Healthy Living

What Does Mucus in Stool Mean?

What Does Mucus in Stool Mean?

Does having bloody mucus in stool worry you? Passing out mucus, or spotting them in the poop, is often troubling. It often happens in the case of diarrhea. Bloody mucus in stool is a symptom, rather than a distinct health condition. It is considered the same as the symptom of having blood in the stool. 

What is mucus?

Mucus is a slippery substance with lots of purposes in different organ systems of the body. It is produced by a specialized kind of glands called goblet cells and mucous cells. These cells secrete glycoproteins called mucins, which form a sort of a gel that is a major component of mucus. The digestive system contains millions, if not billions, of goblet cells and mucous cells.

Mucous cells are mostly found in the salivary glands, esophagus, stomach surface, and duodenum, while goblet cells are found in small and large intestines. Mucus helps lubricate the food as it travels through the digestive tract. It also works to keep the insides moist and slippery when at rest. It has a very significant role in digestion.

The digestive tract produces mucus almost continually. Therefore, occasionally finding mucus in the stool and in small amounts is often normal. However, finding blood in the stool or passing out bloody mucus, or with pus requires investigation. Mucus in the stool is also not normal if accompanied by other symptoms such as stomach pain, cramping, bloating, changes in stool frequency, consistency, or odor.

What does mucus in stool look like?

Naturally, poop will always have mucus, and most of the time, it is not visible. Note that the digestive tract mixes and digests food so thoroughly that mucus ends up coating food particles. So, your poop looks like just any other poop.

In some cases, you may pass out stool with a gross amount of mucus. It may occur with or without diarrhea. Mucus may appear as a slightly viscous fluid or appear as mucus strings in stool. It is often the same color as the stool or may have a more yellowish or brownish hue. Stools with bloody mucus may show pinkish or reddish color. Mucus with blood clots may present as striking dark or coffee-colored mucus or stool. Some may pass out stark green or greenish mucus.

Mucus in baby stool

Babies tend to pass out stools with visible mucus, which can be normal or abnormal depending on the circumstances. It often happens to babies during their teething period, caused by too much swallowing of saliva while their teeth start to erupt. Another cause is too much consumption of foremilk or hindmilk, which are the initial and last milk produced by the breast in nursing mothers. Both kinds of milk are somewhat clear and thin, and sometimes, the breast may produce too much of them. It may cause babies to pass out odd-looking poop.

In some cases, passing out mucus in stools can be caused by food allergies or infection caused by bacteria or viruses. Food allergy is a common cause, as sensitivity from the allergens causes the intestines to produce more mucus. Both bacterial and viral infections are also a cause along with diarrhea and colic. In some babies, mucus in the stool is a consequence of malabsorption issues. You may have to go to the doctor if your baby frequently passes out mucus in stool and have other symptoms.

Passing out bright red or cranberry-colored mucus along with the stool is a characteristic sign of intussusception, a condition where a section of the intestines goes inside another section of the intestine, similar to how a simple hand telescope folds together. It is considered as a medical emergency, as the affected intestine becomes strangled and often dies due to perforation. Bright red mucus is actually a sign of bleeding from the affected intestine. Intussusception can occur in adults and children that require immediate treatment to prevent intestinal complications. It can be treated with enemas, which may work to stretch the affected intestines back out, or with surgery.

Causes of mucus in stool

A lot of things can cause the appearance of gross mucus in stool. For some reason, it also occurs out of nowhere even though the person is apparently healthy.

1) Diarrhea

Diarrhea, whether caused by an infection or caused by stress, often causes mucus in stool. Diarrhea causes digested food to pass very quickly around the digestive system, which pulls out some of the mucus sticking in the gut, passing it out together with the stool. It is a common finding in adults and children with diarrhea.

2) Parasitic infection

Another common cause is a parasite infestation in the intestines. A lot of people do not realize that they have parasites in their guts. Parasites can easily get into our body through unclean food, dirty water, or venturing outdoors without proper footwear. These nasty parasites live off on food and secretions in the gut. In response, the intestines initiate an inflammatory reaction that causes the secretion of more than normal quantities of mucus. Passing out mucus in the stool is among the symptoms of roundworm (Ascaris) or tapeworm infestation. A parasite infestation is a common problem in both adults and children, regardless of health or nutrition. It must be seen by the doctor right away.

3) Gastrointestinal tract infection

Infections in the digestive tract, either caused by parasites, bacteria, or viruses, are also a common cause. It may or may not cause diarrhea, but may cause other symptoms such as blood in the stool and stomach cramps. You may also experience vomiting, nausea, and fever. Digestive tract infections can become serious really fast, so they require immediate medical intervention.

4) Anal and rectal disorders

Problems in the anus or rectum such as fissures, tears, or ulcers, can cause mucus in stool as well as pain. The anus and rectum act as retention valves that hold the stool until it is time to pass them out. They have lots of mucus-producing glands, so stool passes through them easily. Fissures, tears, and ulcers are breaks in the integrity of the lining of the digestive tract that can result in infection, so it should also be seen by the doctor right away.

5) Malabsorption syndrome

Many people with malabsorption syndrome have mucus in their stool. These problems include lactose intolerance, celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). They may also cause other problems such as bloating or excessive gas, stomach cramps, bulky stools, passing out fatty stools (steatorrhea), and frequent diarrhea. These conditions require extensive diagnostic procedures because they share the same symptoms.

6) Food sensitivities

In some people, mucus in stool is a manifestation of certain food allergies. Some of the foods that account for the majority of reactions include eggs, milk, peanuts, almonds, walnuts, seafood, wheat, or soy. Allergies can also cause other symptoms such as tingling or itching in the mouth, hives, swelling of the lips, face, tongue, or throat, and abdominal pain. You must consult the doctor immediately if other symptoms arise such as wheezing, lightheadedness, or breathing problems.

7) Gastrointestinal disorders

Mucus in stool can be a symptom of serious intestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis. Irritable bowel syndrome is characterized by frequent bouts of diarrhea or constipation with unclear triggers. Crohn’s disease is an inflammation of the intestines also with an unclear cause, while ulcerative colitis causes inflammation and ulcers in the large intestine. These conditions often cause the appearance of mucus in stools and other symptoms.

8) Colorectal cancer

Mucus in the stool is sometimes a telltale sign of cancer in the rectum or colon (colorectal cancer). Colorectal cancer often does not cause symptoms, but sometimes, it causes rectal bleeding or bloody mucus in the stool, changes in one's bowel habits, incomplete emptying of the bowels, unexplained weight loss, weakness, and fatigue.

Diagnosing mucus in stool

Diagnosing mucus in stool often requires you to visit the doctor and undergo laboratory tests. You really need to go to the doctor if you have other symptoms. You will have to share your medical history, a list of symptoms, and list of medicines taken. Sometimes, you have to submit a stool sample for laboratory examination, which will reveal the presence of blood, pus, parasite eggs (or the parasite themselves), or mucus. Blood tests will further reveal if there is an infection or other problems.

Do you really need to treat it?

As stated before, mucus is a normal component of stool since it is released by the intestines. In most cases where you have occasional mucus in your stool with no other symptoms, treatment is not really needed.

Addressing the cause treats mucus in the stool. If the cause is just simple diarrhea, you only have to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. Make sure to drink fluids after every bout of diarrhea, especially in children. In case of frequent loose stools, you may want to stick to foods with low or no fiber for a while to give your intestines rest.

Since treating mucus in stool depends on the cause, there are various treatments that could be done for it. For example, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to address the infection in the digestive tract. Some serious digestive tract infections, like those caused by the virulent strains of Salmonella, can cause bloody mucus in stool and requires a stay in the hospital. If there is a parasite infestation, you may be given deworming agents to kill the worms. Infections and the presence of parasites in the digestive tract require immediate treatment before they become worse and spread in the bloodstream.

For fissures, tears, or ulcers in the anus or rectum, they usually go away with conservative measures such as taking stool softeners and fiber supplements to add bulk to the stool, making it easier to pass. Drugs that can hasten the healing process include nitroglycerin, steroids (prednisolone or dexamethasone), and calcium channel drugs, which are available through your doctor's prescription.

Malabsorption issues that can cause mucus in the stool such as lactose intolerance, celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and SIBO, require a continuous treatment to resolve the symptoms. For lactose intolerance, celiac disease, and gluten sensitivity, most people find relief by avoiding the triggers. If you have these problems, not eating dairy or foods with gluten is helpful. For SIBO, your doctor might consider treatment using antibiotics or probiotics. It may take some time before you find relief from the symptoms of SIBO.

For food allergies, you and your doctor should work together to identify the foods that you are allergic to and avoid them. You may have to keep a food diary and an anti-allergy medicine prescription at hand. In the food diary, you will have to write down the items that can trigger the signs and symptoms of your allergy. If the problem still persists despite vigilance in your food intake, your doctor may ask you to have a skin patch test to identify the allergen.

If mucus in stool is found out to be caused by serious intestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis, you can still have treatment at home and be able to have a normal life.

  • Irritable bowel syndrome - is usually addressed by dietary changes, such as eliminating foods that can cause gas or with certain carbohydrates.
  • Crohn’s disease - is usually treated with corticosteroids, which can stop intestinal inflammation, diarrhea, and bloody mucus in the stool. Treating Crohn’s disease requires close supervision with the doctor because responses from medications differ among patients.
  • Ulcerative colitis - the focus of treatment is inducing remission through the use of immune-suppressing drugs.
  • Cancer - If cancer is suspected, the doctor can confirm it by viewing the insides of your intestines using an endoscope. An endoscope is a long, thin tube with a camera and a light on one end, which is hooked to a high-resolution monitor. Instruments can be hooked onto the endoscope so the doctor can collect tissues for biopsy. The biopsy will confirm if there is cancer or not. Colorectal cancer is usually treated with surgery, radiation treatment, and chemotherapy.

To conclude, mucus in the stool should not be a concern in most cases. It is a rather common occurrence, and in most cases, largely normal. It often occurs in newborn babies. In children and adults, it often occurs with diarrhea, whether caused by a stomach bug or mental distress. 

In general, the presence of mucus in the stool is normal, unless you experience other symptoms.