Is This A Digestion Issue?
September 21, 2009 6:12 AM   Subscribe

I have poop problems. If you can stand talk of poop, please tell me if I should be worried.

Hey there. I'm 25, female. Here are some of the things that have been worrying me.

1. Most of my life, I've had a bowel movement, maybe, once every other day. It was fairly common for me to feel constipated, but nothing really noteworthy. Now, it's up to five times a day (but usually more like two or three times). I'm going so much, my butt regularly bleeds from all the wiping (but only a little bit). I noticed the increase in my going about 3-4 months ago. (It's not diarrhea, but it's sometimes pretty close to it. Oh, and I get diarrhea every once in a while too. Maybe once or twice a month.)

2. Know how you can't digest corn, so it just comes out the same way it went in? I'm getting that a lot...but with foods other than corn. Pretty much vegetables, from what I can tell. For instance, (and I'm so sorry for how disgusting this is) I ate coleslaw with dinner and the next morning there were recognizable pieces of cabbage. Same with spinach, tomatoes, and other bits I couldn't recognize. The pieces are disturbingly big. This happens regularly, nearly daily. It never, ever happened to me before this period in my life.

3. The color keeps changing. Sometimes it's brown, but it also now is sometimes greenish, or reddish, or orangeish, or reallyreally dark brown. Maybe it has to do with what I ate previously, but I can't really tell.

There have not been any changes in my regular diet.

Those are the main three things that have been worrying me. It's hard enough for me to ask anonymously on the internet about this, so you can imagine how much I don't want to have to talk to a doctor about it. Is this something I really should talk to a doctor about, or is this just how poop is sometimes?

Beyond these issues, I've been feeling okay (pretty much). No weight changes, no stomach pains, nothing like that. The only thing I have to complain about is I've been growing more and more tired all the time, and my doctor doesn't have an explanation for that. Could it be related? (because yes I saw a doctor because I've been feeling so tired, and no I didn't bring this up. Yeah, I know that's kind of stupid.)

Thanks for any advice.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My doctor, in response to a frequency question, told me that animals in the wild will go several times a day and this once a day thing was unnatural.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:17 AM on September 21, 2009

Yes, you need to discuss this with your doctor, something is obviously amiss with your digestion, and you're probably feeling tired because the food's not being broken down and absorbed by your body!
posted by Chrysalis at 6:17 AM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I know this is sometimes hard for people to accept, but you should never be embarrassed to talk to a doctor. About anything. This is what they’re there for. These are folks that have seen everything. They spent time in medical school cleaning maggots from homeless people and peering into people’s colons. They’re not going to judge you or say “ewwww, gross!” when you bring up poop. They’ve seen poop before.

It’s possibly nothing, but it’s also possible you have something serious going on. Nobody here is going to diagnose you. Half the people will tell you about the time they had bleeding ‘roids and it was nothing and the other half will tell you about the time their aunt died of colon cancer. Do you really want that?

Go to a doctor and tell him/her about it. Let them be the one to tell you it’s nothing. Or, if it’s not nothing, let them get you started taking care of it.
posted by bondcliff at 6:23 AM on September 21, 2009 [14 favorites]

Yes, it's a digestion issue, and yes, you should talk to a doctor.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:31 AM on September 21, 2009

IANAD and you should see one -- changes in bowel movements can be a symptom of lots of things that you'd need treatment for. But in the interim, you could try using wet wipes instead of toilet paper for comfort and a multivitamin since it sounds like you're not absorbing nutrients well. You could also try experimenting with removing various foods from your diet in case you've developed a sensitivity. How long has this been going on? Did you travel somewhere you could have picked up a virus or parasite?
posted by ecsh at 6:35 AM on September 21, 2009

Everything I've read about frequency says that it varies from person to person and time to time. Don't worry unless you're going waaay too much (which up to 5 times a day probably is) or way too infrequently (more than 2-3 days between). Mine personally varies depending on diet. Every other day isn't unheard of for me.

Regarding the color, excessiveness, and lack of digestion? Talk to your doctor! It's scaring you, and it doesn't sound normal. If you don't want to talk to him about it print out the problem and hand him a piece of paper. Yeah, it's embarrassing, but diagnosing problems early is almost always a key to solving them without long term negative impact.
posted by ydant at 6:36 AM on September 21, 2009

Yes, go see a doctor. Don't experiment with vitamins and whatnot.. just go to the doctor. Gastroenterologists see poop everyday, no worries.
posted by sero_venientibus_ossa at 6:37 AM on September 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and regarding the embarrassment, keep this in mind: everybody, even your doctor, poops
posted by ydant at 6:37 AM on September 21, 2009

Seconding the doctor ASAP, and in the meantime chew your food more. Minimum 10x/mouthful. By the time you've swallowed a mouthful of coleslaw it shouldn't be easily recognizable as cabbage anymore. Big pieces of food are undigestible; they need to be manageable size by the time they get to your stomach.
posted by variella at 6:39 AM on September 21, 2009

Seconding bondcliff's advice about not worrying AT ALL about taking this to a doctor. My sister is a doctor and I once had poopy kaka concerns as well (albeit of a different nature than yours.) I wanted an answer and my primary care was not available so I very hesitantly asked her. She looked at me strangely and said, "Rewind, do you have ANY idea how often I see other people's crap? I deal with poop all day, every day, so enough with your embarrassment." Seriously, doctors have seen it all before, and quite often. Plus, the content, color and composition of fecal matter is all QUITE telling, so there's a good chance your own doctor could provide some answers. Go talk to her/him.

I was going to try to offer up some of my own suggestions as to what it might be, but I'm really not qualified enough to answer. Suffice to say, poop irregularities are not uncommon, but it's ALWAYS smart to check with your doctor if the irregularities are occurring frequently over a prolonged period of time. And, let me stress again, don't be embarrassed! As the children's book so famously says, "Everyone Poops!"
posted by Rewind at 6:40 AM on September 21, 2009

Poop! Yay! We should never be embarrassed by our poop! I am utterly fascinated by poop because it's such an interesting measure of physiological health. (And some may say that there are better words, but how awesome is a word that's not only a noun but also onomatopoeic!)

1. Lots of people in AskMe over the years have claimed that pooping once every other day is normal. I even have family members that poop every couple of days, but they tend to complain of constipation. I poop multiple times a day and never feel constipated. My doctor tells me that the more regular the smooth bowel movements, the better (fiber is key, and I eat a lot of fiber!)

2. I can only speak for my own poop (and my one-year-old nephew's poop that I saw last night), but bits are common. Many vegetables have insoluble fibrous bits. Cabbage, tomatoes, carrots, spinach, flaxseed, oatmeal, brown rice, you name it, I've seen poop! (except for meat..well..not entirely true...highly processed, heavily colored and poorly chewed meat will sometimes be visible)

3. COlor. From my own observations of my own poop color:
Reds: beans
Greens: Leafy green veggies
Orange: CHeeses
Dark, dark brown: lots of meat OR lots of chocolate.

IANAD but I've done a lot of my own dietary regulation by studying how my poop affects me day to day. I would SLOWLY add more fiber and water to your diet to add more regularity, otherwise, you sound pretty normal!

That said, talk to your doctor. If you can't talk to your doctor about your poop, you can't talk to your doctor about anything!
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 6:45 AM on September 21, 2009

animals in the wild will go several times a day and this once a day thing was unnatural.

Animals in the wild also spend three-quarters of their waking life either looking for food or eating it. If lions had Super Stop-n-Shop's on the Serengeti, they'd poop less, too.

OP, you say there's been no changes in your diet, but you don't mention what that constitutes. I say this because a young body can put up with all kinds of abuse early-on that won't be tolerated later when it starts settling into "adult-mode." If you eat nothing but beef jerky and coffee all day, the consistency of your diet isn't an asset.

The only thing I have to complain about is I've been growing more and more tired all the time, and my doctor doesn't have an explanation for that.

Do you fall asleep during the day, or is it just a general "draggin'-ass" fatigue?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:52 AM on September 21, 2009

IANAD and I second seeing one. If you are crapping out pieces of undigested food then you are not absorbing anything from it. There could be something wrong with your stomach all the way down to the intestines. Get it checked out!
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:04 AM on September 21, 2009

I'm not a medical doctor. You need to see one, stat.

You've got several big flashing warning signs going off here:

1) Change in frequency. Going 3-5 times a day is not normal, especially when you've always been a more sane once a day kind of person.

2) Undigested food passing through you. This likely means that your GI tract is pissed off for one reason or another and is just shooting food right through you in an effort to relieve the pain. I've experienced similar things when my Crohn's disease is flaring up.

3) Being tired all the time - this may point to malnutrition. It sounds like your body is spitting the food out so fast that you're not absorbing as many nutrients as you need. This is bad.

From my limited knowledge, you might have any of several different problems related to digestive health, including (but certainly not limited to) IBD, IBS, Celiac, Crohn's Disease, or Ulcerative Colitis.

You need to suck it up and see a doctor about this. There's nothing embarrassing about this situation. A wise author once told me that "Everybody poops". Doctors have seen it all, and believe me, your poop problems don't even register on their gross-out scale. Fecal composition can be a really important clue as to what's going on with you, so don't hold back details. Trust me, they can handle it.

Getting yourself well again is far more important than any sheepishness you might feel.
posted by chrisamiller at 7:08 AM on September 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

There is a wide range of normal in human pooping habits. I believe the oft-quoted frequency (from a medical textbook, which... I would dig out of the bookshelf but I can't be bothered) is "three times a day to three times a week" so that's a big range. But the issue is not your current frequency. For many people that would be normal. The issue is that *for you* it is not.

Again, the issue is that this is not normal *for you*, so don't listen to the people who are like "yay lots of pooping". That's normal for them. Talk to your doctor.

my husband and many of my good friends are doctors. It is highly likely that talking about your poop with you wouldn't even rate on the top 50% ickiest things that s/he talked about on a given day
posted by gaspode at 7:10 AM on September 21, 2009

FYI about the diarrhea once a month -- mild diarrhea is often a symptom of PMS, so that in and of itself is normal for women. My own system goes a little funny for a couple days each month myself (bonus tip: it sounds bizarre, but the best home remedy for mild diarrhea I've ever found is hot milk with fresh grated nutmeg. I have no idea why it works, but it does -- and it tastes way better than Pepto-Bismol).

When it comes to frequency -- one of the best things anyone ever told me about what's "normal" when it comes to health is "there's 'normal' in general, but there is also 'normal for you.' They're not always the same thing." What they meant is -- it may indeed be "normal" to go once a day, or once every other day, or three times a day, etc. That's why you're getting so many different answers about what's normal -- they're all normal, for different people. So if you'd been going three times a day your whole life, then going three times a day is normal for you, and the fact that once a day for someone else is "normal" isn't your concern.

However -- it sounds like you used to be once a day. That was normal for you. But you've changed from what is normal for you, and that could be a sign something's going on.

Same too with the colors -- sometimes poop is just different colors, depending on what you've eaten. But if you've been pooping in monotone your whole life and only just recently have you been pooping in technicolor, then that is a change in what is normal for you, and that's worth a call to a doctor.

It's very possible that your doctor will find that what is normal for you just changed to a new normal. But it's worth talking to your doctor for your own peace of mind.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:13 AM on September 21, 2009

Get an appointment with a gastroenterologist but while waiting for the appointment don't change anything and track everything in a journal. What you eat and drink, when you eat, how much, when your bowel movements are and what they are like. I guarantee that the doctor will ask you these things and the more information you provide the better.

Let your worries about talking to the doctor go. Remember, a gastroenterologist specializes in your entire digestive tract from mouth to butt. If they didn't want to talk to you about this stuff, they would have chosen a different specialty!
posted by Mouse Army at 7:22 AM on September 21, 2009

Another suggestion to mention this to your doctor so that they can rule things out or give you something or suggests things to do that might help you feel better. In the meantime for the occasional bleeding - get some Sage Comfort Wipes. I've seen them at Walgreens and CVS. They have a barrier cream on them that protects your skin from acidic stool/ urine. You don't want your skin breakdown to progress. It's an infection risk that has potential to be worse. Take preventative measures. If you don't get the Sage Wipes get a toilet paper with aloe in it. Don't be embarrassed to buy the sage wipes however. If the clerk even knows what they are it's because they use them or buy them for a relative. You'll have their understanding if noting else. Or they'll think you're buying them for your granny.

And please don't feel bad about feeling embarrassed to your doctor. They really have seen worse if that helps at all. But more than that they want to treat you as best as they can and giving them all the info you can helps them do that greatly.
posted by dog food sugar at 7:22 AM on September 21, 2009

Your problem will not even faze your doctor. I used to talk to people with digestion problems who would ask me if they should save their poop in a bag and bring it (answer: hell no!) to their appointment. People can be really weird about poop, but asking honest questions about legitimate concerns is not weird in the least.
Your problems definitely warrant talking to a doctor. ANY change in bowel habits that last more than a couple weeks really need to be checked out by a doctor.
posted by ishotjr at 7:49 AM on September 21, 2009

Your description is very concerning to me. Please see a physician. As a point of reference for what your physician has seen and done, in medical school I had to manually disimpact (it's what you think) old people on >1 occasion, including one who was dead at the time for a dissection.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:57 AM on September 21, 2009

Sorry about your butt! It all sounds so familiar to me, I have IBS. Mine kicked on when I was thirteen or so. It definitely flares up when I start my period - the cramps make the whole abdominal neighborhood restless. You should definitely describe this stuff to your doctor - heck, even print out this question and hand it to him if you're uncomfortable. He'll want to rule a few things out, but if it comes back as IBS don't be surprised. It's very common!

I get better digestion of leafy stuff if I pave the way with something like bread, rice, pasta, or potatoes first, as a sort of cushion. This slows things down enough to get some digestion going on. I do know two things that will make your poops almost-black: spinach, and pepto bismol. Blood in the upper GI tract could also do it but the rest of your question makes spinach or pepto both look pretty likely. I also know that tomato sauce color is pretty persistent. And blue Froot Loops....they're their own special category.

I have some trigger foods that can almost always be relied upon to kickstart an Episode. Can you make note of any consistencies? Unfortunately raw leafy veggies are on this list, but the bread trick works pretty well for me.

Don't be afraid of this, but do get looked at by your doctor, and to optimize your situation. Rectal bleeding isn't likely dangerous - we have a weird relationship with our own intestinal flora and fauna - but it's not pleasant. And welcome to the select brotherhood of those who can identify and rate every public restroom in a 50 mile radius.
posted by Lou Stuells at 7:57 AM on September 21, 2009

How much alcohol are you drinking? If it's a significant amount, it might be worth knocking it off for a week to see if that helps.

But yes, tell the doctor.
posted by Phanx at 8:01 AM on September 21, 2009

Go see a doctor. Mention if you've recently started taking anything hormonal (like new birth control.
posted by WeekendJen at 8:38 AM on September 21, 2009

Go see a doctor.

In the interim, to ease irritation use a perianal rinse bottle or some other spray of water. After a few shots use the wet cloths as mentioned above, but DON'T WIPE! Dab! Dab dab dab. Also try not to use heavily scented wipes. It doesn't sound like a hemerhoidal issue, but those wipes seem to be the most gentle. If you are going to try and start adding fiber, do it slowly and naturally - oatmeal, whole grain wheat bread, etc. Stay away from pills/tablets as IMO they are harder to regulate. (ha!)
posted by Big_B at 8:57 AM on September 21, 2009

It's really okay to talk to a doctor! Your primary care doctor will refer you to a gastroenterologist if necessary. A change in bowel habits (one of the seven warning signs of cancer) prompted me to seek medical care for it. My issue turned out to be ulcerative colitis. At present, well-controlled with medication.
posted by apartment dweller at 8:59 AM on September 21, 2009

Go to the doctor
posted by cellphone at 9:02 AM on September 21, 2009

I do not like to discuss poop, but symptoms very similar to yours* prompted me to see a gastroenterologist. He was very nice, and very easy to talk to about poop, despite my reticence. I concur with everybody's suggestion to seek medical treatment.

*We're still trying to figure out definitely whether it's inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's or colitis) or irritable bowel syndrome. The former has a better chance of being controlled if you catch it early, and the latter is generally treatable, so yes, definitely go see a GI. If you're in Chicago, I will even recommend a good one if you want to MeFi mail me.
posted by jennyb at 10:36 AM on September 21, 2009

Just popping in here to say that my celiac disease (a.k.a. gluten intolerance, a.k.a. no bread, cookies, bagels, pizza, etc. for me) showed up out of nowhere when I was in college. And while most people's first symptoms with celiac disease are GI and poop-related, my symptoms were almost wholly exhaustion-related. So my point is, celiac can show up at any time, not just at birth, and if/when you go see a gastroenterologist, make sure he/she gives you the blood test for gluten antibodies. It's a really simple thing, but crucial, because celiac gets missed a lot, even by docs who you'd think would know better.
posted by Asparagirl at 12:52 PM on September 21, 2009

Let me second or third the question - are you drinking alcohol? Daily? If so stop and see if that fixes everything. You may have been able to absorb the liquor when you were younger but that lessens over time.
posted by andreap at 2:47 PM on September 21, 2009

I had very similar things happen to me, and after a loooong, frustrating battery of tests, samples, and eventually a colonoscopy was diagnosed with colitis. Now medicated, my life has improved dramatically.

I'm not saying you have colitis - it could be any of a number of things - but I am saying that getting checked out by a medical professional has dramatically improved my quality of life.
posted by smoke at 4:33 PM on September 21, 2009

@Obscure Reference - Doctors can have some dumb ideas, just like everybody else.

The change in bowel movements per day is worrisome, but the fatigue is more worrisome yet. Like many others here, I would suggest that you get yourself to a doctor straight away and get a few tests done. Don't worry about discussing an embarrassing bodily function with your doctor - I guarantee they have heard worse/weirder. Just an MD a sample of your dookie and see what they have to tell you.
posted by Pecinpah at 6:08 PM on September 21, 2009

this sounds like me when I developed lactose intolerance. See a doctor, and relax, it may be something as simple as that.
posted by lemniskate at 7:54 PM on September 21, 2009

I would go get the food poisoning/parasite tests at your local doctor. These were the EXACT symptoms I had when I was diagnosed with chronic salmonella. At first doctors told me IBS, but one doctor caught the mistake...IBS doesn't typically come from nowhere and dramatic changes to your bowel movements are a red flag for something infectious. I didn't realize that food poisoning could be anything more than puking for a few days for a healthy adult, but it turns out that some bugs can make your bowel their new home.

Go to a doctor. I didn't get diagnosed until I finally collapsed during class from dehydration.

Once you do have that initially infection, developing IBS and IBD is more likely though. Celiac is something to test for once parasites and bacteria have been ruled out.
posted by melissam at 9:08 PM on September 21, 2009

Yes, doctor.

I had something similar happen to me, also at 25, where my body just started rejecting almost everything I ate. Because I had it in the family and amongst friends, it was pretty quickly determined to be a gluten intolerance/celiac disease and once I eliminated gluten from my diet I have been fine ever since. It also seems to be REALLY common that these types of food intolerances and new allergies manifest themselves at 25-ish in women, possibly due to hormonal changes (IANAD, but every friend and acquaintance that I have with gluten issues had them show up at 25).

Your tiredness is definitely linked to how often you are going to the bathroom - if things are passing through your body that quickly, they are not entering your body and giving you the nutrients you need.
posted by urbanlenny at 10:59 AM on September 22, 2009

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