What Causes Mucus in Your Stool?
Dr. Angel Rivera
Mucus is a slimy, sticky substance that is produced by mucous membranes in your body. It has a range of different appearances as it can be clear or cloudy and thick or thin. Mucus in your stool can be caused by a number of different things, including infection, inflammation, or cancer among several other reasons. If you are experiencing mucus in your stool, it is important to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. In this article, we will discuss the causes, how your doctor will diagnose the symptoms, and explore treatment options for mucus in your stool.
What is mucus?
Mucus is a substance that is produced by the mucous membranes that line the respiratory tract and other parts of your body and it helps to protect these organs from infection and debris by trapping bacteria and other particles. Mucus production also helps to moisten and lubricate these organs, which makes it easier for them to work properly. Your body produces mucus by the gallon every day, and most of it is swallowed without you even noticing it.
The places on your body that produce mucus the most are the nose, mouth, and throat because these are the areas that come into contact with the outside world. However, it also forms in your gastrointestinal tract, such as your esophagus, stomach, and colon, which is how it can appear in your stool.
What can cause mucus in my stool?
Small amounts of mucus are always in your stool but it can become a problem when it becomes noticeable. When you have a noticeable presence of mucus in your stool, it can have the appearance of being clear, yellow, or white and be stringy. There are a variety of digestive issues and health conditions that can cause mucus in your stool including:
Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of your digestive tract. It can cause mucus in your stool as well as diarrhea, abdominal pain, abdominal cramps, and weight loss. The mucus in your stool is caused by inflammation in your intestines and subsequent disruption in your mucus barrier that leads to the production of excess mucus that passes to your stool.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome is a disorder that causes symptoms such as abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. One of the most common symptoms of IBS is mucus in your stool when you have diarrhea. The mucus is produced as a result of the inflammation and irritation in your intestines that is associated with IBS.
Ulcerative colitis is another type of chronic condition that causes mucus and blood in your stool. The mucus is caused by the inflammation and ulcers that form on the lining of your colon, which is a part of your large intestine. Symptoms of ulcerative colitis include abdominal pain, bloody stools, diarrhea, and rectal pain.
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that causes mucus to build up in the lungs and other organs but can also affect the gastrointestinal tract, producing mucus in your stool. It is usually diagnosed in children although you can be diagnosed as an adult too. Symptoms of cystic fibrosis include difficulty breathing, chronic cough, constipation, and abdominal pain.
Intestinal infections, specifically bacterial infections, can cause mucus in your stool as a result of the inflammation and irritation that it causes in your intestines. There are a variety of different infections that can affect your intestines, including:
Symptoms of a gastrointestinal infection include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and fever. You may need to take an antibiotic to treat these infections although it is not always necessary.
Colon cancer or rectal cancer can cause mucus in your stool as a result of the tumor that forms on the lining of your colon or rectum. The mucus is not always present, but it can be a sign of cancer. Other symptoms of colon or rectal cancer include bloody stools, changes in bowel habits, weight loss, and fatigue.
There are a number of different medical conditions that can cause mucus in your stool due to the malabsorption of nutrients, such as celiac disease and lactose intolerance. Celiac disease is a condition that causes the immune system to attack the lining of your small intestine when you eat gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye and can lead to mucus in your stool as well as diarrhea, abdominal pain, and weight loss.
Lactose intolerance is a condition that affects you if you have difficulty digesting lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products, and can lead to mucus in your stool, abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea.
Anal abscess or fistula
An anal abscess or fistula is a condition that can cause mucus in your stool as a result of the infection and inflammation that occurs in this area. Anal abscesses are pockets of pus that form on the outside of your anus while fistulas are tunnels that form between an abscess and another organ, in this case, the anus and rectum. Symptoms of an anal abscess include pain, a discharge of pus from the anus, and irritation of the skin around the anus.
Ostomy surgery, such as colostomy, is a surgical procedure that is used to divert urine and feces away from the bladder or intestines. If you have this surgery, your waste will leave through the stoma, or hole created to the affected organs, but you may have a build-up of mucus that still needs to be discharged through the anus.
A bowel obstruction is a blockage in the intestines that can cause mucus in your stool. The blockage can be due to a number of different things, including tumors, scar tissue, hernias, foreign objects, and constipation. Symptoms of a bowel obstruction include abdominal pain, vomiting, and changes in your bowel habits. Bowel obstructions are usually treated in a hospital and may require surgery.
When do I need to see a doctor?
If you are experiencing mucus in your stool, there are a number of different things that could be causing it. It is important to see a doctor to diagnose the cause and provide you with the appropriate treatment. Some of the reasons why you may need to see a doctor include:
- Blood in your stool or bloody bowel movements
- Pain or discomfort in your abdomen
- Unexplained weight loss
- Persistent diarrhea
If you are experiencing these symptoms please seek medical treatment immediately.
How will doctors diagnose my condition?
Doctors will diagnose mucus in your stool by taking a medical history, including the history of recent bowel movements, and doing a physical examination. They may also order some tests, such as:
- Stool culture
- CT scan, MRI, or X-ray to look for tumors or other abnormalities in the intestines
- Sweat electrolytes test
An endoscopy is when your doctor sticks a flexible tube with a camera attached up your anus to see your colon and rectum, while the sweat electrolytes test is only done if your doctor believes you may have cystic fibrosis.
What are the treatment options for mucus in my stool?
The treatment options for mucus in your stool will depend on the cause of the mucus. If you have celiac disease or lactose intolerance the treatment will be focused on changing your diet. Whereas if you have a bowel obstruction, you may require surgery to remove the blockage. Surgery may also be necessary if you have cancer but that decision will usually be made in conjunction with a specialist.
Sometimes better hydration is the answer and you may only need to increase your fluid intake. Chronic conditions like ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease may require medications; however, your doctor will be able to provide you with more specific instructions.
Mucus in your stool can be caused by a variety of different things, such as diet, infection, chronic gastrointestinal conditions, or surgery. If you are experiencing mucus in your stool, it is important to see your doctor so that he or she can diagnose the cause and provide you with the appropriate treatment. Treatment options will vary depending on the cause of mucus in your stool and range from drinking more fluids to surgery. If you have any more questions, please talk to your doctor or healthcare provider.
References and Sources:
Johns Hopkins Medicine