We like to think we’re educated and evolved enough at this point to self-diagnose by hunches, old wives’ tales, or augury. No, your left knee “feeling funny” does not predict rain, nor do the lengths of your fingers indicate how long a life you’re going to have, how creative you are, or whether or not you’re a werewolf.
And yet, people still seem to put a lot of stock in reading their own bathroom business like they’re divining ancient truths from tea leaves.
A simple Google search for “what my poop says about my health” brings up myriad slideshows and listicles explaining how the size, shape, consistency, and even smell can tell you everything from how healthy your gut is to how much fiber you need to even whether or not you need a glass of water.
Of course, if you think something serious may be afoot — wait, wrong anatomy — contact a medical care professional. As for the rest of us, what is the truth? Let’s… um… dive in.
How Often Should You Poop?
Actually, there is no “normal” when it comes to how many times you should go number two. “Three times a day to once every three days is the range,” says Dr. David Feldshon, gastroenterologist, Minnesota Gastroenterology.
“Less than once every three days is constipation.” The other end of the spectrum, according to Dr. Feldshon, is going more than three times a day, which usually means diarrhea.
Why Does My Poop Smell So Bad?
It’s believed that if your poo leaves an exceptionally staggering smell, your body is trying to warn you that something is amiss. However, that may not be the case. “There is little significance to the smell,” says Dr. Feldshon.
While there are factors that can contribute to a particularly pungent or unusual smell such as change in diet or certain medications, as a rule a bad smell isn’t a warning sign. The character of Fat Bastard in Austin Powers: Goldmember memorably said, “Everyone likes their own brand” after flatulence, but it’s kind of true; people recognize what’s normal and what’s out of the ordinary for their personal “brand.”
Why Is My Poop Green, Black, or Red?
There are a few factors that can affect the color of your leavings. One is diet: Going heavy on the greens can make for green doody, eating a lot of beets can make it redder, and chowing on terrifying fast food novelties can give it unnatural tinges.
Another factor could be certain types of medicine. Antibiotics can alter the type of bacteria present in your stomach, which can change the color of a bowel movement.
Finally, a change in color could represent illness. Red poop can mean blood from hemorrhoids or possibly even colon cancer, black poop may signify bleeding in the upper digestive tract, and certain types of viruses and parasites make their presence known through poop discoloration.
What Does It Mean if I Have Floating Poop?
Mushy, hard, spongey, floater vs. sinker — does your poop’s consistency tell you what you need to know about your health? Not necessarily.
Although it makes for great slideshow fodder, the truth of the matter is that the general consistency of poop doesn’t usually mean a whole lot. There are seven “accepted” types of poo, according to the Bristol Stool Scale, but, Dr. Feldshon advises that there are really only a few things you should keep an eye out for.
“Oily stool, or if there is oil floating in the toilet water, could indicate possible pancreatic insufficiency,” he says. “And then there is bloody stool. This is abnormal. It could be hemorrhoids, colitis, diverticular bleeding, an ulcer, or even cancer.”
Feldshon adds that a lot of “fecal scales” claim that small, pebbly poop means you need to drink more fluid. Not true, he says. “Pebbles just mean pebbles. It does not indicate dehydration.”
Why Am I Itchy After Going Poop?
Itching and rectal burning are more than just annoying, They usually indicate a situation you shouldn’t ignore. Again, there are simple explanations for itchy backsides — including failure to properly wipe after going to the bathroom, for example. However, burning and itching combined could be a sign of hemorrhoids. “Hemorrhoids usually means a seepage of fecal liquid into the skin around the anus,” says Dr. Feldshon. “It can definitely itch and burn.”