actually not true.”

Today on WebMD

woman looking in mirror
Article
Woman resting on fitness ball
Evaluator
 
woman collapsed over laundry
Quiz
Public restroom door sign
Slideshow
 
Couple with troubles
Article
Bone density illustration
VIDEO
 
Young woman being vaccinated
Slideshow
woman holding hand to ear
Slideshow
 
Blood pressure check
Slideshow
mother and daughter talking
Evaluator
 
intimate couple
Article
puppy eating
Slideshow