Everyone jaws, but it’s still something that many of us have a hard time talking about. (Unless you are my 6 year old and 3 year old who can not talk about poop enough, it turns out.)
But it’s unfortunate that poop talc tends to make adults squeamish, because our feces can offer some powerful clues as to what’s going on inside our intestines – and even more widely within our bodies. And doctors really wish people would lean into it.
“When I ask patients to describe their bowel movements, even when they are at the GI doctor, you can almost immediately feel their discomfort,”
Enter the Bristol Stool Chart (sometimes called the Bristol Stool Form Scale or Meyers Scale), a diagnostic tool that healthcare professionals can use with their patients to help determine what is normal (and what is not) in terms of size. , texture and color of the pelvis.
In general, ideal poop is Type 3 or Type 4. Type 1 or Type 2, on the other hand, may indicate that a person is struggling with constipation. And types 5, 6 or 7 may indicate diarrhea – but not always.
“Sometimes I get patients with very severe constipation and they get periodic diarrhea,” Henry said.
This particular example shows why the stool really should not be used by lay people for self-diagnosis. Instead, people should see it as a starting point for health-related conversations – and it can certainly help make these discussions less awkward. Many people find it easier to point to a line on a chart than to have to search for the words to describe their stool to a provider, Henry said.
Doctors, on the other hand, can use the chart to diagnose conditions such as various types of irritable bowel syndrome or IBS.
If your poop quite consistently falls outside the normal types on the map, it is definitely worth checking with your primary care physician, who may refer you to a specialist. Significant changes in poop frequency or shape are also worth noting. And do not ignore other gastrointestinal symptoms. It includes heartburn that is not resolved with antacids, blood in the stool, severe pain or accidental weight loss.
Although your poop-related problems turn out to be relatively mild, a doctor may be able to help you with some simple changes that can help you achieve the ideal poop (and feel better in general) – such as getting enough fiber and water.
But experts warn against getting too caught up in whether your poop is exactly the right texture and color based on the chart – especially because there are many slightly different iterations of it floating around the web. Also, people’s stool color can vary depending on what they eat.
But what the Bristol stool can do quite well is provide clarity.
Henry recalled an experience when working with several patients complaining of diarrhea, but when he asked them to point out how their stools looked on the chart, they pointed to Type 1 – which actually indicates constipation. They felt that diarrhea referred more to frequency rather than to a particular form of stool.
In such cases, the chart helps create a shared language to ensure that patients and their providers are on the same page.
“I think of it as a Rosetta stone. To make sure we use the same words to mean the same things, ”Henry said. “It’s a platform for patients and doctors to have better conversations.”
Because talking about poop may not be the most adult thing to do, but it’s an important part of overall well-being.