Characteristics of human feces


Normally feces are yellowish-brown (due to the presence of bile). A change in color suggests a change in gastrointestinal functioning or contents of the stool.

Gray or clay-colored stools usually indicate that bile ids missing, often a sign of gallbladder disease. Dark, black, or tarry stools usually indicate the presence of digested blood called melena, indicating hemorrhage high in the gastrointestinal tract or swallowed blood from a mouth, nose or throat injury or disorder. Bright red blood in (or streaked on the outside of) the stool indicates rectal or anal bleeding, often from hemorrhoids. Stools that are yellow or greenish in color indicate the abnormal presence of microorganisms, suggesting infection.


Normal stools are soft and formed. Hard, dry stools result when the rectum has not been emptied as needed and excess liquid has been absorbed. This is called constipation. Chronic constipation may occur if a person ignores the impulse to empty the rectum on a regular basis. Constipation may also result if the person has not taken enough fluids or has no had sufficient exercise to stimulate peristalsis. Constipation may result from some type of medications, such as morphine or drugs to lower bladder motility, or may occur after surgery, as a result of immobility, anesthesia, and drying agents. Diarrhea is the expulsion of loose, water, unformed stools. Sometimes, the person has frequent, watery stools. Diarrhea can also be explosive. Continuing diarrhea suggests chronic irritation of the colon, intestinal infection, food poisoning, or a parasitic infection. The person’s emotional state may also affect stool consistency, causing either diarrhea or constipation. Diarrhea can also be a sign of fecal impaction (accumulation harden stool in the rectum, with liquid stool passing around the impaction


Generally, stool has the same shape as the bowel’s interior: round, oval or cylindrical. Long, thin, pencil-like stools suggest a narrowing of the rectum or anal opening, which could be caused by a mass or tumor. Stool that always assumes the same irregular shape is also suggestive of an abnormal growth in the rectum or anus


Stools have a characteristic odor. Note any unusual or very strong odors. Sometimes medications, strong -flavored foods, or the presence of unusual microorganisms change the odor. The gaseous discharge the accompanies the bowel movement can have a very strong odor and is called flatus.


Stool density is the weight concentration of waste products in relation to water. Normally, stools are heavy enough to sink in water. Stools that float are less dense and suggest undigested fats, especially if they have a fatty or oily presence. Steatorrhea is the term used to identify stools with high fat content. Make note if stools float; this may be an indication of gallbladder disease or cystic fibrosis.

Abnormal Components

The presence of pus or mucus in stool indicates an inflammation or infection somewhere in the digestive system. The presence of undigested food products may suggest digestive system malfunction. Bright red blood (melena) suggests a low intestinal or nasogastric hemorrhage. Black stools often indicate a high intestinal or nasogastric hemorrhage. (Partially digested blood appears black because of chemical changes).

Fecal Impaction

Stool that a client can’t expel even after administration of laxatives and/or enemas: often from chronic bowel problems but also from immobility, paralysis, dehydration, or retained barium after a barium enema.

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