It’s a simple fact of life: Everybody poops. And, while it’s unlikely that you discuss your BMs on the regular with your bestie, you probably give your poop a pretty decent once-over every time you go.
There’s no shame in that game. Your poop can give you clues on your overall health, and will let you know when something is off. “Our bowel movements are the result of so many processes in the body,” says Ashkan Farhadi, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center and director of MemorialCare Medical Group’s Digestive Disease Project in Fountain Valley, California. Basically, if something is out of whack in your body, there’s a decent chance your poop is going to tell you about it.
Of course, it’s normal to venture away from your usual poos here and there due to something you ate or being sick, but it’s time to call your doctor if you spot the following signs.
1. You have diarrhoea that won’t quit
Diarrhoea happens, but constant diarrhoea that’s been happening at least three times a week for the past few months is a sign that something is off, Farhadi says. It could be due to something you’re eating or stress, or even a sign that you have something more serious, like the chronic inflammatory bowel condition colitis.
2. Your poop is red
Unless you recently ate beets (which will do the same thing), it’s likely a sign that there’s bleeding in your lower GI tract like your colon, anus, or rectum, says Kyle Staller, M.D., M.P.H., a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. And, as you can imagine, that’s worth talking to a doctor about sooner rather than later.
3. You’re having tarry, black poop
Normal BMs can range in colour but black poop is a red flag that you’re having bleeding in your GI tract, Staller says. (Black poop indicates older blood, while red poop indicates more fresh bleeding). Black poop can be a sign of an ulcer, cancer, or diverticulitis, an inflammation in your digestive tract, Staller says.
4. Your poop is pale or clay-coloured
Yellowish poop can be related to something that you ate, but if you notice that your poo is very pale or clay-coloured, it’s often a sign that your bile duct is blocked, Staller says. Bile comes from your gallbladder and liver, empties into your intestine, and helps your body dissolve fats—and it’s not great if it’s not working properly.
5. You’re having pain when you go
This could be one of a few things, Staller says: external hemorrhoids or an anal fissure, which is a cut in the lining of the anus. “That’s very painful. It feels almost like you’re passing glass when you have a bowel movement,” Staller says. While it may get better with stool softeners and by soaking your tush in warm water, you really should talk to a doctor about it.
6. Your poop is just… different
You know what’s normal for you and, if things suddenly change and stay that way, it’s important to talk to a doctor. Any big change in your bowel habits that doesn’t come along with changing your diet or having a stomach bug should be flagged to your doctor, Farhadi says.
You might feel weird about talking to a doctor about your poop, but don’t—it’s what they’re there for. Plus, they can help. “If you’re having some issues, it’s better to resolve it or get to it and treat it as soon as you can,” Farhadi says.
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health US.