Bristol Stool Chart Overview

The Bristol Stool Chart categorizes stool into seven types to help you assess whether your stool is healthy or a cause for concern.

Everyone has stool (poop) that can look different from time to time. Knowing what type of stool you have is an important way to understand your bowel health. 

The Bristol Stool Chart assorts stool into seven categories based on appearance and texture. Stool that is easy to pass is considered healthy, while stool that is too hard or too soft can mean you have constipation or diarrhea, respectively.

What Is the Bristol Stool Chart?

The Bristol Stool Chart was created in 1997 by a group of healthcare providers in Bristol, England. It can also be referred to as the Bristol Stool Form Scale.

The Bristol Stool Chart numbers stools from 1 to 7, from hardest to loosest. The seven types of stool are:

  • Type 1: Separate hard lumps that are hard to pass 
  • Type 2: Lumpy sausage-shaped stool
  • Type 3: Sausage-shaped stool with cracks on the surface
  • Type 4: Soft and smooth stool that resembles a sausage or snake 
  • Type 5: Soft blobs with clear edges that are easy to pass 
  • Type 6: Mushy or fluffy stool with ragged edges
  • Type 7: Entirely liquid or watery with no solid stool pieces

Researchers use the Bristol Stool Chart to understand how quickly food travels through the digestive system and if different treatments work for bowel-related conditions. Your healthcare provider uses the chart to better understand your bowel movements. 

If you notice a change in your stool, your provider may ask you to point to the number on the chart that best matches your stool. This can help them give you an accurate diagnosis for constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, or other underlying conditions. They may also ask you about the color or smell of your stool and take additional tests.  

What Does 'Normal' Poop Look Like?

According to the Bristol Stool Chart, “normal” poop is stool that is easy to pass. Types 3 and 4 stools are considered to be ideal and healthy.

Knowing what your stool looks, smells, and feels like can help you and your healthcare provider learn more about your dietary habits, nutrition, and underlying conditions.

Appearance 

Healthy stool should look:

  • Long
  • Soft
  • Smooth
  • Firm, but moist
  • Medium-brown in color

Certain foods can change the color of your stool. For example, if you ate a lot of blueberries or carrots, your stool can look blue or orange, respectively. However, the majority of healthy stools are brown.

Smell 

Smelly poop is also normal. Stool naturally has an unpleasant odor, but the smell should be familiar. This smell is a result of chemical reactions in your stomach when food gets broken down and produces gas. However, if your stool smells different than normal, you may want to check in with a healthcare provider.

Frequency

The frequency of bowel movement differs from person to person. Some people may pass stool multiple times a day. Others may only pass stool three times a week. Both of these are considered normal.

Bowel Health

A healthy stool can be reflective of a healthy bowel. Signs of a healthy bowel include:

  • Being able to pass stool easily and without pain
  • Being able to pass stool within a minute of sitting on the toilet 
  • Being able to properly empty your bowel when going to the toilet without the need to return to the bathroom a short time later
  • Being able to hold in your bowel movement for a short time 
  • Not feeling an immediate urgency to use the restroom once you feel the need to use the bathroom  
  • Not feeling strain while you are on the toilet 

What Does Other Poop Look Like?

If your poop does not look like types 3 or 4 on the Bristol Stool Chart, you may have constipation or diarrhea. 

Types 1 and 2 are stools that are hard to pass. If your stools are like Types 1 and 2, you are likely to be experiencing constipation. You may also have bloating, stomach pain, or rectal strain. This typically occurs when food passes through your digestive tract too slowly.

Types 5 and 6 are loose stools that are easier to pass but may mean that you have mild diarrhea. You may experience gas, discomfort, and stomach pains. This typically occurs when you have more water and less fiber in your stools. Eating more fiber can help soak up the water in your stools and prevent diarrhea.

Type 7 is stool that is completely liquid with no hard pieces. You may experience a persistent and urgent need to go to the bathroom. You may also have trouble holding your bowel movement in. This typically occurs because your digestive system is inflamed.

Constipation and diarrhea can happen for various reasons.

Some factors that can cause constipation are:

  • Lack of fiber in your diet
  • Taking certain medications and vitamins
  • Lack of water intake 
  • Lack of exercise
  • Not going to the bathroom when you have to urge to go

Some factors that can cause diarrhea are:

  • Viruses
  • Parasites
  • Taking certain medications
  • Bacteria from contaminated water or foods
  • Food intolerances (e.g., lactose intolerance or gluten sensitivity)

When to Seek Medical Care

Usually, constipation and diarrhea should clear up on their own within a few days. Reach out to a healthcare provider if you experience either condition for longer than three to five days.
You should seek immediate medical care if you experience:

  • Blood in your stool
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Severe back or stomach pain
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Unexpected weight loss

Stool Color Changes

Sometimes, you may notice different colored stools. The change in color can sometimes be caused by a serious condition, while other times it may change based on what you eat.

  • Black: This may be caused by internal bleeding in the stomach. However, black licorice, Pepto-Bismol, and iron supplements can also turn stool black temporarily. 
  • Red: This may be caused by internal bleeding in the intestines or rectum. The bleeding could be a result of inflammatory bowel disease or hemorrhoids. Red stool may also occur if you eat a lot of red-colored foods such as cranberries or beets.
  • Yellow: This may occur if your body has difficulty absorbing nutrients from food or can indicate an underlying issue with the liver or gallbladder. Sometimes, yellow stool can also be caused by a parasite from contaminated food.
  • Grey or white: This may occur if there is a lack of bile in your stool. You may also experience this if you take certain medications. 
  • Green: This may occur if food is moving through your digestive system too quickly. Green stool can also be caused by eating leafy green vegetables. 

Speak to your healthcare provider if your stool color changes to determine the underlying cause. 

How to Improve Bowel Functions

A healthy bowel is an important aspect of your overall health. 

To maintain a healthy bowel or improve bowel function, aim to:

  • Stay hydrated and aim to drink six to eight glasses of water daily
  • Eat a diet that is high in fiber
  • Get adequate exercise (around 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week)
  • Avoid smoking
  • Maintain a healthy weight that is right for you
  • Use the restroom when you need to go (don’t “hold it” too long)
  • Reach out to your healthcare provider if you have difficulty with your bowel movement

Bowel functions can also be improved with correct posture on the toilet. This involves:

  • Sitting on the toilet
  • Putting your elbows on your knees
  • Slightly leaning forward 
  • Using a footstool at the base of the toilet to encourage your stool to pass with ease

A Quick Review

Everybody passes stool, but what is considered “healthy” can look different from person to person. The Bristol Stool Chart is a helpful tool that both you and your healthcare provider can use to understand your bowel health. The seven categories on the chart illustrate what types of stools are healthy and which stools can indicate problems like constipation or diarrhea.

If your stool starts to look different or you begin to experience symptoms of constipation or diarrhea, talk to your healthcare provider about these changes. They can help you figure out the cause of your symptoms, test your stool, and give you the right treatment options. 

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Sources
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