Many are uncomfortable talking about digestion, but changes in your bowel movements could mean something is wrong, so it's important to understand and be candid about your digestive habits.
"The digestive tract contains more bacterial cells than there are cells in the entire body," Dr. Jean-Pierre Raufman, a gastroenterologist at University of Maryland School of Medicine, told MyHealthNewsDaily last year. "It's very important that our bowels work well to absorb necessary nutrients but also keep out any foods, chemicals and germs that could do us harm."
Because poop is such a taboo subject, digestive issues are a bigger problem in our country than many realize. Up to 70 million people in the U.S. are affected by digestive diseases, with nearly 50 million needing ambulatory care visits as a result. Nearly 25,000 people get stomach cancer each year and more than 10,000 die from the condition annually.
Indicators to health problems can be found in your poop, so pay attention the next time you have a bowel movement. You maybe tempted to just flush everything down the toilet, but the chart below created by HealthWorks indicates when you should worry about your poop's smell, frequency, or color. Your digestive habits can look certain ways based on your diet and life circumstances, but here are some digestive appearances that should give you pause:
Scary appearances don't always mean the worst.
As noted in the infographic, it's not good when you notice blood in your stool, but that doesn't always necessarily mean you have cancer. You might have recently consumed red food that looks like blood, be overly stressed, suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), or be experiencing a broad range of possibilities. However, that doesn't mean it is something to ignore.
The same can be said about other stool appearances and shifts. Green poop could mean your food isn't being absorbing properly, or it could mean you're passing through your daily kale smoothie.
As the chart's disclaimer states, this is all general information and does not substitute for advice from a medical professional.
Seeking medical help and tracking your stool habits.
The big takeaway is that you should see a doctor if you notice a dramatic change to determine the cause. You can also keep a food and/or poop diary to determine consistency and certain patterns in your stool. If journals are too old school for you, there are several poop diary apps you can download to better track your digestive habits.
As someone who frequently goes to a gastroenterologist for esophagus and accompanying gastrointestinal (GI) issues, I can confirm it's a lot better to know what's wrong with you than to be afraid every time you need to use the restroom. It also makes you less shy about talking to other people about your issues, and trust me, that could help someone else open up about their own GI anxieties. A little awkwardness is worth it if you can save someone from becoming one of the millions of Americans suffering from digestive disorders.