What is stringy poop?

You can learn a lot about your health from the appearance of your stool. Stringy stool may be caused by something simple, such as a low fiber diet. In some cases, the cause is more serious.

Stringy poop may also be referred to as stools that are pencil-thin, ribbon-like, thin, or narrow. Normal stool is about 1 to 2 inches in diameter. Stringy poop is narrow and, in some cases, almost flat, giving it a stringy appearance. It may be solid or loose.

Stringy poop may or may not be accompanied by other gastrointestinal symptoms, such as:

There are several reasons your stool may be thin.

Constipation

Constipation may be caused by a low fiber diet and lack of fluids. Fiber adds bulk to stool, increasing its size. If you don’t eat enough fiber or drink enough fluids, stool loses its bulk and may become thin and stringy.

Symptoms

There are a number of symptoms that signify constipation, including:

  • fewer than three bowel movements a week
  • hard, dry, or lumpy stools
  • stools that are difficult or painful to pass
  • feeling as though not all stool has passed

Treatment

If the stringy stool is caused by constipation, drinking plenty of water and eating more fiber-rich foods should help. Some fiber-rich foods are:

  • bran
  • legumes
  • seeds
  • fresh fruits and vegetables

Increasing your fiber intake may be as simple as making a few changes to your diet.

  • Whole grains, like bran, whole wheat, or oats, are an easy way to increase your fiber. When buying groceries, look for a whole-grain bread, pasta, or cereal.
  • Getting your recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables can also help you increase your fiber intake. Look for fruits and vegetables with 5 or more grams of fiber.
  • Beans are another great source of fiber. Throw beans in a salad or add them to whole-grain rice for a fiber-rich meal.

If necessary, you may also take a fiber supplement.

Need help choosing a fiber supplement: What’s the best fiber supplement? »

Colorectal cancer

Some people may be concerned when they see stringy stool because they’ve read or been told it’s a symptom of colorectal cancer. However, the American Cancer Society says that stringy stool, as well as other symptoms of colon cancer, can be caused by noncancerous problems such as infections, hemorrhoids, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Symptoms

Some symptoms of colorectal cancer may include:

  • rectal bleeding
  • changes in bowel habits
  • the persistent urge to have a bowel movement
  • cramping in the abdomen or belly
  • weakness and fatigue
  • losing weight without trying

While many of the above symptoms may not be due to colon cancer, it’s important to be checked by a medical professional if you are experiencing them.

Treatment

Treatment for colorectal cancer depends on the stage. Early-stage cancer may be resolved with minimally invasive surgery. Invasive colorectal cancer may be treated by removing part of the colon and the surrounding lymph nodes. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and targeted drug therapy may also be used.

Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may cause changes in bowel habits, leading to thin stools. It may also cause mucus in your stools, which can give poop a stringy appearance.

IBS is also known as a spastic colon. It is not linked to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or other bowel conditions. Rather, IBS is defined as gastrointestinal symptoms that show up together. Symptoms appear differently in every person, including in severity and duration. However, the standard duration is at least 3 months. The exact cause of IBS is still unknown.

Symptoms

IBS symptoms aren’t always constant, and may present on an intermittent basis. As well, symptoms may resolve only to return. IBS is associated with a number of common symptoms, including:

  • cramping
  • abdominal pain
  • bloating and gas
  • constipation
  • diarrhea

Treatment

Treatments for IBS are primarily focused on symptom management:

  • diet changes
  • antidepressants
  • probiotics
  • a balanced diet
  • anti-constipation medication
  • anti-cramping medications

Intestinal infections

Some intestinal infections such as salmonella, gastroenteritis, and shigellosis may cause loose stools or diarrhea. You may get one of these infections through ingesting contaminated food or water, or coming into contact with someone who is sick.

Symptoms

Intestinal infections may be marked by the following symptoms:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle aches
  • dehydration
  • headache
  • mucus or blood in the stool

Treatment

If stringy poop is caused by a parasite or other infection, you may need medication to clear it up. Most parasites are treated with anti-parasitic drugs. Some are eliminated in one treatment, while others require treatment for several weeks.

Salmonella and other intestinal infections often clear up on their own in several days. In severe cases, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or antidiarrheal medications. It’s also important to drink plenty of water to replenish fluids lost due to vomiting and diarrhea.

Additional causes

These other conditions may cause narrowing in the colon and lead to stringy stools:

Some intestinal parasites, such as giardia, may cause loose, thin stools. If you have a parasite, you may have other symptoms such as:

  • cramping
  • nausea
  • weight loss
  • fatigue

Conditions that cause inflammation in the colon, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, may cause loose, thin stools and diarrhea.

Stringy stool may also occur for no obvious reason.

When the cause of stringy poop is serious, such as a bowel obstruction or hernia, you’ll need urgent care. A combination of surgery and medication may be needed.

There’s no reason to call your doctor if you have occasional stringy stool. If it happens for more than a week, or you also have vomiting, fever, abdominal pain, or rectal bleeding, you should call your doctor. They will discuss your symptoms and determine if tests or treatment are needed.

Tests to determine the cause of stringy poop may include:

  • fecal occult test to check for blood in your stool
  • stool sample test to check for the presence of parasites or bacteria
  • blood tests to rule out celiac disease
  • flexible sigmoidoscopy to examine your lower colon
  • colonoscopy to examine your entire colon
  • X-ray with contrast (barium) to view your gastrointestinal tract
  • CT scan to view your abdominal organs

Most people experience stringy poop at least once. In most cases, the outlook is good. When the condition is sporadic and you do not have other symptoms, it’s likely nothing to worry about and should resolve on its own within a short period of time.

When stringy poop is caused by a serious condition, your outlook depends on how quickly you receive care and the extent of the damage. In many cases, dietary changes, medication, surgery, and good aftercare successfully resolves symptoms.

When it comes to poop, the important thing is for you to know what is normal for you. If you’ve never had stringy poop before and suddenly have it regularly, contact your doctor.