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No one likes to talk about what happens while they’re on the toilet. However, it’s best to pay attention to your bowel movements: They offer clues about intestinal health.
A healthy stool is soft enough to pass easily, is often shaped like a sausage, and won’t stink excessively. Shades of brown are considered normal, but their appearance will depend on what you ate that day.
A range of three bowel movements per day to three per week is ordinary.
When to see your doctor
Stress, food intolerances, medications, and infections can affect bowel movements. Persistent changes lasting more than a week may indicate a more serious underlying issue, such as chronic inflammation, autoimmune disorders, thyroid conditions, and cancer.
Pale-colored stools that float and smell foul may indicate small bowel, liver, or pancreatic disease. Bloody stool may indicate severe infection, inflammation, or colon cancer. If the stool is black, and especially if there are other symptoms like fatigue, weight loss, and abdominal pain, call your doctor for an urgent evaluation. If there is rectal bleeding, go to the emergency room.
Patients with medical issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease should seek immediate
medical attention for acute diarrhea. This also applies to patients taking certain medications such as diuretics, ACEI/ARB, and metformin because dehydration increases the toxicity of drugs like these.
Your doctor will ask about the severity and timeline of your symptoms, medications, and family history. Depending on the individual case, you can expect a physical exam, blood tests, and imaging procedures. I highly recommend patients start colon cancer screenings at age 45. Your doctor may advise earlier screenings if you have an inflammatory bowel issue or a family history of colon cancer.
Support your digestive health
We can control certain factors to help keep our intestinal systems healthy:
- Eat a balanced diet rich in fiber, fruits, and vegetables.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Limit red meat intake.
- Avoid processed meats, fat-rich foods, excess caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco.
- Take a multivitamin.
- Exercise regularly and try to reduce stress.
Don’t ignore troubling symptoms
If you notice something unusual, contact your primary care provider. If you don’t have one, schedule a new patient appointment online, or call 1-888-981-3524 to schedule an appointment.
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