Stringy Poop: Common Causes of Narrow or Thin Stool

Stringy Poop: Common Causes of Narrow or Thin Stool
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Changes in your bowel habits can cause you to have stingy poop or narrow stool. In the majority of cases, stringy poop is due to infections or inflammation in your intestines. If you occasionally pass narrow or thin stools there is probably nothing to worry about. However, if your poop has become stringy all the time, it could indicate an issue with your bowels that requires a visit to your doctor.

Normal stool is usually quite solid with a soft to firm consistency and has a sausage-like appearance. Narrow stools can develop if an internal obstruction is causing your bowel movements to look thinner than usual. Or, narrow poop could form because food may be passing through your digestive system too quickly and doesn’t have time to form into normal-sized feces. Even though passing thin stool can be a sign of cancer, doctors say that it’s rare that thin stools automatically mean cancer.

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Treating the symptoms of pencil-like poop usually requires addressing the underlying problem. For example, if constipation is causing narrow stools, increasing your fiber and fluid intake can help to return poop to its normal size and consistency. In cases where polyps, a hernia, or abnormal growth is making skinny bowel movements, a doctor will advise on the appropriate treatment.

So, if your poop resembles noodles or you are experiencing thin, pencil-like stool, please read on to find the answers to your questions. You will also find helpful home remedies to treat the causes of stringy poop.

What is Stringy Poop (Thin Stool)?

Stringy poop describes a situation when regular stool becomes ribbon-like or as thin as a pencil. Stringy stool may or may not be associated with diarrhea because thin stool can have a very soft consistency and not necessarily be like watery diarrhea.

Dr. Benjamin Wedro on MedicineNet says that the size, consistency, and shape of regular poop differs from person to person. Usually, occasionally passing pencil-thin flat stools is nothing to worry about, even if you usually poop banana-size stools.1

The color, texture, and consistency of stool can tell a lot about your health in general. Therefore, stringy stool can become a cause for concern if your regular bowel movements change and your stool regularly becomes thin and narrow.

Symptoms of Narrow Stools (Stringy Poop)

If you occasionally poop narrow and flat stool, you may not have any accompanying symptoms. But, if there is an underlying reason for stringy poop, you may also have other signs of gastrointestinal discomfort.

Some of the other symptoms of stringy poop can include:

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What Causes Narrow or Thin Stool?

There are many different reasons for narrow, stringy stool, and thankfully most of them can be treated or managed easily. Apart from changes in your diet, here are the main reasons for stringy poop.

Constipation

Not consuming enough fiber and fluids, or other intestinal problems, can cause constipation which can result in narrow stools.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine report that thin soft stool can sometimes accompany constipation. Chronic constipation can cause a blockage in your colon which means that any thin stool you can pass will be pencil-thin.2

Passing ribbon-like stool is also common if children suffer from constipation. The Department of Pediatrics says that children who don’t drink enough fluid can suffer from chronic constipation. This can cause them to have skinny bowel movements as well as abdominal discomfort and cramping.3  

Other symptoms of constipation can include:

Increasing dietary fiber and fluid intake are usually all that’s needed to resolve problems with constipation naturally. Other home remedies such as prunes, aloe vera juice, or consuming castor oil are all natural laxatives that can restore healthy bowel function and normal bowel movements.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Pencil thin stools are often a sign of irritable bowel syndrome that can cause chronic abdominal pain and discomfort.

IBS can cause various digestive problems including constipation, watery stool, or urgent need to have a bowel movement. According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, IBS can also result in string-like poop that is narrower than usual.4

Dr. Minesh Khatri on WebMD says that other symptoms of IBS can include:5

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  • Passing white mucus with your stool
  • Loose and watery stool with diarrhea or hard and lumpy poop with constipation
  • Abdominal cramping that is eased when having a bowel movement

Taking peppermint oil enteric-coated capsules is one way to relieve the symptoms of IBS naturally. The capsules allow the peppermint oil to reach your colon to soothe sensitivity and reduce intestinal pain.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Another chronic digestive disorder that can result in having stringy poop in a bowel movement is inflammatory bowel disease. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are types of IBD that cause inflammation in your digestive tract.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that IBD can result in ribbon-like stool because it often causes diarrhea or constipation. Also, chronic inflammation of the colon can thicken the bowel and cause a bowel obstruction. Sometimes, constipation from IBD causes hard narrow stools that are painful to pass. Or, sometimes intestinal inflammation causes loose watery stool that exits the rectum with force.6

Other symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease can include the following:7

Abdominal hernias

Pencil-thin stools could mean that you have an abdominal hernia that is obstructing the flow of stool through your digestive system. Abdominal hernias occur when part of your intestine pushes through a weak part of your abdomen.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine say that abdominal hernias can cause thin or narrow stools. You may also notice that the hernia bulge is visible in your groin. Other symptoms of an abdominal hernia can include:8

  • Pressure in the scrotum or groin area
  • A visible lump that looks dark purple or red
  • Constipation and difficulty passing stool

Abdominal hernias can sometimes resemble a pulled muscle. Please read my previous article to find out how to tell the difference between a pulled muscle and a hernia.

Other Causes of Stringy Poop

Passing narrow stingy stools regularly could be a sign of a more serious condition. Here are a few reasons why passing stringy poop could require a doctor’s visit.

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Colon polyps

Polyps are benign growths that grow in the colon or rectum and will cause you to have stringy bowel movements. Polyps can affect anyone of any age but they are more common in people over 50 years old.

According to gastroenterologist from the University of British Columbia, Dr. Alnoor Ramji, colorectal polyps can cause pencil-thin stool along with rectal bleeding, diarrhea, and excessive gas. Because polyps can have similar symptoms to the ones of colorectal cancer, it’s important to get any rectal bleeding checked out by a doctor.9

Your doctor will remove all polyps discovered during a bowel examination, and they will be sent to a pathologist to be tested, as cancer can start in some types of polyps.

Bowel obstruction

Bowel obstructions can be caused by a number of health conditions and often result in stringy poop during bowel movements. Some conditions that can result in bowel obstruction are hernias, diverticulitis, appendicitis, or endometriosis.

Researchers from the Office of Ombudsman for Mental Health and Development Disabilities say that narrow, pencil-thin stool are abnormal types of stool. Other symptoms of a bowel obstruction can include:10

  • Difficult breathing if the obstruction pushes on the diaphragm
  • Passing small amounts of urine
  • Bad breath
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty passing gas

Mayo Clinic staff say that bowel obstructions can become medical emergencies. If you have any symptoms of a bowel obstruction, you should seek medical help as soon as possible.11

Colorectal cancer

Many people who wonder what it means if they have pencil thin stools are worried about the chance of colorectal cancer. Although stringy poop can be a symptom of colorectal cancer, it is very rare.

A study published in the journal Digestive Diseases and Sciences reported that narrow stringy stools are not the first sign of cancer of the rectum or colon. Researchers report that the idea that skinny stool is a sign of colorectal cancer comes from the 19th Century. However, diarrhea-related conditions are usually the cause of narrow bowel movements, not cancerous growths in the colon.12

Doctors from the American Cancer Society say that the common symptoms of colorectal cancer can include:13

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  • Changes in bowel habits that last for more than a few days and this includes narrow thin stools
  • Bleeding from the anus
  • Signs of blood in stool like passing black tarry stool
  • Cramping pains after eating
  • Unintended weight loss

Awareness plays a big role in preventing colorectal cancer, and lifestyle changes can lower your risk significantly. Please refer to my article on colorectal cancer: 11 steps to reduce your risk for more information.

Loose Stool or Diarrhea Causing Ribbon-Like Stool

There are a number of gastrointestinal conditions that can cause your stool to become very loose resulting in stringy bowel movements.

  • Food poisoning. Consuming contaminated food or drink can cause a severe intestinal infection that can cause pencil thin stool and diarrhea. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that passing thin watery stool with mucus is common in cases of viral, bacterial, or parasite food-borne infections.13 Please read my article on how long does food poisoning last and how to recover faster to find relief from the unpleasant symptoms.
  • Food intolerance or allergies. Dr. Luqman Seidu on WebMD says that diarrhea and long thin poop are common signs of food allergies or intolerance.14 Many people who have celiac disease complain that they frequently have ribbon-like thin stool.
  • Stress. Another reason for digestive upset that can cause your poop to become long and skinny is stress. Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic say that stress often affects bowel habits.15

Treatments for Narrow or Thin Stool

Knowing how to successfully treat stringy poop depends on the cause of the abnormal bowel habit. If you only occasionally notice that you pass narrow long stool, there is probably nothing to worry about.

Let’s look briefly at how to treat symptoms of “poop noodle” that is related to digestive issues.

Constipation. If you haven’t had a bowel movement for 3 days or more and you poop small amount of thin stool, you should increase your fiber and fluid intake. Some other ways to relieve pencil thin stool and constipation include:

Food intolerances or allergies. The only way to prevent food intolerances or allergies causing stringy poop is to avoid the offending products.

Diarrhea-induced infections. If a viral or bacterial bug has caused gastroenteritis, then there are many natural remedies to soothe watery diarrhea. For example, ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and can speed up the healing time. Also, chamomile tea can help to clear toxins from your intestines and relax your colon.

When to See a Doctor

It’s common to have stringy bowel movements once in a while. Usually, there is no cause for concern if you don’t have any other symptoms and you should find that your bowel habits quickly return to normal.

However, pencil-thin narrow poop can be an indicator of something more serious if it lasts for more than a few days and you have other symptoms.

It is advised to see your doctor for ribbon-like stools if you have the following symptoms:10

  • Changes in your bowel habits that last longer than 3 days – e.g. constipation, diarrhea, or thin, pencil-like stools
  • Passing stool with blood or mucus
  • Abdominal bloating that doesn’t go away
  • Severe abdominal pains
  • Inability to pass gas
  • Nausea and/or vomiting

Read my other related articles:

Medical Sources

  1. MedicineNet. Stool color, changes in color, texture, and form.
  2. HopkinsMedicine. 5 things your poop can tell about your health.
  3. VirginiaEDU. Causes of chronic constipation.
  4. MayoClinic. What causes narrow stools?
  5. WebMD. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms.
  6. MayoClinic. Inflammatory bowel disease.
  7. Medscape. Inflammatory bowel disease clinical presentation.
  8. HopkinsMedicine. Inguinal
  9. Medscape. Villous adenoma clinical presentation.
  10. MNGov. Bowel obstruction alert.
  11. MayoClinic. Intestinal obstruction.
  12. Dig Dis Sci.2009 Feb;54(2):208-11
  13. FDAGov. Foodborne illnesses.
  14. WebMD. Food allergy, or something else?
  15. ClevelandClinic. The scoop on poop.
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