Mercy's Dr. Jefferey Nelson Explains - What Does Your Stool Color Say About Your Health?

August 16, 2019
The Institute for Digestive Health and Liver Disease at Mercy - Baltimore, MD

Jeffery Nelson, M.D., FACS, FASCRS, is an experienced colorectal surgeon who serves as Surgical Director of The Center for Inflammatory Bowel and Colorectal Diseases, The Institute for Digestive Health & Liver Disease at Mercy. Dr. Nelson recently responded to a Huffington Post query regarding what the color of one’s stool may indicate about health and how to tell if it is time to see your doctor.
 Black and/or tarry - this is like the color black, not just dark brown.  This means bleeding is happening from an upper GI source like the esophagus, stomach or small bowel.  See a doctor or go the Emergency Department (ED) right away. 

 Bright red blood - either by itself on the toilet paper, in the water, or streaked on the stools.  This indicates a bleeding source from the anal canal or a low rectal source.  Things like internal hemorrhoids, anal fissures, rectal polyps, or rectal cancers can all do this.  All these are reasons to see a doctor.

 Maroon stool - this is usually quite liquid and has a very unpleasant and distinct odor.  This indicates bleeding from the very end of the small bowel or the colon.  Diverticulosis and arteriovenous malformations are the classic causes of this presentation.  Go to the ED right away.

All of the above presentations typically mandate either upper endoscopycolonoscopy or both - maybe urgently (an emergency scenario).
 Hard, pellet like stools alternating with watery diarrhea, or loose stool, along with mucous can indicate irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but this is a diagnosis of exclusion and typically also requires endoscopy to rule out colorectal cancer or polyps.  Change in bowel habit is a common presentation of colorectal cancer.
 Persistent watery diarrhea may also just be IBS, but can also be from a microscopic colitis.  Once again, endoscopy is necessary.

--Jeffery M. Nelson, MD, FACS, FASCRS,  Surgical Director,  Center for Inflammatory Bowel and Colorectal Diseases, Mercy Medical Center

Dr. Jeffery Nelson has more than 25 years of experience in Colon and Rectal Surgery. His areas of interest include colorectal cancer, rectal bleeding, hemorrhoidectomy and diverticulitis. He brings special expertise in such areas as rectal prolapse, ulcerative colitis and complex anal pathology. Dr. Nelson is board certified in two specialties, General Surgery and Colon Rectal Surgery.

Dan Collins - Senior Director of Media Relations at Mercy Medical Center

Dan Collins, Senior Director of Media Relations

Email: Office: 410-332-9714 Cell: 410-375-7342

About Mercy

Founded in 1874 in downtown Baltimore by the Sisters of Mercy, Mercy Medical Center is a 183-licensed bed acute care university-affiliated teaching hospital. Mercy has been recognized as a top Maryland hospital by U.S. News & World Report; a Top 100 hospital for Women’s Health & Orthopedics by Healthgrades; is currently A-rated for Hospital Safety (Leapfrog Group), and is recognized by the American Nurses Credentialing Center as a Magnet Hospital. Mercy Medical Center is part of Mercy Health Services (MHS), the parent of Mercy’s primary care and specialty care physician enterprise, known as Mercy Personal Physicians, which employs more than 200 providers with locations in Baltimore, Lutherville, Overlea, Glen Burnie, Columbia and Reisterstown. For more information about Mercy, visit, MDMercyMedia on FacebookTwitter, or call 1-800-MD-Mercy.

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