Should Thin Poop Be A Cause For Concern?

Functional Medicine Gynecologist By Wendie Trubow, M.D., MBA
Functional Medicine Gynecologist
Wendie Trubow is a functional medicine gynecologist with almost 10 years of training in the field. She received her M.D. from Tufts University.
Thin Poop: Should It Be A Cause For Concern?

I know it's weird, but I get great satisfaction out of looking to see exactly what's in the toilet. It probably stems from having poorly controlled irritable bowel and constipation for too many years to count. But as a doctor, viewing the tangible evidence of healthy digestion gives me great pleasure.

The most satisfying days are those that include lovely, long pipes of poop that fill the toilet. But nature doesn't always provide, and sometimes the poop isn't perfect. Sometimes it's even thin or stringy. Sound familiar?

What causes thin poop?

An isolated pencil thin stool or stringy poop can be nothing to worry about. Sometimes it's associated with diarrhea that is from either an infectious cause (such as salmonella) or a medical one, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn's, or ulcerative colitis, and can be thin because the stool hasn't spent enough time in the colon to bulk itself up.

Other times, thin poop occurs because you're actually constipated and there isn't enough fiber and water to bulk up the stool.

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How to treat thin poop.

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If diarrhea is the culprit, the remedy here is to address the underlying cause of the rapidly moving stool: Make sure to stay hydrated, and wait it out. If the loose stool persists for longer than two or three days, that would be a reason to visit your doctor.

If your poop is thin or stringy because you're constipated, that's pretty easily addressed.Try taking a probiotic supplement to aid digestion.* You can also help keep things moving by increasing your intake of water and upping the fiber in your diet with veggies, seeds, grains, and fruits. (Notice I mentioned fruits last? That's because they should be considered a side dish, not a main course, due to their high sugar content.) Thin poop that occurs infrequently isn't something to worry about.

When is thin poop a cause for concern?

But what if your poop has been thin or stringy for a few weeks? That's a situation in which it's a good idea to see a doctor since it could be a uterine fibroid that has grown large enough to press on the outside of the colon and become a restriction on the colon from the outside. (If you're male, this would not apply to you.) Other causes of thin stool can be intestinal scarring that's a result of abdominal surgery (cesarean section, tubal ligation, appendectomy, cholecystectomy, removal of an ovarian cyst, etc.).

You can also have thin stools when the colon is over-distended. In this case, there is stool that is basically blocking the colon, and thin, less compacted bands of stool are able to pass around the blockage. This is another reason to seek medical advice from your physician, since it is an extreme case of constipation and often needs assistance from a medical provider to resolve.

In some cases, stringy poop may be caused by a parasite or other infection, in which case you may need medication from your doctor to remedy the problem.

While thin poop is likely not colorectal or colon cancer, if your symptoms are ongoing, you may want to speak to your doctor to check. Additional warning signs for cancer can include blood in the stool, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain that is focused on the left (and typically more constant than infrequent), and unexplained anemia.

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Bottom line

The take-home message here is that, most of the time, thin poop is nothing to worry about and will pass on its own. If it lasts for longer than one to two weeks and is associated with additional symptoms, then it would be a good idea to visit your medical provider.

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