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29th July, 202110 min read

Why do I have mucus in my stool?

Medical reviewer:Dr Ann Nainan
Author:Dr Adiele Hoffman
Last reviewed: 12/07/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

What does mucus in your stool look like?

Mucus is the slippery, jelly-like substance produced from your mouth, sinuses, lungs, stomach, gut and other parts of your body. It protects surfaces all around your body, including your organs. Sometimes, you’ll see it in your stool, or poo.

Mucus in your poo is usually nothing to worry about, because it’s a normal part of your poo – it helps poo pass smoothly through your gut and protects your gut against infection. It’s usually a clear or white colour, although it can look yellow too.

But if you’ve noticed that you’re pooing mucus often, there’s a lot of it in your poo, or you have bloody or orange mucus in your poo, then it may be a sign of a more serious problem – especially if you have other symptoms like pus in it or tummy cramps. Causes may include an infection like a stomach bug or something more serious like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), so you may need to see a doctor about it.

What causes abnormal mucus in your stool?

Some of the causes of abnormal mucus in your poo, like dehydration and constipation, are usually easy to treat with self-care. But other causes may need a doctor’s advice, tests and treatment.

Here are some common causes of abnormal mucus in your poo.

Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is a common gut infection caused by viruses, bacteria or parasites – it’s also known as a tummy, or stomach bug. It may cause more mucus than normal in your stool and other symptoms like:

You can catch gastroenteritis from close contact with someone who’s got it, or by touching surfaces that they’ve touched. It’s also spread in contaminated water – and eating infected food can also cause a type of gastroenteritis called food poisoning.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a common condition that affects your digestive system. It causes symptoms like mucus in your stool, a bloated tummy, tummy cramps, diarrhoea and constipation, as well as many other symptoms.

The exact cause isn’t known, but it may be linked to stress, an oversensitive gut, food passing through your gut too quickly or slowly, a mild intolerance to foods like wheat, chilli or milk, or abnormal levels of the hormone serotonin in your gut.

IBS is usually a lifelong condition, but the symptoms tend to come and go over time and can last days, weeks or months at a time. Its symptoms may also be caused by more serious conditions, so see a doctor if you have any.

Read more about IBS symptoms and causes and how to tell if your stomach pain is serious.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) includes 2 conditions: ulcerative colitis, which affects your large intestine (colon), and Crohn’s disease, which can affect any part of your gut from your mouth to your bottom (anus). These long-term conditions cause inflammation in your gut.

You may notice mucus in the stool if you have IBD and other symptoms like:

  • diarrhoea that doesn’t get better, keeps coming back or keeps happening overnight
  • needing to poo, but nothing comes out when you try
  • blood in your poo
  • needing to poo often and urgently
  • losing weight without meaning to
  • tummy pain
  • feeling tired
  • a fever
  • not wanting to eat (loss of appetite)

Not everyone has all of these symptoms, and sometimes, you may also have symptoms that aren’t related to your gut, like joint inflammation (arthritis), eye pain, skin rashes and yellowing of your skin.

Your symptoms may come and go over time – sometimes, they’ll be more serious and other times, you’ll have few or no symptoms.

The cause of IBD isn’t clear, but it’s thought to be a combination of your genetics and a problem with your immune system. You’re also twice as likely to get Crohn’s disease if you smoke.

Bowel cancer

Sometimes, mucus in your poo may be a sign of bowel cancer. If this is the case, you may notice other symptoms, including:

  • blood in your poo that doesn’t go away
  • a change in your poo habits that can’t be explained, like pooing more often than normal with very runny poo
  • lower tummy pain, or a tight, uncomfortable or swollen tummy (bloating) after eating
  • loss of appetite
  • losing weight without meaning to
  • feeling very tired for no obvious reason
  • a lump in your tummy

But most people with these symptoms don’t have bowel cancer, as other conditions can also cause them.

The exact cause of bowel cancer isn’t known, but factors that may increase your chance of getting it include:

  • being aged 50 and older
  • having a close relative who got it before age 50
  • eating a lot of red or processed meat and not enough fibre
  • being overweight or obese
  • not exercising enough
  • drinking alcohol
  • smoking

When to see a doctor about mucus in your stool

Go to an emergency department or call an ambulance if you see mucus in your poo and you:

  • have very bad tummy pain
  • have a lot of blood in your poo or very dark, or black poo
  • can’t keep liquids down for more than a day
  • have signs of dehydration, like not peeing in 24 hours or feeling dizzy
  • have a very high or low temperature or any signs of sepsis
  • feel faint or you faint
  • have a very fast heart rate, heart palpitations or chest pain
  • feel breathless
  • have a swollen tummy, feel sick (nausea) or are being sick (vomiting), and you’re having trouble pooing

You should also see a doctor as soon as possible if you notice mucus in your poo and you:

  • have lost a lot of weight without meaning to
  • have blood in your poo
  • have a hard lump or swelling in your tummy
  • feel short of breath or have pale skin
  • have recently taken antibiotics
  • have vomiting lasting longer than 1 to 2 days, or diarrhoea lasting longer than 3 to 4 days
  • have a fever, which isn’t getting better with treatment
  • have a weakened immune system – for example, you have HIV or are having chemotherapy

Treatment for abnormal mucus in your stool

Gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis, including norovirus and food poisoning, usually gets better by itself – vomiting usually lasts 1 or 2 days, while diarrhoea can last up to 7 days. But if it lasts longer than this, see a doctor.

For self-care, try to:

  • drink plenty of water or other fluids to stop you getting dehydrated. But avoid fruit juice and fizzy drinks, as they can make things worse
  • eat when you can
  • take simple painkillers if needed – but first speak to a pharmacist or doctor on how to safely get and use these medicines
  • stay at home and rest

Gastroenteritis is easily passed to others, so wash your hands and regularly clean surfaces, like toilet seats, and don’t cook food for others while you’re sick, so you don’t spread it. Read more about how to treat and prevent a stomach bug or food poisoning.

If it’s not getting better, a doctor may recommend tests, like a stool sample, to find out what’s causing it. Treatment may include antibiotics (if it’s a bacterial or parasite infection) and anti-diarrhoea medicines.

IBS

See a doctor if you have any IBS symptoms, as they may be caused by a more serious condition.

You can try to manage it at home, but which treatment works for your IBS will depend on your symptoms. Self-care measures that may help include:

  • cooking homemade meals using fresh ingredients
  • keeping a diary to try and work out what triggers your IBS – and then avoiding these foods or drinks
  • getting regular exercise
  • managing your stress levels – but see a doctor if you think you may have depression or anxiety
  • asking a pharmacist or doctor for advice on anti-diarrhoea medicines, laxatives for constipation, anti-spasm medication for bloating, cramps and farting, and probiotics

Read more about treatment options for IBS, including the low FODMAP diet.

IBD

See a doctor if you think you may have IBD. There’s no cure for it, but there are lots of treatments to help prevent and reduce how many flare-ups you have, and also to help treat them.

Treatment includes lifestyle changes like changing your diet, or stopping smoking if you have Crohn’s disease. Other treatments may include:

  • medicines to reduce inflammation in your gut – like aminosalicylates
  • medicines to suppress your immune system – like steroids
  • biological medicines – these target a certain part of your immune system
  • antibiotics – if you also have an infection
  • surgery or a procedure during an endoscopy – for example, if you have a bowel blockage

Read more about treatment for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

Bowel cancer

Bowel cancer can be treated more easily if it’s diagnosed early, so see a doctor if you think you may have it or you have a close family member with it. Treatment will depend on where it is in your bowel and how far it’s spread.

Treatment is likely to include surgery to remove the cancer, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and biological medicines. You’ll usually be looked after by a team of doctors, including cancer specialists and surgeons.

You can try to reduce your risk of getting bowel cancer by:

Read more about treatment for bowel cancer.

How long does it take for mucus in your stool to go away?

A small amount of mucus in your poo is usually nothing to worry about. The amount you see can increase or reduce over time – but if it’s a lot of mucus, it’s not going away, it has blood or pus in it and you have bad tummy cramps, then it may be a sign of a more serious problem.

How long it takes to get better depends on the underlying cause. Some causes, like gastroenteritis, are likely to get better quickly by themselves. Other conditions are lifelong, and will get better and then worse, for example, when you have flare-ups from IBS or IBD, so you will have to learn to manage them.

Sometimes, the cause can be life-threatening, like bowel cancer, but it can be treated if it’s picked up early, so see a doctor if you have any of its symptoms.

Your health questions answered

  • Why do I have green mucus in my stool?

    Sometimes, your poo – but not the mucus in your poo – may be a different colour, like green or grey, which makes the mucus in your stool appear the same colour. There are many reasons for you poo being a different colour including your diet and underlying medical conditions. Read more about what it means when your poo is a different colour.

  • What causes mucus diarrhoea?

    Mucus diarrhoea can be caused by a few different problems in your gut. It could be a sign of an infection like gastroenteritis, which usually clears up by itself within a few days. But if it lasts longer than a week, see a doctor, as this could mean you have an infection like a bacterial or parasite infection that needs treatment. Or you may have a long-term (chronic) problem like IBD or IBS. If it lasts longer than a few weeks, a doctor may want to rule out something more serious like bowel cancer.

Key takeaways

  • mucus is a normal part of your poo – it helps your poo pass smoothly through your gut and protects it against infections
  • common causes of abnormal mucus in your stool include gastroenteritis and IBS
  • more serious causes of abnormal mucus in your poo include IBD and bowel cancer
  • some of the causes of abnormal mucus in your poo, including dehydration and constipation, are usually easy to treat at home
  • mucus in your stool will usually go away by itself, but if there’s a lot, it’s not going away, or you have blood or pus in it too, it could be a sign of a more serious problem in your gut
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