Mucus is a sticky, slimy, jelly-like fluid that is normally produced our bodies.
Your body naturally produces about 1-1.5 liters of mucus every day.
As a matter of fact, it is very normal to have mucus in stool (even though unnoticeable). However, if you begin to notice a significant amount of mucus in your stool, it could signify a possible problem.
We would be going through the different possible causes of mucus in your poop and help you understand what is likely going on.
To help us have a background understanding of this symptom, it is important to know why we produce mucus.
Why Do We Produce Mucus and What Does It Do?
Mucus is a very important substance in our bodies. It is made up of a mixture of water, salts, and mucin (a protein). It is secreted by cells lining many parts of our digestive and respiratory systems. It serves some important functions like:
Mucus moistens and lubricates the linings of your digestive and respiratory systems, keeping them from drying out and reducing friction. Digestion is a very complex process and mucus serves as the 'oil of our intestinal engines'.
Just like a car's engine requires oil to make it more efficient, our bodies need mucus to run food through our digestive systems in an efficient manner.
Mucus is a protective fluid. It serves as a mechanical barrier, protecting delicate cells that line our stomachs and intestines.
Specialized cells in the stomach wall secrete a very powerful hydrochloric acid. This acid is very corrosive, an in vitro study of this acid even showed that it could dissolve a razor blade.
In order to protect itself from its own acid, the stomach wall secretes a very thick mucus barrier. To emphasize its importance, stomach ulcers are formed when this mucus barrier is inadequate.
It does not only serve as a physical barrier, mucus contains vital proteins, antibodies, and enzymes that protect the body from invading organisms and fight off infections.
Now that we've gone through what mucus is, what it contains and what it does, let's go on to discuss possible reasons why there could excess mucus in poop.
It is important to also note that it is normal to have some mucus in poop, but when it is noticeable or if you have an obviously slimy poop, it means your digestive system is producing more than necessary.
Possible Causes Of Mucus In Stool
This list is not meant to scare you. If you notice mucus in your poop, it doesn't mean that you have a problem, but it is something you should monitor and if possible evaluate. Here are 11 possible causes of an increased mucus in stool.
Bacterial, viral or parasitic infections can cause an increased mucus level in stool. These infections can be gotten from eating contaminated food. Other symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, stringy poop or abdominal pain can also be observed in intestinal infections.
2. Irritable Bowel Syndrome:
Irritable bowel syndrome is quite a common long-term condition that affects the large intestines and can cause slimy poop. It can also cause bloating, flatulence and abdominal cramping. It is usually life-long and its exact cause is not known. However, its symptoms can be properly managed.
3. Crohn's Disease:
Crohn's disease is a chronic condition that affects the digestive system. It causes patches of inflammation especially around a part of the small intestine called the ileum. It can also cause diarrhea, a reduced appetite, weight loss, and bloody stools.
4. Ulcerative Colitis:
Just like Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory disease that affects the digestive system. However, unlike Crohn's disease, it mainly affects the large intestine. It may also cause diarrhea and abdominal pain.
5. Cystic Fibrosis:
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disorder that affects mucus production in the body. It causes a thick mucus build up in the lungs and digestive system.
6. Lactose Intolerance:
People that are lactose intolerant experience loose, slimy and liquid stools when they take dairy products like milk. Their bodies do not produce enough lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose (the sugar found in milk). Lactose intolerance can also cause green stools.
7. Celiac Disease:
Celiac disease is a serious disease where there is an adverse reaction to eating foods that contain gluten (a protein). Gluten is found in wheat, rye, and barley. It can affect the body's ability to absorb nutrients and can lead to mucus in stool.
Proctitis is the inflammation of the rectum (the lower part of your digestive system just before your anus). It can be caused by infections, anal trauma, and inflammatory bowel disease.
9. Anal Abscess and Fistula:
Abscesses are areas filled with pus. Sometimes the pus can push through and exit the body around the anus (fistulas). Abscesses and fistulae can cause slimy poop.
10. Intestinal Obstruction:
Intestinal obstruction (as the name implies) is when digested food can not pass normally through the intestines. Other related symptoms are bloating, constipation and vomiting.
11. Colon or Rectal Cancer:
Although one of the main symptoms of colon or rectal cancer is a bloody stool, there also can be mucus in stool.
Should You See A Doctor For Mucus in Stool?
Generally, you should see a doctor if:
- there is a significant increase in mucus in your stool
- the presence of visible mucus in your stool is regular
- there is a change in the texture of your poop, the color of your poop or a change in how often you poop
- there are other symptoms like abdominal pain, bloody stools, diarrhea, and vomiting.
During a visit to the doctor, questions would be asked about the mucus in your stool, other symptoms and you would be rehydrated with fluids if the doctor suspects dehydration.
To aid in the diagnosis of what the cause is, these investigations may be requested:
- Blood tests
- Stool microscopy and culture
- Radiological tests like X-Rays, CT Scans, and MRIs
The treatment of mucus in stool is largely dependent on what exactly its cause is.
Adopting a balanced diet and adequate fluid intake are necessary for a healthy digestive system. The presence of mucus in your stool should not frighten you, however, you should monitor it closely and see a doctor if it increases, becomes regular or is associated with other symptoms.