Mucus is a substance that helps stools move through the intestine, but it’s normally produced in low quantities that are just enough to lubricate the intestine and be mixed in the stools, and isn’t easily seen by the naked eye.
So, when excess mucus is observed in the stool, it usually indicates the presence of an infection or another change in the intestines, such as an intestinal ulcer or irritable bowel syndrome, and it’s important to see a gastroenterologist for a complete assessment and to identify if there’s a more serious problem that needs to be treated.
1. Food intolerance
Food intolerances and allergies, such as to lactose, fructose, sucrose, or gluten, cause inflammation of the intestinal walls when food comes into contact with the mucosa, increasing mucus production, which can be observed in the stools.
In these cases, there may be other symptoms too, such as swelling of the belly, diarrhea, red spots on the skin, excessive gas, or constipation.
What to do: if there’s a suspect of an intolerance to any type of food, it’s important to see a gastroenterologist for an intolerance test that can confirm the diagnosis.
Gastroenteritis occurs when a type of microorganism, such as a bacteria or a virus, infects the stomach and intestine, causing intense nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite and pain in the belly, in addition to excess mucus in the stools.
This type of problem usually occurs when contaminated food or water is ingested, but it can also happen after prolonged use of antibiotics.
What to do: if gastroenteritis is suspected, it’s important to see a gastroenterologist or general practitioner to confirm the diagnosis and start the appropriate treatment, which may only consist of fluid replacement, but can also include antibiotics, if the infection is being caused by a bacteria.
3. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
An irritable bowel causes inflammation of the intestinal mucosa that increases the amount of mucus in the stools. Although this can happen in all cases of irritable bowel syndrome, mucus is more common in people who have long bouts of diarrhea.
Other common symptoms of those suffering from irritable bowel include excess gas, swollen belly, and bouts of diarrhea that alternate with constipation, especially during periods of high stress or anxiety.
What to do: if there is already a diagnosis of irritable bowel, try to avoid excess stress by participating in leisure activities, but it is also important to avoid coffee and foods with a lot of fat or spices. If there is only suspicion of irritable bowel, go to the gastroenterologist to assess whether this is really the problem and to start the treatment recommended by the doctor.
4. Crohn's disease
Crohn's disease is a chronic bowel disease that causes constant inflammation of the intestinal walls, resulting in signs such as mucus in the stools, but also severe abdominal pain, fever, bloody diarrhea, and weakness.
What to do: treatment for Crohn's disease usually includes changes in eating habits, such as controlling the amount of fiber ingested and reducing the amount of fats and dairy products.
5. Bowel obstruction
Bowel obstruction occurs when something prevents the passage of stools through the intestine. The most common causes include hernias, a twisted bowel, ingestion of some type of object, or even an intestinal tumor.
In these cases, there is an excessive production of mucus to try to push the stools, which end up not passing and causing other symptoms such as swelling of the belly, severe abdominal pain, excess gas, and a decreased number of stools.
What to do: bowel obstruction is an emergency situation that needs to be treated to avoid serious complications such as dilation or rupture of the intestine. So, if you suspect this problem, go immediately to the hospital.
6. Anal fissure
An anal fissure is a relatively common problem that consists of a small wound in the rectum area, which usually occurs from excessive bowel movements, because of frequent diarrhea, for example. However, the fissure can also be caused by constipation, as the act of defecating very hard stools can end up damaging the sphincter.
When this occurs, the fissure causes symptoms such as bright red blood in the stools, pain when defecating, mucus in the stools, and itching in the area.
What to do: the most important thing in these cases is adequate intimate hygiene, but taking sitz baths to relieve pain and applying ointments to heal the fissure more quickly are also beneficial. Alcoholic beverages and spicy foods should also be avoided, giving preference to a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and cereals.
7. Ulcerative Colitis
Ulcerative colitis is an intestinal alteration that causes ulcers in the bowel and constant mucosal inflammation, so people with ulcerative colitis often have stools with blood, pus, or mucus.
Other symptoms that help to identify a case of ulcerative colitis include diarrhea, very severe abdominal pain, skin lesions, and weight loss.
What to do: the general recommendation is to increase the intake of fiber, eating foods such as papaya, lettuce, or chickpeas, to make the stools bulkier and softer. Medication may be needed to relieve abdominal cramps or even stop diarrhea.
When mucus in the stools can be serious
Mucus in the stools isn’t, in most cases, a dangerous situation, and is, almost always, easy to treat. However, if the excess mucus appears with other symptoms such as:
- Stools with blood or pus;
- Very severe abdominal pain;
- Exaggerated abdominal distention;
- Constant diarrhea.
You should go to the hospital or make an appointment with the gastroenterologist, as it can be a sign of a more serious situation such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, or even cancer.