You’re sitting at the doctor’s office. You finally made the appointment after weeks of straining or running to nearest bathroom just in the nick of time. You know the conversation with the doctor is not going to be easy. In fact, you’re not really sure how to bring it up.
Poop, bowel movements, number 2, s**t— whatever you call it, is not an easy subject to talk about. Now you have to describe—in detail—what you’re seeing and feeling. Most times, you don’t even look at the toilet. You flush and run out as quickly as possible. If you’re at home, you might open the window or fumigate with an air freshener to hide what you just did.
The subject of poop is uncomfortable because we tend to be reserved as a society. You don’t talk about it among friends, let alone mention it to someone you’ve just met. Bring up the topic of poop and eyes would roll, faces would scrunch up, and objections like “gross,” “disgusting,” and “oh my God, let’s not talk about that” would immediately erupt.
So, let’s break down the poop barrier by talking about it.
There are different types of bowel movements, and doctors have studied, analyzed, and charted all of them. The Bristol Stool Chart was first developed in England at the Bristol Royal Infirmary in the early 1990s. The Chart was initially created to check if certain treatments were working to improve a patient’s condition. They discovered that people, in general, tend to have similar stool types based on their gut health.
The Bristol Stool Chart has only been around since 1997, but it quickly became an accepted diagnostic standard. It’s been used in multiple studies around the globe from Brazil to Spain to Poland to the U.S. It appears that, no matter where we live, what we emit tends to fall within seven types of poop.
The Chart breaks down stools according to shape, color, and consistency. Each type is assigned a number from 1-7. If going to the bathroom is a strain and your stool tends to look like little brown marbles, your poop is a Type 1. Runners tend to report Type 4 or 5 bowel movements because the activity stimulates the colon. The added sugar from energy-boosting gels or sports drinks also prompts the body to release more fluids into the GI tract, making stools softer and loose. Finally, those with IBS-D complain that their bowel movements can change from Type 6 to Type 7 in a matter of minutes.
Interestingly, because children’s intestinal tracts differ from those of adults, a variation of the chart has been created for young kids.
Since its creation, doctors have come to rely on the Bristol Stool Chart as a quick and effective means of gauging their patients' digestive health. Some have even used it as a visual aid for patients unable or too shy to describe their stools. Granted, stool samples are still necessary in certain cases. But, in general, the Bristol Stool Chart is an invaluable tool for doctors.
In case you’re not familiar with the chart or you want to check on your gut’s progress with the therapy your doctor has recommended, here’s the Chart for your reference.