Dr. Guru Medam Physician, CHI Memorial Internal Medicine Associates – Chattanooga
In 1997, our friends across the pond at the University of Bristol and the Bristol Royal Infirmary created the Bristol Stool Chart – a tool that makes it easier to talk to your doctor and classify your stool without having to provide a sample.
According to the chart, Type 1 (hard lumps that are difficult to pass) and Type 2 (sausage-shaped but lumpy) are considered constipated, Type 3 (sausage-shaped with cracks on the surface), Type 4 (smooth sausage-shaped), and Type 5 (soft blobs) are considered normal (type 4 is ideal), while Type 6 (mushy) or Type 7 (watery) means you’ve got diarrhea.
“Constipation can be caused by certain medications, a low fiber diet, dehydration, a sedentary lifestyle, or dysfunction between the muscles of the anus and rectum,” Dr. Medam states. Chronic cases could suggest diabetes, hypothyroidism, or other issues like inflammatory bowel disease.
Conversely, Dr. Medam notes, “Diarrhea is often caused by infections from viruses or bacteria, side effects from medications, or digestion problems like lactose intolerance or gluten sensitivity.” In more serious cases, diarrhea could signal a chronic disease like Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or ulcerative colitis.
Overly soft stool that sticks to the side of the toilet bowl and is difficult to flush (called steatorrhea) suggests too much oil. This may mean you need to lighten up on the oil in your diet, or it could suggest your body isn’t absorbing fats. The latter can indicate certain diseases like chronic pancreatitis.
Bottom line: The occasional misshapen stool doesn’t necessarily signify an issue, but persistent bowel movements outside the normal range could be symptomatic of a problem.