Black Poop: What Does It Mean and What Should You Do?

You’ve just spent some alone time on the toilet and as you are preparing to wrap up your business, you notice something that takes you aback – black poop. “What does it mean?” and “is this dangerous?” will probably be the first questions you have after the initial shock wears off. Rightfully so, as this issue can (but does not necessarily have to) indicate a potentially serious medical problem.

The Basics About the Color of Your Poop

Everyone knows that the normal color of poop is brown. But what isn’t such common knowledge is that stool can actually come in a few other colors without it indicating a real medical problem. For example, poop with a distinct shade of green can be considered normal in certain cases.

Under the usual circumstances, two factors influence the color of your stool: your diet and the quantity of bile. Bile, produced by your liver, is a fluid that plays a significant part when it comes to the digestion of fats. It is initially greenish or yellowish in color but turns brown as the digestion process takes place.

As a result, if you see a change in the color of your excrement before you flush, you can frequently attribute this to the food you’ve eaten. Some foods have very strong natural colors which can impact the end result of the digestion process. Also, your stomach may have a specific reaction to certain ingredients, and this can also have an effect.

On the other hand, things aren’t always so simple. As you would expect, unusually-colored poop can also be a signal that something is wrong with your digestive system. It can be a red flag warning you of a major problem, but it can also indicate a relatively minor medical issue.

What About Black Poop, Specifically?

As mentioned, it is not all that uncommon to see the occasional change in the hue of your stool. However, black is not one of the colors that you want to see. Having said that, it does not automatically mean that you have a serious medical problem you need to deal with. It just means that it is imperative that you pinpoint the exact cause.

In this respect, there are two possibilities. One is your diet, as already mentioned. Or to be more accurate – what you ingest. This is because in addition to some foods, there are also certain supplements and medications that can produce the same effect. We will cover this in greater detail in just a bit, but it generally should not be a cause for much concern.

The other reason for your stool to turn black is the presence of blood. Specifically, blood from your upper gastrointestinal system. In medical terms, this condition is called “melena”, and it is something that requires you to consult a doctor as soon as possible.

Black Poop due to What You’ve Ingested

While black stool can be connected to serious medical issues, the odds are still quite good that it is simply due to something you’ve eaten. Foods such as black licorice, beetroot, or blueberries are known to have this effect on some people. This is even more likely if you’ve had abdominal surgery, such as a colectomy, because it affects how you digest food.

In addition to food, iron supplements are a common cause of black poop. Doctors will frequently prescribe them to combat iron-deficiency anemia, and this is one of the potential side effects.

Finally, a number of medicines can be the reason behind the dark color of your excrement. Probably the likeliest one to encounter is Pepto-Bismol, a popular over-the-counter medication people frequently turn to for help with diarrhea and upset stomach.

If you are positive that it’s the food that’s causing your poop to turn black, then you have nothing to worry about as long as you don’t consume excessive amounts of it. Once it clears your system, your stool will return to normal. Of course, if this condition persists for more than a few days or comes with symptoms such as pain or vomiting, you should seek medical help right away.

If, on the other hand, you can trace it back to a supplement or medication you need to take on a long-term basis, then you should tell your doctor about it. They may adjust your therapy, but it’s still nothing to lose sleep over.

Black Poop due to Blood

If there is bleeding in the upper part of your digestive tract (such as in your stomach or esophagus), that blood can turn your feces black. As already mentioned, the name for this is melena.

Once again, the color alone is insufficient to prove the presence of blood. But if you suspect that might be the case, you need to talk to your doctor and ascertain it for sure. They will either perform an examination on you or give you a kit to collect a stool sample at home (which will then go to a lab for analysis).

If it does turn out to be melena, your doctor will then perform tests to find the precise location of the bleeding and determine its cause. A number of conditions can be at the root of the problem.

The most common one is peptic ulcer disease – that is damage to the lining of your stomach. Usually, it occurs due to a bacterial infection or as a side effect of prolonged use of certain medications.

Melena can also occur due to gastritis, Mallory-Weiss syndrome, esophageal varices, and other conditions. There is no need to explain this in greater depth because you really can’t do anything about it without your doctor.

Whatever the cause behind melena, it is imperative to determine it quickly and start receiving the appropriate treatment.

Conclusion

While it may not be the most pleasant of topics, there is absolutely no reason you should not inquire or talk about your bowel movements from a medical perspective. Therefore, if you’ve noticed black poop, “what does it mean” will likely be the very first thought that enters your mind, and it is a question that deserves a thorough answer. Hopefully, this text has provided you with one.

If food is the reason, then you’re in the clear. But if it is blood, then you need to schedule an appointment with your physician as soon as possible. Either way, it pays to know.

References:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/stool-color/expert-answers/faq-20058080
https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/what-do-different-poop-colors-mean#1
https://www.verywellhealth.com/causes-of-black-stool-1941711

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