Bowel movements: what is normal?

Color, consistency, smell - what we produce on the toilet can look and smell very different and in some cases indicate illnesses

Text in simple language

That may be irritating now. But have you ever taken a closer look at your eliminations? It is definitely worth taking a closer look. There is nothing wrong with that at all. Because the chair can reveal a lot about health.

Below you will find out what is considered normal and when you should see a doctor. Professor Christian Trautwein was at our side as an expert. He is a gastroenterologist and teaches at the University of Aachen.

What is normal?

Sausage-shaped, lumpy, soft or firm? Every three days or three times a day?
The range of what counts as normal bowel movements is relatively wide. Even if a certain regularity has set in over time, there can and may be deviations. "The digestion is a biosystem and not a train that comes according to the timetable," says expert Trautwein. If there is no bowel movement for a day or, on the contrary, takes place several times a day, this is initially no cause for concern.

The color, consistency and smell can also deviate from the norm - an "aromatic" brown, supple, yet shaped chair. However, if this continues for more than three days, you should consult a doctor to be on the safe side. But immediately if there is blood on the stool, toilet or paper - this is always an alarm signal.


There is a scale for this topic. The Bristol chair shape scale distinguishes seven types:

  • Type 1 + 2: Difficult to remove globules or lumpy sausages: Perhaps there is a lack of liquid and insoluble fiber (grain, legumes)?
  • Type 3 + 4: Sausage-shaped with cracks or sausage-shaped and smooth: everything is fine.
  • Type 5: Disconnected lumps: perfectly fine if you have to do it more often during the day.
  • Type 6 + 7: pulpy, unformed to completely liquid: diarrhea. Your body loses a lot of water. Drink enough. If the diarrhea lasts longer than three days or is very severe, see a doctor.

People whose stool is regularly thin, long or like ribbon noodle should also go to the doctor. Here it can be that the excretions from polyps, adhesions or due to a tumor in the intestine have too little space. That should be investigated.

The chair shapes

(according to Bristol Stool Form Scale)

Type 1

Individual, rather hard lumps, difficult to excrete

Type 2

Connected lumps, difficult to pass


Type 3

Soft sausages, with cracks

Type 4

Soft sausages with a smooth surface


Type 5

Irregular, soft lumps, easy to excrete

Type 6

Loose, loose pieces

Type 7

Mushy or watery, liquid


Of course, even a "healthy" chair does not smell pleasant. On a whole
own style - and depending on what you have eaten - just "aromatic",
but not bad. Your chair should actually be right for days
smell bad, putrid or pungent, this can be an indication of an illness
for example, inflammation of the pancreas, gluten intolerance or Crohn's disease (a chronic disease of the bowel). Do not ignore such an unpleasant smell. Go to the doctor.


Because of just brown. Chair can take on a whole range of colors.
First of all: Most temporary changes in the color of the stool
can be traced back to food.

  • Braun: Everything is fine. The brown color is not created because all the food comes out mixed in the end, but rather from digestive juices such as bile.
  • Black-brown: Not good. The color can indicate bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract. A doctor has to clarify that. However, the dark color can also be caused by medication (such as iron and charcoal supplements). Then there is nothing to worry about.
  • Green: can happen. Occasionally. Especially with lots of green vegetables. If green stools are accompanied by diarrhea, this is an indication of an intestinal infection.
  • Red: eaten beetroot or something with food coloring? Then it's alright. But not with blood. Immediately to the doctor!
  • Orange: eaten carrots or pumpkin?
  • Yellow: Yellowing can also be caused by food - and by antibiotics. If the stool is also greasy, shiny and smelly, it is a so-called fatty stool. It can indicate problems with the pancreas, a gluten intolerance or gallstones.
  • White: Not good. And the opposite of brown stool: the digestive juices are missing. Maybe there are problems with the bile. See a doctor!

Professor Christian Trautwein

© W & B / Malwine Schomburg

Consulting expert: Professor Christian Trautwein is a gastroenterologist at the University Clinic Aachen