IF your poo resembles a caterpillar, you're probably constipated.
A long, bumpy stool, which is hard to pass, indicates you're not getting enough fibre and at risk of painful complications, experts warn.
NHS GP Sarah Jarvis said: "Your poo can definitely say a lot about your bowel health.
"Constipation is linked to all sorts of other medical problems such as piles, diverticular disease and even an increased risk of bowel cancer if this is a long term issue."
Piles, or haemorrhoids, are lumps inside or around the bottom which can be itchy and bleed.
One of the main causes is straining on the toilet, which often happens when you are constipated.
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Piles typically get better on their own, but drinking plenty of fluids and eating lots of fibre can help, according to the NHS.
Similar habits can help prevent diverticular disease, which affects the large intestine when small pockets develop in the lining.
It is usually managed with painkillers or laxatives, but in rare cases it can lead to serious compilations, such as a build up of pus in the bowel, blockages, and perforations, which can require surgery or a colostomy.
Scientists have linked the chronic condition, and long-term constipation generally, to bowel cancer.
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A study by Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark found the risk of the disease was 1.78 times higher in patients suffering from constipation than those without.
But the evidence is mixed, and it only suggests an association, not causation.
Overall, experts recommend beating bowel problems, including constipation, by:
- Eating enough fibre (found in fruits, vegetables and cereals)
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Avoiding alcohol
- Staying active and not spending long periods sitting or lying down
- Acting on urges to go to the toilet
- Relieving stress, anxiety or depression
- Resting your feet on a low stool while on the loo
- Speaking to a pharmacist if diet and lifestyle changes aren't helping
The NHS defines constipation as having three or fewer poos in a week, stools that are often large and dry or hard and lumpy, and having to strain or experiencing pain on the loo.
'Caterpillar poos' fall under this definition.
If you're not sure if your number two classifies as a caterpillar, take a look at the Bristol Stool Chart.
It's an easy way to identify what health problems you might be facing.
Developed in 1997, it describes seven types of poo and what each one means:
- Type 1: separate, hard lumps like nuts which are hard to pass
- Type 2: sausage-shaped but lumpy
- Type 3: like a sausage but with cracks on the surface
- Type 4: smooth and soft like a sausage or snake
- Type 5: soft blobs with clear-cut edges
- Type 6: fluffy or mushy pieces with ragged edges
- Type 7: watery or entirely liquid
Types 1 to 2 indicate constipation, 3 to 4 are ideal, and 5 to 7 suggest diarrhoea and urgency.
Dr Jarvis said: "The Bristol Stool Chart is widely used by doctors to identify what your poos look like.
"They go from type 1 – very hard pellets, like rabbit droppings – to type 7 – an entirely liquid poo with no solid pieces.
"Types 6 and 7 usually mean you have a tummy bug or an inflammatory bowel problem, whereas types 1 and 2 are much more common and show you’re constipated."
You're aiming for a type 3 or 4, a smooth, soft sausage, which is easy to pass.
"Eating enough fibre, getting regular exercise and keeping your fluid intake up all contribute to this sort of poo," Dr Jarvis said.
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"You’re likely to be going regularly and not needing to strain."
Medics say a healthy person should be pooping between three times a week and three times a day.
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