Most people don’t ordinarily pay much attention to their bowel movements until something different or alarming happens such as a change in color, consistency or frequency. One of these changes is when stool changes from its normal brown color to black. This can be a little disconcerting but it does not always signify something ominous.
Firstly, it’s essential to understand why normal stool is brown. The typical brown color of your stool comes from the presence of bile, a fluid produced by the liver and used in your digestive system to break down fats. When bile mixes with the food you’ve digested and traveled through your digestive system, it turns stool brown.
So, if poop is ordinarily brown, then why would it be black? There are several reasons why stool can turn black. In some cases, it is benign and nothing to worry about. Consuming dark-colored foods or drinks can make stool black. For instance, eating a lot of black licorice, blueberries, or drinking black food coloring such as in frosting or in beverages can change the color of your stool to black. In addition, certain medications and supplements can also cause black stools. Medicines that contain bismuth subsalicylate such as Pepto-Bismol, iron supplements, or activated charcoal can cause stool to turn black.
However, the cause can also be more serious. Black stool can be a sign of bleeding in the upper part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, such as the esophagus, stomach, or the first part of the small intestine. This is known as melena. In this situation, the blood is old and comes out looking black and tarry, which is a reason why your stool might look black. Conditions that can cause melena include gastric ulcer, gastritis, esophageal varices, or a tear in the esophagus from violent vomiting (Mallory-Weiss tear).
Overall, if you didn’t eat or take anything that could potentially change your stool color, yet your stool is clearly black, it is important to seek medical attention. Do not let fear or embarrassment prevent you from speaking to a healthcare professional about such changes. This could potentially save your life, especially if the change is a symptom of a more serious condition. Remember, when it comes to your health, there is no such thing as TMI (Too Much Information). Your doctor or healthcare provider has seen it all before and is there to help you.