Four colours in your stool that signal it’s time to ‘see GP’- from cancer to salmonella

While stool makes for a rather uncomfortable topic, leaving many feeling squeamish, your poo could break the news of various health problems. It’s normal for your poo to change during the Christmas period after you’ve been following a stodgy, greasy diet. However, persistent changes could mean it’s time to “see your GP”. A doctor shares what to watch out for.

Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy said: “A healthy poo is brown in colour and forms a small log, pointed at both ends.

“Changes in the consistency of the stool can be a sign of disease. Small hard lumpy stools are a sign of constipation. Soft loose stools or liquid stools mean diarrhoea.”

However, changes in the colour of your poo could also be a cause for concern.

What to look out for


Poo that appears black and tarry, also known as melena, could be triggered by bleeding in the stomach.

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Melena is one of the tell-tale signs of cirrhosis, which describes scarring of the liver that stops the organ from working properly. 

According to the doctor, this colour might be stirred up by supplements, as “iron tablets can also turn poo black”.


Dr Lee said: “Bleeding in the large bowel, or the rectum or anus means red blood can be seen either mixed in with or is sometimes just on top of, the stool. 

“This could be due to inflammatory bowel disease, haemorrhoids (piles) or less commonly, bowel cancer.”



Pale stools describe clay-coloured appearance that is triggered by the lack of bile pigment.

“This is common in alcoholic hepatitis, or with gallstones, but can sometimes signify pancreatic cancer,” added Dr Lee.

Poo like this can be loose, sloppy and hard to flush down the toilet.


The expert said: “Bacterial infections such as salmonella can turn poo green, as can viruses and parasites, so it is not uncommon for the stools to change colour during a bout of gastroenteritis.”

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However, green tint in your stool could also be caused by a diet rich in green vegetables due to the green pigment found in plants – chlorophyll.

The doctor said: “Sometimes eating certain foods can colour your poo – for example – eating beetroot can make your poo look reddish or pink, or eating a lot of green veg can make your poo appear dark green.”

When to see a GP

Dr Lee said: “In general, if you notice changes to your stools, see your GP if these persist for three weeks.

“[However], if you notice blood in your stools – black or red – see your GP straight away.”

“Try not to be embarrassed. Your GP sits on the toilet too! They will be sympathetic and supportive. 

“This won’t be anything they haven’t heard of or seen before. 

“It’s far better to go early and get some tests than to risk leaving things until it’s too late. Serious causes are likely to have a much better prognosis if picked up early.”

While these stool problems can only improve once you treat the underlying medical condition, the doctor recommended eating a balanced diet, packed with fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, to ensure healthy bowel habits and normal stools.

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