Poop that comes out like pebbles may mean you have constipation or an underlying medical condition. Drinking more water, changing your diet, or treating the underlying condition may help.
The texture of your poop doesn’t change at random. In fact, it can actually tell you something about your overall health, diet, or lifestyle. What’s considered normal poop can vary from person to person, but if your poop seems to have the consistency of pebbles, it’s not something you want to ignore — especially if it’s a frequent occurrence.
Pebble or pellet bowel movements aren’t usually a reason to worry, but they may mean stool is moving through your intestines at a slow pace. These small, hard lumps of stool can be hard to pass. They’re also one of several symptoms that occur with constipation.
Keep reading to learn more about what causes pebble poop — in adults, children, and babies — and what you can do to get your poop back to normal.
Your poop is made up of the waste products from the meals and snacks you consume each day. After the body takes in the fuel and nutrients, the resulting poop works its way through the digestive tract until it reaches its final destination — the rectum.
Poop that resembles small balls or pellets may look this way because it’s been sitting stagnant in the colon for some reason. With time, the water content of the poop is absorbed by the large intestine, which dries it out and hardens it. It may break it into smaller pieces as well, giving it that pebble-like appearance.
When stool is hard and pebble-like, it can be difficult to pass because the hard, dry edges make it feel sharp. This can make your bowel movements painful. Besides the visual proof of pellet poop bowel movements, you may experience the following symptoms:
- feeling like you still have to go, even after you’ve made a bowel movement
- pooping fewer than
three times a week
- straining when you go, even though the poop isn’t very large
Sometimes, pebble stool can cause a backup in your colon so only liquid stool escapes around it. This could make you think you have diarrhea, when you actually still have hard stool in your intestines.
You may even see blood in your pellet stool. A small streak of blood may be due to irritation in your colon’s surface lining. Significant blood could signal something more, like gastrointestinal bleeding.
Seek immediate medical attention if you notice a significant amount of blood or if your stools are black.
Bristol Stool Chart
Poop comes in all different shapes and textures. The Bristol Stool Chart, which is based on a
Again, as food moves through your digestive system, your intestines absorb nutrients at different points. The stool absorbs water along the way, which helps it propel forward through the intestines. Healthy stool is typically soft and formed. Being soft makes stool easier to move out of the rectum.
Pebble poop bowel movements usually occur when stool doesn’t pass quickly enough through the intestines. While forming, it will linger inside the large intestine, which usually absorbs some water. This dehydrates the stool, making it more concentrated and compact. If the stool lingers too long in the intestines, it becomes dried out and breaks apart into hard pebbles or pellets.
There are many potential causes of pellet poop, most of which are the underlying causes of constipation.
Medication can sometimes slow down stool through the large intestine. Some cause pebble poop bowel movements by reducing the amount of water in your body or stool. Medications that can cause pebble poop bowel movements include:
- antacids, especially those with aluminum and calcium
- anticholinergics, which can slow down how fast you eliminate stool
- diuretics, which cause your body to release extra water through urine, drying out stool
- certain opioids for pain, which can slow how fast your intestines propel stool
Lifestyle and diet
Dehydration can be a significant contributing factor to pebble poop bowel movements because your body may not have enough water to help soften stool. Drinking more water is one key way to reduce constipation.
A diet with too much or too little fiber, depending on the fiber type, can also be a contributing factor.
Physical inactivity or lack of regular exercise can reduce regularity in bowel movements, causing poop to harden into pebble-like consistency. Not moving the bowels enough or holding in bowel movements may lead to constipation as well.
Certain medical conditions can also contribute to pebble poop. These conditions include but are not limited to:
- brain or spinal disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or multiple sclerosis
- hypothyroidism, which can reduce the hormones that help stimulate bowel movements and other metabolic functions
- large uterine fibroids, which could press on your rectum and make stool harder to pass
- calcium disturbances
- overuse of laxatives
- autoimmune conditions
- peripheral nervous system disorders like Hirschsprung‘s disease, neurofibromatosis, and autonomic neuropathy
If you have pebble poop bowel movements often, or if seeing pebble poop is new to you, you may want to see a doctor to identify an underlying cause.
Importance of colon cancer screening
Constipation can be a sign of colon cancer due to tumor growth. Talk with a doctor about screening for colon cancer. Catching colon cancer early can improve treatment outcomes.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the
If left untreated, constipation can lead to bowel impactions. This is when stool becomes lodged in your intestine and won’t let any other material come through. Other possible complications include:
- anal fissures, which are small, thin tears in the tissue around your anus that can cause blood and pain when passing a bowel movement
- hemorrhoids, which are irritated areas of swollen rectal veins from straining to push out a bowel movement
- rectal prolapse, which is when a portion of the rectum abnormally protrudes through the anal opening, with an inside-out appearance
When to seek medical attention
Seek medical attention if you have the following symptoms in addition to constipation, as these may be a sign of partial or complete bowel obstruction:
- severe abdominal pain
- abdominal swelling
- inability to pass gas
Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can remedy constipation and pellet stool, including at-home treatments and medical prescriptions.
Changes to your diet and increased physical activity may help you see typical stool in the toilet bowl.
- Choose “P” foods. An easy way to remember some foods that will help you poop are those that start with P: peaches, plums, pears, and prunes. Incorporating these in your diet can help boost your fiber intake and promote regular bowel movements.
- Cut back on constipating foods. Foods such as milk, cheese, and high fat processed foods can have a constipating effect.
- Drink more water. Drinking a glass of water first thing when you wake up is a good way to start the day. You can add fruits such as lemon, strawberries, blueberries, or oranges to enhance taste.
- Exercise. The movement and motion from walking or dancing can stimulate your bowels to move at more regular times. Adding a 30-minute exercise session to your day or breaking up exercise into 10-minute sessions can help.
If home treatments aren’t enough, a doctor may prescribe or recommend:
- Lubricants. Some lubricant enemas make it easier for hard stools to pass. An example is a Fleet enema, which is made from mineral oil.
- Stimulants. These medications help stimulate your bowels to move, propelling a bowel movement forward. Examples include Dulcolax or Senna.
- Stool softeners. These medications help make hard, pebble stools softer and easier to pass. Colace is an example.
- Bulk-forming laxatives. These products work by adding more fiber to your diet. Examples include Metamucil or Fiber-Lax.
- Osmotic laxatives. These products draw water into the colon, softening the stool. MiraLAX is one example.
Some of these
While pebble poop bowel movements aren’t usually a medical emergency, they can be uncomfortable. See a doctor if constipation interferes with your daily activities. A doctor can help you identify the underlying cause and find relief.
Also check in with your doctor if you see blood in your stool, if you experience loose stools while feeling constipated, or if you have any other concerns about your bowel movements.
Infants and children may also have pebble poop from time to time. You may see the consistency right away if you’re changing your baby’s diaper. With older children, you may not know until you see other signs of constipation, like skid marks or fecal accidents.
- introducing babies to formula, solid foods, or new foods
- intolerance or allergy to certain foods or beverages, leading to
- other dietary situations, such as drinking too much milk, not enough water (dehydration), or taking in too much fiber
- certain medications such as iron supplements
Children may also deal with constipation if they wait too long to go to the bathroom or hold their poop for some other reason (for example, fear of using the bathroom at preschool). In these cases, you might try encouraging your little one to use the bathroom after meals for at least 10 minutes to get things more regular.
Call your pediatrician if your child’s constipation doesn’t respond to home remedies (eating “P“ foods, drinking more water, going to the bathroom more frequently, etc.) after 2 to 3 weeks. Your doctor may suggest certain medications, suppositories, or an enema. And be sure to call if your little one shows other signs of food sensitivities or intolerances, like gas, nausea, or bloating.
Your poop tells a story about your health. Pebble poop bowel movements can be a signal that your stool is very dry and breaking apart in your intestine before coming out.
Most of the treatments are the same as those for other constipation symptoms, including drinking more water, increasing physical activity, and changing your dietary fiber intake.
If these don’t work and you continue to have dry, pebble-like bowel movements, speak with a doctor. They may want to check for underlying medical conditions.