Stool Color Changes and IBS

What's Normal and What's Not

It can be easy to become concerned if the shape, color, size, or consistency of your stool changes. This is particularly true if the change is sudden or dramatic. In the end, the cause may be simple and otherwise harmless, or it may be a sign of something more serious.

People living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are likely to have these concerns, as the condition is characterized by changes in bowel movements and the appearance of stools. Many other disorders also involve bowel changes, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and celiac disease. What is "normal" with these conditions can take on a whole new meaning.

This article explains which stool colors are normal and which are signs of a possible medical concern. It also offers insights and tips specific to people with IBS, including how to describe and track abnormal changes in your stool.

Normal and Abnormal Colors

A "normal" stool can be a variety of different colors. With that said, the most common colors range from dark brown to light brown.

However, the following colors are not typical and should be brought to the attention of your health provider:

  • Green stools can be the result of foods in your diet or diarrhea, but they may also be a sign of a gallbladder problem and the excessive build-up of bile.
  • Yellow stools may be a sign of excess fat in stools due to celiac disease or problems with your pancreas. It can also be due to a parasitic infection called giardiasis.
  • Orange stools may be due to medications or diet but may also be caused by a lack of bile or the malabsorption of bile due to IBS.
  • Clay-colored stools are often a sign of hepatitis or pancreatic disease.
  • Bright red stools may be a sign of bleeding in the lower intestinal tract.
  • Dark red or black stools may be a sign of upper intestinal tract bleeding.

Recap

Normal stools are usually a light brown to dark brown color. Call your doctor if you have green, yellow, orange, clay-colored, bright red, dark red, or black stools. While there may be a harmless explanation for this, the colors can also be a sign of a serious health concern.

Stool Colors to Be Concerned About
Verywell / Jessica Olah

IBS and Stool Changes

By definition, irritable bowel syndrome involves a change in stool appearance. IBS stools can vary in appearance based on whether you have constipation-predominant IBS (IBS-C), diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D), or mixed-type IBS (IBS-M).

IBS stools can be:

The type of IBS you have can make a difference in what your stool looks like. Doctors often describe these changes using the Bristol Stool Scale, which categorizes stools on a scale of 1 to 7:

  • Type 1: Hard, separate pellets (severe IBS-C)
  • Type 2: Lumpy and sausage-like (mild IBS-C)
  • Type 3: Sausage-shaped with cracks (normal)
  • Type 4: Smooth, soft, and sausage-like (normal)
  • Type 5: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (mild IBS-D)
  • Type 6: Mushy with ragged edges (moderate IBS-D)
  • Type 7: Watery with no solid pieces (severe IBS-D)

Monitoring Changes in Stools

People living with an eating disorder can cause themselves grief by constantly checking the scale. The problem is that scales are not a precise indication of weight at every specific moment in time.

This same principle applies to checking bowel movements if you have IBS. If you check your stools too often, you may see changes in color, shape, or consistency that are not necessarily reflective of what is really going on with you.

The changes may be due to drinking too much or too little fluid that day. Stools can also change based on your diet, physical activity, temperature, and other factors.

Checking too often can make you hypersensitive to things that may or may not matter, in some cases placing you in a constant state of anxiety. The problem with anxiety, of course, is that it can lead to poor gut function and a potential worsening of IBS symptoms.

If you have been diagnosed with IBS, a better strategy is to check your stools weekly. That way, you can be confident that you are monitoring your health while avoiding unnecessary stress and anxiety.

Recap

If you have IBS, you can monitor for changes in your condition by checking your stools weekly. Checking each and every bowel movement can cause undue anxiety over changes that may or may not be important. The anxiety may also contribute to the worsening of your symptoms.

Summary

Changes in the color or consistency of stools may mean nothing at all or be a sign of something serious. In people with IBS, stool changes are often a fact of life, making it harder to discern when you should worry or not worry.

As a general rule, you should speak to your doctor if your stools are clay-colored, yellow, orange, green, bright red, dark red, or black. These may be a sign of a serious medical condition in need of attention.

If you have IBS, the appearance of stools can vary based on whether you have IBS-D, IBS-C, or IBS-M. Although it is important to report any changes to your doctor, checking each and every bowel movement rarely provides a clear picture of your condition and may cause unnecessary stress. Checking your stools once weekly is usually enough.

A Word From Verywell

Having abnormal stools does not necessarily mean that you have IBS. Many other things can account for these changes. For example, orange stools can occur when you take aluminum antacids, while mucusy stools may be the result of dehydration and constipation. On the far end of the scale, pencil-like stools may sometimes be a sign of colon cancer.

If you do have odd changes in the color or appearance of your stools, you should neither panic nor ignore the signs. Instead, speak with your doctor, who can order tests to find out what exactly is going on.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is whitish poop normal?

    No. Pale, clay-colored, or white stool can be a sign of problems with the liver, pancreas, gallbladder, or the duct that secretes bile. If you have fever, abdominal pain, or yellowing of the skin, seek emergency medical treatment. 

  • Is a bloody bowel movement very serious?

    Possibly. It may be the sign of a hemorrhoid or superficial tear near the anus, but it could be the first indication of something serious such as a tumor, infectious colitis, or inflammatory bowel disease. If you're not sure of the cause, you should see your healthcare provider.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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