Here's How To Spot If Your Poo Is Healthy Or Not

Half of UK adults don’t know how to spot the warning signs of cancer in their poo.
DBenitostock via Getty Images

A whopping half of UK adults don’t know how to spot if their poo is healthy or not. That’s according to Bupa’s new Wellbeing Index, which surveyed 8,000 people about their health and wellbeing – including what goes on in their loo.

This lack of awareness is worrying because abnormalities in your poo can be an early sign of bowel cancer. Yet, the survey found that a large amount of adults aren’t sure what to look out for in terms of colour or consistency in their stools.

Over a third of those with bowel cancer are first diagnosed in hospital A&E and while the risk of developing bowel cancer increases as we get older, 24% of over-55s never check the appearance of their stools. What’s more, more than one million people who were invited for a bowel cancer screening in the past two and half years years didn’t take up the invitation within six months.

Bupa’s findings come as presenter and writer Dame Deborah James, aka Bowelbabe on social media, has been stepping up her campaign to raise awareness around bowel cancer.

James has been living with the disease since 2016, but in May she announced that she was now receiving end-of-life care at home with her family.

Since then, her Bowel Babe Fund has raised millions for cancer research in what she calls a “final fuck you to cancer”, and she has successfully lobbied Andrex to print the symptoms of bowel cancer on 29 million packets of loo roll.

In a powerful last episode of her BBC podcast, You, Me and the Big C, James said her one parting message to listeners was: “check your poo”.

More than four in 10 people cannot name a single bowel cancer symptom, according to Bowel Cancer UK – with awareness lowest among men. Half of UK men (55%) were unable to spot the signs, compared to 36% of women.

So, what should we all be looking for?

What are the main symptoms of bowel cancer?

This is Bowel Cancer UK’s list of the most common symptoms of bowel cancer, experienced by many who go on to be diagnosed with the disease.

  • Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo

  • A persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason

  • A pain or lump in your tummy

As the charity stresses, the symptoms above don’t mean you definitely have cancer, as each can be caused by other health problems. But if you are worried about any of the, it’s definitely worth seeing your GP.

What are the different types of poo to look out for?

The Bristol Stool Chart (sometimes called the Bristol Stool Form Scale or the Meyers Scale) is diagnostic tool that health professionals can use with their patients to help determine what’s normal (and what’s not) in terms of size, texture and colour of poo.

Bristol stool chart
Bristol stool chart

In general, ideal poo falls into Type 3 or Type 4. Type 1 or Type 2, on the other hand, can indicate a person is struggling with constipation. And Types 5, 6 or 7 can suggest diarrhoea – though not always.

If your poo pretty consistently falls outside of the normal types on the chart, it’s definitely worth flagging to your doctor, who might refer you to a specialist. Significant changes in poo frequency or form also are worth noting.

Even if your poo-related issues turn out to be relatively mild, a doctor will be able to help you with some simple changes – like consuming enough fibre and water – that can help you achieve the ideal poo and generally feel better.