There are seven types of stools (faeces) according to the Bristol Stool Chart. The Bristol Stool Chart or Bristol Stool Scale is a medical aid designed to classify faeces into seven groups.
The type of stool or faeces depends on the time it spends in the colon. After you pass faeces, what you see in the toilet bowl is basically the result of your diet, fluids, medications and lifestyle. You can use the Bristol Stool Chart to check what your stools are telling you.
The Bristol Stool Chart shows seven categories of stool. Every person will have different bowel habits, but the important thing is that your stools are soft and easy to pass – like types 3 and 4 below.
Reproduced with kind permission of Dr KW Heaton, formerly Reader in Medicine at the University of Bristol. ©2000-2014, Norgine group of companies.
Reference: Heaton, K W & Lewis, S J 1997, 'Stool form scale as a useful guide to intestinal transit time'. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, vol.32, no.9, pp.920 - 924. Retrieved on 2/3/2007.
Being ‘regular’ is a way of describing good bowel habits or normal bowel function. We often talk about our bowels being regular but this is often misunderstood as meaning that you go to the toilet to pass faeces every day. It’s common for people to empty their bowel once a day, although it’s still normal to be more or less often. Being regular really means that soft yet well-formed bowel motions are easily passed and that this happens anywhere from 1–3 times a day to 3 times a week.
The bowel usually wants to empty about 30 minutes after a meal (commonly breakfast), but this can vary from person to person.
There’s more to good bowel function than just being regular. For example, you should be able to:
People who pass bowel motions at the wrong time or in the wrong place may be experiencing poor bowel control, or faecal incontinence. They may also pass wind when they don't want to.
Poor bowel control is more common than you may think - about one in 20 people experience poor bowel control. It's often not talked about, but both men and women can have poor bowel control. It's more common as you get older, but young people can also have poor bowel control. Sometimes, people with poor bowel control also have poor bladder control and may leak urine.
Children usually develop the ability to be toilet trained by about three years of age. 'Soiling' is when the bowels are emptied in places other than the toilet. Even after a child is toilet trained, there may be occasional accidents with soiling (poo) in your child's underwear.
If a child is unable to be toilet trained or has regular poo accidents after the age of three to four years, then they should be medically assessed. If a child has been toilet trained and at a later stage starts to soil, this also needs medical assessment.
How many children get soiling?
About 1-3% of children can have this problem and some of them may have wetting as well. It is more common in boys.
Soiling may vary from a 'skid mark' to larger amounts that need to be removed from underwear before it can be washed.
Why do children soil?
In almost all cases soiling happens because the large bowel is not emptying properly and the child is constipated. Constipation is very common and occurs at some time in up to 25% of children. If it is not recognised and treated, bowel actions may become harder and less frequent. Over time, stretching of the bowel makes it less sensitive, so the child may not feel when poo needs to come out and therefore has an accident. It is quite possible that there is hard poo inside the bowel, but the soiling is soft runny poo leaking around the hard mass, and so you don't realise that constipation is the underlying problem.
Make sure to speak with your doctor if you think you have constipation or diarrhoea and urgency. Some treatment options include:
We have a number of fact sheets available for download on bladder and bowel health. Visit our Resources page for a more advanced search or have a look at some of the popular factsheets below.