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Green poop: what does it mean and what to do

June 2020

Green poop is not usually a cause for concern, as it is almost always related to diet. This is mainly due to a large intake of green food, such as spinach and broccoli, or food that has green food coloring.

However, green stools can also be a sign of other issues, for example, irritable bowel syndrome or bowel infections. Therefore, this issue should be checked by a doctor and treated according to the doctor’s recommendations, if the stool does not change back to normal after two to three days.

Green poop: what does it mean and what to do

4 main causes for green stools

Green poop can have several causes, but it is mainly due to changes in the production of bile, which causes the stool to not have the usual brown color. So, the main causes for green poop are:

1. Intake of green foods

Consuming green food, such as spinach, broccoli or lettuce, or food that contains green food coloring can lead to green poop. Stool that is green due to diet happens to both adults and children.  

What to do: if you have green poop due to the intake of green food, the best thing to help the stool go back to normal is to stop eating that food, at least for a while. The stool will go back to being brown, as soon as the body gets rid of that food and, therefore, it is no cause for concern.

2. Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition characterized by the inflammation of the intestinal villi, which typically causes stomach ache, flatulence and bloating, but can also lead to the production of green stools. 

What to do: IBS symptoms can be managed by making some lifestyle changes: diet and stress management. Therefore, we recommend that you follow a suitable diet under the supervision of a nutritionist, and carry out activities that reduce stress levels and stop the symptoms from getting worse or progressing. 

3. Intestinal infection

Intestinal infections can cause green poop, whether these infections are due to bacteria, such as Salmonella, or parasites, such as Giardia lamblia. This is because bowel movements are faster when there are infections, and this reduces the time the bile is exposed to intestinal bacteria and digestive enzymes, which in turn leads to green diarrhea. 

What to do: if you have an intestinal infection, the doctor may recommend you take certain medication according to the microorganism that caused the infection, as well as that you rest and drink a lot of water.

4. Use of antibiotics

Some types of medication, specially antibiotics, can interfere with the quantity of bacteria present in the gastrointestinal tract, which has an effect with the production of bile. Bile is a green pigment that when in contact with intestinal bacteria and digestive enzymes becomes brown, the usual color of stool. 

When antibiotics are taken the quantity of bacteria in the intestines can change, which causes the bile to still be green and makes the stool green. Other medications may also interfere in the processing of bile and create green stools. These medications are mainly ones that contain iron.

What to do: after you stop the medication, it is important to see if the stool still looks green. If it does, you should visit the doctor, who may prescribe probiotics.

Green poop: what does it mean and what to do

It can also be just meconium

Meconium is the name given to a baby’s first stool, which is actually formed when the baby is in the mother’s womb. Meconium is thick, viscous and green looking. This is because the gastrointestinal microbiota of the baby is still not completely developed and does not have the necessary bacteria to act on the bile and this makes the poop darker. 

It is normal for the baby to pass meconium in the first 24 hours of being born and the color and consistency of the stool will progressively change in the following days due to the development of the gastrointestinal tract. 

What to do: Meconium is normal in all babies, however, if the baby does not pass green poop after being born or does but then no changes are seen in the color and consistency in the next few bowel movements, it is recommended that you take the baby to a pediatrician so that she can be diagnosed and treated.

When to go to the doctor

You should go to a doctor when you have green stool together with symptoms like: diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite, blood in the stool, headache or dizziness so that exams can be carried out in order to determine the cause of the symptoms.

Bibliography >

  • GOLDMAN, Lee; SCHAFER, Andrew I.. Goldman-Cecil Medicina. 25.ed. Rio de Janeiro: Elsevier, 2018.
  • LONGO, Dan L. et al.. Medicina interna de Harrison. 18.ed. São Paulo: AMGH Editora, 2013.
  • Kliegman, Robert M. et al. Nelson Tratado de Pediatria. 20 ed.. Rio de Janeiro : Elsevier, 2018.
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