Everyone poops, but it’s still something a lot of us have a hard time talking about. (Unless you’re my 6 and 3 year olds, who can’t talk enough poo, it turns out.)
But it’s unfortunate that discussions of poo tend to make adults squeamish, as our stools can offer powerful clues to what’s going on in our bowels – and even more widely in our bodies. And doctors really want people to look at it.
“When I ask patients to describe their stools, even when they are at the gastrointestinal doctor, you can almost immediately feel their discomfort,” Christopher Henry, gastroenterologist at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, told HuffPost. .
Enter the Bristol Stool Chart (sometimes called the Bristol Stool Form Scale or Meyers Scale), a diagnostic tool that healthcare professionals can use with their patients to help determine what is normal (and what is not) in terms of the size, texture and color of the poop.
In general, the ideal poop is type 3 or type 4. Type 1 or type 2, on the other hand, can indicate that a person is struggling with constipation. And types 5, 6, or 7 can suggest diarrhea, but not always.
“Sometimes I have patients with very severe constipation and they have periodic diarrhea,” Henry said.
This particular example shows why the stool chart really shouldn’t be used by laypersons for self-diagnosis. Instead, people should see it as a jumping off point for health-related conversations – and it can certainly help make those discussions less awkward. Many people find it easier to point to a line on a graph than having to search for words to describe their stool to a provider, Henry said.
Doctors, on the other hand, can use the chart to help diagnose conditions such as various types of irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.
If your poop falls outside the normal types on the chart fairly regularly, it is definitely worth reporting to your primary care doctor, who may refer you to a specialist. Significant changes in the frequency or shape of poop are also noteworthy. And don’t ignore the other gastrointestinal symptoms. This includes heartburn that doesn’t resolve with antacids, blood in your stool, severe pain, or unintentional weight loss.
Even if your poo-related problems turn out to be relatively mild, a doctor might help you with a few simple changes that can help you get the ideal poo (and feel better overall), such as getting enough fiber and ‘water.
But experts caution against wondering too much if your poop is exactly the right texture and color for the painting, especially because there are so many slightly different iterations floating around the web. In addition, the color of people’s stools can vary depending on what they eat.
But what the Bristol Stool Chart can do very well is provide clarity.
Henry recalled an experience where he worked with several patients complaining of diarrhea, but when he asked them to show what their stools looked like on the graph, they marked type 1 – which actually indicates the constipation. They thought that diarrhea referred more to frequency than to a particular form of bowel movement.
In such cases, the table helps create a shared language, to ensure that patients and their providers are on the same page.
“I think of it a bit like a Rosetta Stone. To make sure we’re using the same words to mean the same things, ”Henry said. “It’s a platform for patients and physicians to have better conversations. “
Because talking about poop might not be most adults’ favorite thing, but it’s an important part of overall well-being.