Stool Color Changes and IBS

What's Normal and What's Not

It can be easy to become concerned about the various shapes, colors, and sizes that you see in your bowel movements. This is particularly true if it takes a dramatic or sudden change. The cause can be simple—your toddler got into a stash of grape-flavored treats that turned his stool purple—or it may indicate a medical issue.

It's important to remember that stools can change dramatically without necessarily signaling serious illness. Yet it can be hard to know when to worry and when you can breathe easy.

People dealing with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have a unique challenge in this matter. By definition, the disorder involves a change in the appearance of bowel movements. This can leave you with very understandable concerns about the color of the stool.

Typical Stool Colors

The normal stool can be a variety of different colors without indicating the presence of serious disease. The most common stool colors include:

  • Dark brown
  • Light brown
  • Orange
  • Tan
  • Yellow

Colors to Be Concerned About

The following colors are not typical and should immediately be brought to the attention of your healthcare provider:

Stool Colors to Be Concerned About
Verywell / Jessica Olah

If you have stools that are this color, contact your healthcare provider but do not overreact. Although it is true that red- or black-colored stools suggest bleeding and may indicate the presence of something like colon cancer, there are many other possibilities that are not as scary.

Causes of bright red, dark red, or black stools include an acute infection, a tear in the tissue of the anus (anal fissure), hemorrhoids, or noncancerous polyps.

IBS and Stool Changes

As stated above, IBS by definition involves a change in stool appearance. So, yes, your stool may look abnormal to you. Just remember that abnormal does not necessarily mean that your healthcare providers have missed a more serious disease.

Typical IBS stools can be:

Don't Check Too Often

A person dealing with an eating disorder will cause himself unnecessary anguish by constantly checking the scale. If the numbers are up, they become upset. The problem is that scales are not precise instruments and fluctuations in scale measurements are not necessarily indicative of weight gain.

This same principle applies to the daily examination of your bowel movements. Therefore, a much better strategy is to check it weekly. That way, you can be confident that you are monitoring your health and at the same time not exposing yourself to unnecessary emotional distress.

The advice to not check the appearance of stools too often is especially relevant for people with IBS. The psychology of IBS can be similar to that of post-traumatic stress disorder.

When you have been traumatized by severe symptoms, your brain automatically wants to search for signs related to your disorder. This can result in hypervigilance, a constant state of anxious watching and worrying.

The problem with IBS is that an anxious state can trigger or exacerbate the very symptoms that you are worried about. Due to all of this, it is important that you try to work actively on reducing your anxiety whenever you can. One way to do so is to reduce your focus on the way that your stool looks.

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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Article 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.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Stool changes and what they mean. Updated June 24, 2019.

  2. UpToDate. Patient education: blood in the stool (rectal bleeding) in adults (beyond the basics). Updated September 6, 2018.

  3. Saha L. Irritable bowel syndrome: pathogenesis, diagnosis, treatment, and evidence-based medicine. World J Gastroenterol. 2014;20(22):6759-73. doi:10.3748/wjg.v20.i22.6759

  4. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. Alarm Symptoms: A Cause for Alarm?

Additional Reading
  • Longstreth G, Thompson W, Chey W, Houghton L, Mearin F, Spiller R. Functional Bowel Disorders. Gastroenterology. 2006;130:1480-1491.
  • Thompson W. Alarm Symptoms: A Cause for Alarm? International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. 2015.