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Women's Health

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The Scoop on Poop

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

ABCs of Poop continued...

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.”

Size and shape are irrelevant, Aserkoff says, if what’s coming out is normal for you.

Odor: Bowel movements usually smell. But is it normal if your trips to the bathroom mean that the rest of the family has to avoid that part of the house for an hour or two?

The answer is yes. It’s normal, and probably a good sign that your gut is abundant with bacteria that is working hard to keep you healthy.

Your intestines are swarming with trillions upon trillions of bacteria that enhance digestive and metabolic processes. They are also the reason why poop smells -- a direct result of the bacterial activity in your GI tract. So although it's no bed of roses, it is normal for your bowel movements to stink.

Poop Problems

So what happens when your poop process gets out of whack? The first sign that your intestines aren’t up to par is a shift from your normal GI routine, and as a result, discomfort below the waist.

Constipation and Diarrhea

Constipation is a concern when you normally have a bowel movement once or twice a day, and that changes -- maybe you haven’t gone in three days, or more. However long it’s been, you now feel gassy, bloated, and generally uncomfortable. When you try to go, you have to push and strain, and what comes out is a whole lot of nothin’.

Constipation can have many causes. It might be that you’ve had a shift in your diet, such as a drop in fiber intake, or maybe because you’re not drinking enough water each day, or because your physical activity level has decreased, slowing your metabolic processes down, including digestion. Certain medications (such as narcotic pain medicines and iron supplements) can also cause constipation problems.

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