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Published on July 08, 2019

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Loose Poops – What Do They Mean?

Going “No. 2” – as humans, it’s natural for us all, and we all have natural patterns. Some of us go a few times a week, while some go a few times a day.

“Loose stools” can be natural for some people or signal diarrhea for others. Common causes include from foods – especially if something was spoiled or tainted – but GI viruses, food allergies and medication side-effects can also cause them. Some chronic conditions like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome can also lead to ongoing diarrhea.

When the patterns in our stools change, it can mean something’s up. But common sense and a bit of expert advice can help us balance between overly fixating on what’s in the bowl – and perhaps missing a sign that we need medical attention.

“Avoiding the extremes can help you achieve better gut health. Don’t be preoccupied with every minor change,” said Christopher Hurley, MD, Avera Medical Group gastroenterologist. “On the other hand, don’t avoid looking altogether and miss a red-flag warning like blood in the stool.”

Hurley provides these insights when it comes to loose stools, bowel-movement irregularity and overall digestive health.

Notice overall changes in patterns. One loose stool is not a big deal, but if they recur over several days or are accompanied with other signs – such as weight loss, pain or discoloration of the stool – then it may be time to talk to your doctor. “Things such as size and shape, or smell can vary from day to day, but small changes are less important than ones that stick around,” he said. “Diet can play a big role.”

If you have just started taking a new medication, check the possible side effects to see if it could be to blame.

We all face gas and bloating. People often feel they have “more gas” than others. “This can often be sorted out by eliminating certain foods,” said Hurley. However, the amount of gas a person has is subjective and not often a sign of a serious condition.

Do right with food and drink. A diet high in fiber and low in fat is not just best for overall health, it also will help aid your digestion, along with plenty of water. “You need water alongside high-fiber food to do the most good,” Hurley said. “It won’t lead to loose stools or diarrhea. We tend to drink too many things like alcohol, soda and coffee that actually remove moisture from our systems, and that can cause problems.”

You can also aim to be food safe 100% of the time. Cook foods thoroughly, wash your veggies and fruits and make sure to do the same with your hands – especially after handling raw meat.

Know the red flags – and yes, look in the bowl. “We do have some patients who say ‘Of course I never look at it!’ – and that can lead to problems being missed,” Hurley said. “You should look to make sure you do not see blood or tar-like stools in the bowl. Those are signs of a serious condition and should lead you to make an appointment with your primary care provider right away.”

Prolonged changes in bowel habits or blood in the stool can be symptoms of serious conditions including colorectal cancer. Remember: if you're closing in on age 45 — or older, make sure you talk to your doctor about scheduling a screening exam. Learn more about colon health and prevention at

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