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Get To Know Your Poop

Five Signs You're Up Shit Creek.


Photo: Milan Vasicek | iStockPhoto | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012

It's something we do just about every day - more, for those who maintain a diet rich in chili cheese fries. Yet, men know shit about poop. Sure, a big honking dump is a great conversation piece. And who hasn't crapped in a brown paper bag and lit it on fire to welcome new neighbors to the block? More importantly, however, a person's stool can also serve as a barometer of physical well-being.

"Gastrointestinal health lifestyle choices also relate to overall health, whether it be bloodpressure, cardiovascular health, or even cancer prevention," says Dr. William Katkov, a gastroenterologist at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif. In English: Your poop matters, and it doesn't take a medical degree to understand that blood in the stool is a bad sign. That escapee from a Canadian logging camp that comes heaving out of your ass smelling like a dead raccoon...that's probably not good either. But what about the various types of other pats, pellets, floaters and submarines that we send schklonking into our toilet bowls? What do they say about how our bodies are operating?

"Although many people have an image of what it should be, there is no perfect bowel movement," according to Katkov. "The range of normal bowel function is very, very broad”. There may not be a gold standard for poop, but there are a few warning signs to look for when studying your stool. In the interest of being able to write about poop with a legitimate reason, here are some of those signs:

To Each His Own (Frequency)
Dropping a deuce is like doing a touchdown dance: everyone has their own style. For some, a trip to the john is an opportunity to take a load off for a while and maybe dig into a good book. Others prefer to wait for the turtle to rear his head before heading to the nearest stall so as to get in and get out as quickly and painlessly as possible. The important thing is to do what feels good: That goes not only for the length of time you spend on the can, but also the number of times you visit it. "Some people may go several times a week, other people may go two or three times a day," Katkov says. Instead of measuring poop-per-week stats against coworkers, focus on your own pattern. Consult a doctor if you notice what Katkov calls "dramatic and persistent" changes in frequency (particularly if it starts to happen right in the middle of your daily commute).

Black is the Color
Stool pigmentation comes from bile produced by the liver, which enters the GI tract and mixes with food just past the stomach, shading it brown, green or yellow as it passes through the bowels. Those colors are perfectly normal. Black is not. "Very dark or black stool can be a sign of bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract," according to Katkov. It can also be caused various mundane factors, like iron supplements and Pepto-Bismol, but it’s best to let your lucky, lucky physician make that call.

Be Consistent
A nice, "healthy" crap is in the eye of the beholder. "At the extreme, no one wants watery diarrhea and at the other end of the spectrum, it shouldn't be a huge strain to have a bowel movement because of hard stool," Katkov says. Aside from these outliers, however, the consistency of a particular dump is about comfort rather than health. Take note: This does not mean that the perfect dump is performed while laying in bed watching Robocop, no matter how comfortable that makes you. 

Comfort is King
That said, persistent discomfort on the pot may be a sign of a larger problem. "It's especially important to take note if someone often feels like they are bloated, distended or incompletely emptied out," Katkov explains. While this type of discomfort can be the result of a wide variety of causes, from parasitic infection to high fiber intake, he says these symptoms "deserve an evaluation." Remember, if you find the questions on this evaluation too difficult, you can always work it out with a pencil (thanks to our Granddad for that joke!).

Blood in the Water
Now, about the bloody stool. It's probably not blood at all: Food - beets and tomatoes, for example - is often the culprit behind a ruddy # two. Any actual blood that comes up, meanwhile, is more likely caused by a small external cut or gash. Nevertheless, any sign of blood should be taken seriously. "While most episodes of rectal bleeding are in the end ascribed to a little break in the skin or a hemorrhoid, bleeding should never be ignored and should always be evaluated," Katkov says. So now you’ve got a reason to take a good hard look at that poop before flushing.

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