The Rollin RN Helps to Solve the Mystery of Stool Color


Fit, Fabulous, and the Mystery of Stool color?

As I have said many times before, when I write these articles they are usually due to a recent conversation with others in wheelchairs and this is no different.  This article originated from a discussion about bloody stools and when to be concerned.  So I thought I would take some of the mystery out of the color changing of stools.

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Remember when you were a kid and you drank cherry or grape Kool-Aid and your stools were then red or blue? Yep, that kind of sums it up.  Your stool captures ALL in your digestive tract and it is a really good indicator of what is occurring in your body.

Bowel movements are the end result of your body taking the nutrients it needs from the food you eat and eliminating what’s left. When it comes to frequency, color, shape, and size, a general rule of thumb is that normal bowel movements are defined as what’s comfortable for you. But being knowledgeable about your digestive process can help you identify when normal goes awry (2015).  This was our discussion a few days ago.  Many things can affect or alter the color of your poop.

But really, what does the color of your stool indicate and why?  Bowel movements are generally brown in color because of bile, which is produced in the liver and important to the digestion process (2015).  But when the color is any other color other than brown, investigation needs to occur.  Whether through you or if necessary, your primary care physician.  Here’s why…..the food (or anything you swallow) usually takes three days to travel through the digestive tract.  So, if stool changes color, think back to your food consumption.

Black stools may indicate bleeding in the digestive tract.  But it may also indicate vitamins containing iron or consumption of medication to treat upset stomach such as Pepto Bismol.  The trick is now to determine if you have consumed iron fortified vitamins and /or upset stomach treatment.  If the answer is yes, then your black stools are probably a result of that.  But if the answer is no, then we take it one more step further.  Does the black stool smell or have a terribly offensive odor, a rancid stench that is totally different than the usual bad scent?  And does the stool have a tarry, sticky appearance? If that occurs, then further medical attention needs to ensue. Here’s why….that could be indicative of internal bleeding, ulcers or cancer.

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Let me tell you about a nurse, you all know.  One evening during bowel care, her stools were very black and had a strong, unusual odor.  She had been taking very large doses of Naproxen ordered by her physician for shoulder arthritis.  Her husband stated that he was concerned but being the hospital-fearing nurse she scoffed at the idea of going to the Emergency Department.  When this nurse went to transfer to the shower chair, she almost passed out.  The short story is she ended up admitted to the hospital with bleeding stomach ulcers from the Naproxen and two transfusions and several hospital days later went home on forever twice-a-day medication to decrease acid reflux and hopefully prevent ulcers again.  This nurse not only had the black, tarry stools but the Autonomic Dysreflexia symptoms that gave way to something being wrong but she ignored them all.

Let’s leave the black stools and move to the grey-clay color.  Remember I said the normal stool is brown because it collects the bile from the liver that aids in the digestive process?  That is why grey-clay is problematic because there is no color to it.  Grey-clay may indicate a blockage in the bile duct or liver disease.  Definitely worth checking out.

You may also ask about the occasional bloody stool.  If you wipe and notice blood on the toilet paper or see bright red blood observed in your stool, that usually means either hemorrhoids or some type of irritation in the lower digestive tract.  A visit to your physician is in order because cancer can also contribute to bloody stools.  Oh, and don’t forget the colonoscopies if you are over age 50.  Another subject for those of us paralyzed.  This nurse has yet to get hers done, that will be a topic of further discussion.

So let’s all stay Fit, Fabulous, and healthy.


The Scoop on Poop.  Obtained on October 24, 2015 from

For questions, you can “Ask Patty

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The Rollin RN, Patty Kunze, RNC, BSN

Patty has been a Nurse for 31 years, since 1983. She actually worked for two years prior to her spinal cord injury (SCI) in the SCI Unit at the Veterans Hospita,l working with new injuries. She then transferred to neonatal intensive care and ultimately to education of students in nursing.

Patty, The Rolling RN, Is A Regular Contributor To PUSHLiving

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