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The end-products in the process of food digestion are normally excreted through bowel movements. Stools, or poop, as they are usually called, can give us an insight on our state of gastrointestinal health.

Characteristics of Normal Stool

You can tell if your stool is normal or not by the following characteristics:

Frequency of Bowel Movements

There is no standard number of bowel movements that can be considered "normal." Some people move their bowels once or twice daily, while others do it only twice or thrice a week. The frequency of your bowel movements (BMs) may be affected by the amount and type of food you eat, your state of hydration, stress factors, and your daily activities. Doctors often advise that as long as you are comfortable and do not have other symptoms, the frequency of your BMs should not worry you. Patients are often advised to eat a balanced diet that includes fiber-rich foods and plenty of fluids to maintain regular bowel movements.

Color of Stools

Stools are usually brown in color, and this is because of the bile added from the liver in the digestion process, which takes about three days to complete. When the digestion process is too fast, the stool may be yellow or green. Another factor that can affect normal stool color is the intake of multivitamins containing iron, which can turn stools black.

In the presence of disease, such as liver disease, stools can become pale gray in color, while gastrointestinal bleeding can make them black or red in color. Consult a doctor if the color of your stool changes and is accompanied by other unusual symptoms.

Size, Shape and Texture

Normal stools are usually elongated, well-formed, and soft in consistency. However, some factors may cause changes in these characteristics, such as dehydration, type of foods taken, lack of fiber in the diet, and stress, which can cause occasional bouts of diarrhea or constipation. It is possible to see some undigested food fragments in the stool occasionally. This is usually high-fiber vegetable particles, which are not digested by the digestive enzymes in the gut. These undigested food may be composed of seeds, nuts, corn,bean and vegetable fibers, which generally is not a problem unless accompanied by diarrhea, loss of weight and other changes in bowel habits.

Odor

Normal stools have a characteristic odor that is caused by the presence of trillions of bacteria in the gut. These bacteria help in digesting food and usually cause no harm to the body. However, if harmful bacteria, or other parasites are present in the gut, the character of your stools, including the odor may be affected.

What is a Stool Analysis?

Testing your stool may be one way to check if you have a problem in the gastrointestinal tract. A stool sample is examined in the laboratory to check for color, consistency, and the presence of mucus, occult blood, white blood cells, meat fibers, fat, bile, and sugars. A stool analysis can also reveal if you have bacteria, viruses, fungus or intestinal parasites. The results of a stool analysis, when matched with your history and physical examination, may reveal if you are in good health or are suffering from certain disorders such as infection, dysfunction, or cancer somewhere in the digestive tract. However, other tests may be needed to confirm the diagnosis.

If you have changes in your bowel movements that are accompanied by symptoms such as abdominal pain, fever, loss of weight, or other symptoms, consult your physician for proper diagnosis and treatment.

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