Health clues from your poo - colour consistency and size

Have you ever wondered if your number two is normal? Bowel Care Nurse and spokesperson for Bowel Cancer Australia Tammy Farrell is encouraging women to use their stool as a healthcare tool, in recognition of Be Well Week, September 5 – 11th.

Most people prefer to focus on what goes into their bodies rather than on what comes out, but Nurse Farrell says a person’s stool can reveal important health information which is often overlooked. 
“Everyone’s poo is different in appearance, and it changes depending on what you eat and drink, activity levels and your medical history. 
“But if there is a change that lasts for more than two weeks, it could be a sign that there is something wrong and should be discussed with your GP,” Ms Farrell said. 
Australian trackers have long used animal faeces or ‘scat’ to gather valuable information - not just about the animal they’re tracking but also about the weather, other creatures in the area, vegetation and water levels. 
But if you’re not a tracker, it’s unlikely you take much interest in faeces, especially your own. 
However, what lands in the toilet can tell you a lot about your health.  
“The most important thing it can tell you is if you have a polyp or tumour, which may be cancerous,” said Ms Farrell.
Because bowel polyps and tumours sometimes bleed, blood is considered an important sign that something may be wrong. 
“Although blood in your stool does not always indicate bowel cancer, it is important that you have it investigated,” Ms Farrell said. 
In addition to finding blood in the bowel movement, you should also speak to your GP if your stool appears bright red, dark red, maroon or extremely black. 
bristol stool chart avail from creative commons
Bristol Stool Chart, developed by Dr. Stephen Lewis and Dr. Ken Heaton at the University of Bristol 

Image: Bristol Stool Chart, developed by Dr. Stephen Lewis and Dr. Ken Heaton at the University of Bristol.

In order to determine how long it took for food to pass through the digestive tract, the Bristol Stool Scale was designed. 

Although it is rarely used in medical practices, the chart can be helpful for patients when trying to describe their bowel motions. 
As with most things, people want to avoid the extremes when it comes to the Bristol Stool Scale. Generally speaking, poo that looks most like Type 3 or 4 is considered to be normal, while bowel movements appearing like Type 7 would be suggestive of diarrhoea or possibly something more sinister. 
“A persistent change in bowel habit, especially going to the toilet more often or having looser, more diarrhoea-like motions for several weeks can be a sign of something wrong,” Ms Farrell added.
Other signs to look out for include abdominal swelling or pain, especially if severe, anal pain or a lump, and unexplained anaemia causing tiredness or weight loss.
“If you find blood in your stool or you experience any of these signs or symptoms of bowel cancer for more than two weeks, you absolutely should speak with your GP about it,” said Nurse Farrell.
While these symptoms could be due to another condition such as haemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome, anal fissures or inflammatory bowel disease, these kinds of symptoms usually require investigation via colonoscopy within 30 days. 
Bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in females - claiming the lives of almost 1900 women every year.
It is projected that more than 20,000 women will die from bowel cancer over the next ten years.
That's why Bowel Cancer Australia will be launching the second annual Be Well Week this September (5 – 11), dedicated to Australian women. 
Be Well Week is an awareness and fundraising campaign which encourages women of all ages to support the vital work of Bowel Cancer Australia by hosting a Be Well Breakfast or Be Well Brunch fundraiser with female family members and friends. 
Most importantly Bowel Cancer Australia wants Australian women to be bowel cancer aware and prioritise their health and wellbeing.
For more information visit their website.
To speak with a Bowel Care Nurse about a question or experience related to bowel cancer, click here, or call 1800 555 494 between 10am – 4pm, Monday – Friday.
For more information about bowel cancer symptoms and diagnosis, you can also check out our article What are the symptoms of bowel cancer. 
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