If you’ve never heard of The Bristol Stool Chart, you might not know it actually exists. several different types of poo. And while discussing your your poo habits can be taboo—sometimes it’s necessary. The Bristol saddle chart can make it easier to describe your bowel movements (and find out if they are healthy or not) to your health care provider. It is useful if you experience any type of digestive or gut health problems and can help your doctor correctly diagnose your symptoms or condition.
“Your bowel movements are the only real marker you have of your gastrointestinal health,” says Anish Sheth, MD, a board-certified gastroenterologist at Penn Medicine’s Center for Digestive Health. Getting familiar with what is normal for you in terms of stool shape, consistency, and texture can help you take better care of your body and spot any changes that could signal a bigger problem.
If something is wrong with your digestive health, being able to refer to the Bristol Stool Chart ensures that you and your doctor are on the same page about what, exactly, is going down the toilet, without having to bring a stool sample. Here’s what you need to know about this handy reference guide and what your poop says about you.
What is the Bristol Saddle Chart?
The Bristol Stool Chart, aka Bristol Stool Form Scale or Bristol Stool Scale, is a visual guide to the different types of poop you may have. “We use it to classify stools and the character of stools,” explains Rudolph Bedford, MDgastroenterologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
The chart is “well validated” and breaks down poop into seven different types based on consistency, “from hard and pellet-like to soft and mushy,” says Randall Meisner, MD, gastroenterologist at Spectrum Health. “It describes a wide variety of what is considered normal stool,” he adds.
The types of saddles are:
- Type 1: Separate hard pieces
- Type 2: lumpy and sausage-like
- Type 3: Sausage shaped with cracks
- Type 4: Sausage-shaped, smooth and soft
- Type 5: Soft blobs with sharp edges
- Type 6: Soft lumps with jagged edges
- Type 7: liquid consistency
How is poop ranked in the Bristol Stool Chart?
According to the Bristol Stool Chart, poo is classified into seven distinct categories. Here is a breakdown.
1. Separate the lumps
Hard poop will often come out in separate pieces and can be painful to pass. When poop has this texture (similar to pebbles), it is a sign that it has been in the large intestine and colon for an extended period of time. In other words, this type of stool often signals that you are constipated.
If this is often what you see in the toilet and you don’t have another condition associated with this side effect, you may have a gastrointestinal condition called chronic idiopathic constipation or CIC. Drink more water, make exercise a part of your daily routine and slowly add more fiber to your diet can help.
2. Sausage Shaped But Lumpy
Firm stools that are loose but still lumpy can also be a sign of constipation. This signals that your waste has lingered in the gut long enough to dry out, but not SO long enough that it is dry enough to break into small pieces, depending on UnityPoint Health experts. You can try eating more foods to relieve constipation to shake things up, but if nothing seems to help, ask your doctor if a prescription medication is right for you.
3. Sausage Shaped With Cracks
If that describes what you’re used to seeing when you go to the bathroom, then congratulations! This is considered a healthy stool, according to the Bristol Stool Chart, a tool used by healthcare professionals and dietitians. The cracks, however, indicate that you may be a bit dehydrated. gastroenterologist Robyn Karlstadt, MDsuggests drinking six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day to keep your gastrointestinal health in tip-top shape.
4. Sausage-shaped, smooth and soft
Doctors consider this type of stool (think: sausage- or snake-shaped) to be the gold standard, especially when it’s also medium to light brown in color and stays intact when flushed. If this is what your poop looks like, give yourself a pat on the back as it’s a clear sign that you’re eating healthy and staying well hydrated.
5. Soft blobs with sharp edges
This is considered a slightly loose stool, but it’s quite common for people who have a bowel movement two or three times a day, usually after eating a main meal, according to medical experts at UnityPoint Health. (If that’s normal for you, and it’s soft and passes comfortably, consider it A-OK.)
6. Fuzzy or fluffy lumps with jagged edges
When waste passes rapidly through the colon, that poopy texture is often the result.
According to the Bristol Stool Chart, fuzzy, ragged lumps may indicate inflammation of the bowel or inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. It can also indicate a major change in your diet. Check with your doctor to make sure there is nothing to worry about. (Of course, this may seem like an awkward conversation, but it’s always best to err on the side of caution and for doctors to be used to these kinds of questions.)
7. Watery (liquid poo)
This advanced stage of diarrhea occurs when the small intestine is irritated. The causes of this type of stool are many, including viruses and bacteria, digestive disorders and Lactose intolerance. Sometimes eating or drinking things with a lot of fructose or artificial sweeteners, or starting a new medication can cause this, according to the Mayo Clinic. If your diarrhea lasts longer than two days, contact your doctor.
What is the purpose of the Bristol Stool Chart?
The Bristol Stool Chart helps doctors and patients speak the same language when discussing stool, explains Lukasz Kwapisz, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Gastroenterology at Baylor College of Medicine. “It really helps clinicians — in most cases, gastroenterologists or primary care physicians — understand what kind of stool a patient has,” he says. “This allows physicians to tailor a treatment plan to improve consistency and help ease patient concerns.”
Typically, patients are shown the chart and asked to identify the number of stools they have encountered. “It’s hard to describe the poop,” says Ellen Stein, MD, gastroenterologist and associate professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “It’s much easier to point it.”
What is the ideal type of saddle?
Everyone has their own stool consistency that is considered “normal” for them. But, in general, a Type 3 or 4 is best, Dr. Stein says. “Four is kind of a soft-serve consistency,” she explains. “It’s easy to pass and smooth. It is considered ideal.
Having that poo indicates you’re well hydrated, but it’s not as runny as diarrhea, which suggests you’re moving things through your digestive tract too quickly, she says.
How to improve gut health
If you experience a type of stool outside the “normal” range, you might consider taking steps to improve your digestive or gut health.
A simple way to improve gut health is to add more water and fiber to your daily diet. “Fiber and water work together to keep things moving easily and smoothly through your digestive system,” explained Nichole Dandrea-Russert, RDNauthor of The fiber effect. (PS Find more tips in our 14 days to better digestive health Challenge). Adding more movement to your daily routine can also help – consider a walk after meals or a daily yoga flow to support digestion and regular bowel movements. But these recommendations all depend on what’s going on inside – for people with diarrhea, more fiber isn’t always the best option. So talk to a health care provider before making any changes to your diet.
When should you see a doctor?
Again, everyone’s normal bowel movements are different. For this reason, experts say it’s hard to say for sure what kind of poop should have you running to the doctor.
“A good general rule of thumb is that if there is a change in bowel habits – whether in stool frequency or consistency – that lasts for more than a few days, now would be a good time to see your doctor to discuss it,” Dr. Kwapisz said. But, he adds, if there are “red flag” symptoms like bloody poop, fever, unexplained weight loss, uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea, or an inability to poop at all , you should consult your doctor as soon as possible.
Dana Leigh Smith is currently Director of Health for HearstMade, overseeing all branded health, fitness and wellness content across the entire Hearst portfolio, including Women’s Health, Prevention, Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping. She specializes in producing nutrition and health content and enjoys spending time outdoors with her dog and her husband.
Magdalene, Preventionassociate editor of , has a history with health writing from her experience as an editorial assistant at WebMD and her personal research at university. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience — and she helps strategize for success across Preventionsocial media platforms.