As the bile from the liver mixes with the contents of the digestive system and travels through the intestines, further chemical changes might occur and thus the actual color of the stool might change. This change in the color and texture may not be of much importance if it’s a one time incident. Although a major color change that continues to persist might suggest a more serious underlying medical problem.
Ingestion of certain food items like black liquorice and blueberries may cause the blackish color of poop. Medications like supplements of iron and lead may also result in similar coloration of the excreta, but if the condition persists it might indicate major internal problems like esophageal varices or peptic ulcer.
What are the symptoms of black poop?
Black poop is usually tarry in consistency and also has a stronger odor. This is basically brought on due to bleeding from the esophagus or smaller intestines and it could be a condition called melena. Melena is often accompanied by certain symptoms like abdominal pain or cramping, abdominal swelling, change in bowel habits, diarrhea, gas, indigestion, flu-like symptoms, nausea, no appetite or poor appetite, rectal pain or burning sensation, weight loss etc.
In some rare cases black poop can be one of the signs of a life-threatening condition. The following symptoms are often indicative of that: change in the level of consciousness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness, severe change in mental status such as confusion, exhaustion, delirium and delusions, dizziness, high temperature, palpitations, rise in heart rate, respiratory problems such as shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing, labored breathing, panting, not breathing or choking, stiff abdomen, severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, upset stomach, throwing up blood and severe weakness. In case someone experiences some of the above conditions, he/she should seek immediate medical attention.
What causes poop to turn black?
There are many factors that could be behind the change in color of one’s poop, and they may vary from changes in one’s diet to deadly diseases. Nonetheless, certain common reasons are listed below:
1. Iron — Some of us regularly consume iron supplements but if there is inclusion of too much iron in the diet, the digestive system might find it hard to break it down and the result is black poop.
2. Antidepressants -– Antidepressants such as imipramine or amitriptyline are known for their ability to turn stool black.
3. Other Medications –- Codeine, oxycodone and hydromorphone and other narcotic drugs can cause constipated and black colored poop. Use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen is also known for the same effect. Black poop can be caused by medications that contain bismuth, such as pepto bismol or kaopectate, black liquorice, iron supplements etc.
4. Diet — Diet plays a huge role in the well being of our body. Lack of fiber in one’s diet may once again result in constipation and black poop. A daily intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables takes care of our daily need for fibers in order to soften the stool and also make it less black.
5. Laxatives –- If overused, Laxatives may also lead to the appearance of black poop. Our bowel movement becomes dependent on laxatives if they are used regularly and one of the side effects of laxatives is appearance of black poop.
6. Hormonal Disorders -– Black poop is the direct result of rise in levels of progesterone and estrogen in pregnant women and it is a fairly common phenomenon. Even non-pregnant women may also observe black excreta during their menstrual cycle.
7. Diseases — Any malformation in the blood vessels within the digestive tract can cause bleeding, and the excreta will have a black appearance after passing through the digestive system. In other words, black poop usually means that there has been internal bleeding and the blood is coming from the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract.
Vascular malformation, bowel ischemia and stomach varices are some of the most common causes of internal bleeding. Esophageal varices are dilation of veins located in the wall of the lower esophagus or upper stomach. When these veins are ruptured, they may cause bleeding, which can cause blood to appear in vomit or poop giving it a black color. Esophageal varices are a serious problem which is often the result of high blood pressure or cirrhosis of the liver.
8. Gastritis is quite a common cause behind the appearance of black poop. It is a disease which causes swelling in the lining of the stomach. This inflammation can be brought on by excessive intake of alcohol, spicy food, heavy smoking, and sometimes by bacterial infection. Gastritis can also develop after surgery or trauma, or it might be linked with existing medical conditions in one’s body.
9. A peptic ulcer is a major and serious cause of black poop. Peptic ulcer is an area of erosion which occurs in the stomach or in the lining near the beginning of the small intestine, which leads to abdominal pain, bleeding, and other gastrointestinal symptoms.
10. Another huge cause of black poop is the inflammatory bowel disease. This is a disease that occurs when there is an inflammation in the small intestine and as a result, the colon becomes red with bleeding and pus. It is characterized via symptoms such as diarrhea. The inflammation is derogatory towards the colon’s ability to hold its contents. Inflammatory bowel disease shares some of the symptoms with diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Mallory Weiss tear is a rare disease, only occurring in 4 of 100,000 people. This is a tear in the mucous membrane which joins the esophagus and the stomach. If this tear bleeds, it can result in the condition known as melena. This rare disorder might be brought on due to heavy vomiting, coughing, or epileptic seizures.
Black poop in infants
Black poop in infants is usually common and is not usually a reason for alarm. If the baby formula administered to the child has high iron content, or the baby is taking iron drops, the color of poop may vary from green, greenish black, dark brown or black. In some infants the reaction between the bacteria of gastrointestinal tract and the iron sulphate in baby formulas or iron supplements may cause the poop to turn blackish in color. However, in case your baby is not taking any iron supplements, but still is excreting black poop, consult your physician.
How to prevent it?
In order to prevent black poop, counteracting constipation is absolutely essential. Eating fresh vegetables, fruits and foods which are rich in natural fiber while being low in saturated fat, helps in keeping bowel movements normal. It also helps people in controlling hemorrhoids, diverticulosis, and colon cancer which are the more serious causes of black poop. Consumption of anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin must be reduced as well.
Alcohol intake is detrimental to one’s health in more than just one way and it must be avoided as much as possible. Large quantities of alcohol may cause swelling in the lining of the esophagus and stomach as mentioned before. Smoking is clinically linked to peptic ulcers and cancers of the gastrointestinal tract which adds smoking to the top of the list of things to avoid along with alcohol. Prevention is better than cure and it has been found that a healthy lifestyle that includes balanced meals and sufficient exercise reduces the chance of developing any of the harmful causes of black poop in the first place.