What Does Mucus in Stool Mean?
Mucus has many purposes in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. One is lubrication: It helps materials pass through your GI tract smoothly. This coating of mucus also protects your digestive tract against bacteria, digestive acids, and food-related toxins, and it promotes a healthy microbiome in your gut.
Sometimes you might see a small amount of clear, white, or yellow jelly-looking mucus in your stool. A small amount is completely normal and not a cause for concern.
Mucus in stool may accompany other symptoms, which will vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder, or condition that is causing excessive mucus to show up in your stool.
Digestive tract symptoms that may occur along with mucus in stool
Mucus in the stool may accompany other symptoms affecting the digestive tract, such as:
- abdominal pain or cramping
- abdominal swelling, distention, or bloating
- abnormally foul-smelling stools
- bloody stool (red, black, or tarry stools)
- fecal incontinence (inability to control stools)
- nausea with or without vomiting
- painful bowel movements
- urgent need to pass stool
Other symptoms that may occur along with mucus in stool
Mucus in the stool may accompany other symptoms beyond the GI tract, including:
While a small amount of mucus in the stool is not a cause for concern, there are times you may need medical care. If you have a lot of mucus in your stool, or if you have mucus along with other symptoms, contact your doctor.
Seek prompt medical care if mucus in your stool is persistent, especially if it is accompanied by a fever or changes in your bowel movements, or if it worsens
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life threatening condition
In some cases, mucus in stool may be a symptom of a life threatening condition. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for any of these life threatening symptoms:
- bloody stool along with a high fever and abdominal cramping
- a change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness
- a change in mental status or a sudden behavior change, such as confusion, delirium, lethargy, hallucinations, and delusions
- signs of dehydration, such as decreased urination or dark urine
- rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
- rigidity of the abdomen
- severe abdominal, rectal, or anal pain
- vomiting blood or rectal bleeding
Abnormal amounts of mucus in stool may be caused by a variety of conditions, including inflammation or an infection. When severe symptoms are also present, it could be a sign of something more serious.
Many of these conditions are related to the GI system. Depending on the specific cause of mucus in the stool, symptoms may vary.
Mucus in stool may be caused by digestive tract conditions including:
- anal fissures, anal tears, or cracks
- anal fistula, abnormal holes between the rectum and anus
- bacterial GI infection, such as Salmonella food poisoning, Campylobacter infection, or travelers’ diarrhea
- cancer of the digestive tract
- celiac disease, severe sensitivity to gluten that causes intestinal damage
- diverticulitis, inflammation of an abnormal pocket in the colon
- food allergies, allergic reactions to certain foods
- inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- proctitis, rectal inflammation
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), digestive discomfort that does not cause intestinal damage or serious disease
- lactose intolerance, the inability to digest lactose, the sugar in dairy products
- rectal ulcers
Excessive mucus in the stool is often a symptom of another health condition. To make a diagnosis, your doctor will start with a physical exam and ask about your medical history.
Depending on your other symptoms, your doctor may want to do some tests to get to the source of the problem.
Tests for diagnosing mucus in stool
Some tests may include:
- stool analysis, also known as a stool culture
- upper endoscopy
- imaging tests, such as a CT scan, an MRI scan, or X-rays
Questions for diagnosing the cause of mucus in stool
To diagnose your condition, your doctor will ask you several questions related to mucus in your stool, including:
- When did you first notice mucus in your stool?
- Have you noticed any other changes in your stool or bowel habits?
- Are you having pain or discomfort anywhere?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
- Have you noticed anything that makes it better or worse?
- Have you recently eaten or drunk anything that is unusual for you?
- Is there any possibility you may have eaten spoiled food?
- Do you have symptoms more frequently when you eat certain types of foods?
- What medications are you taking?
Treatment for mucus in the stool will focus on treating the underlying cause. Causes and treatment options include:
- If you have a chronic condition causing mucus in your stool, such as IBS or Crohn’s disease, you may need long-term prescription medication.
- If you have an infection, you may need short-term medication such as antibiotics.
- If you have food poisoning, you will typically recover on your own with extra fluids and rest.
- If your doctor diagnoses cancer, you will need appropriate treatment. Your doctor will refer you to an oncologist.
Lifestyle changes to treat mucus in stool
Changes to your diet that may reduce your symptoms include:
- Increase fiber in your diet.
- Cut out gluten.
- Avoid dairy products.
- Try a low-FODMAP diet.
- Eat several smaller meals per day, rather than three big meals.
- Drink plenty of water, and consider avoiding caffeine and alcohol.
- Talk with your doctor about whether taking a probiotic supplement is right for you.
Because mucus in the stool can be a symptom of a serious condition, you could experience complications if you do not get treatment for the underlying cause.
Once the cause is diagnosed, it is important to follow the treatment plan that you and your doctor design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications, which could include:
- anemia (low red blood cell count)
- bowel obstruction, perforation, or infarction (severe injury to an area of the bowel due to decreased blood supply)
- dehydration and electrolyte imbalance due to long-term diarrhea
- spread of a malignant condition
- serious infection
- surgery to remove sections of the digestive tract
Mucus in the digestive tract has many purposes. A small amount of clear, white, or yellow jelly-looking mucus in your stool is completely normal and not a cause for concern.
If other symptoms occur along with mucus in stool, if there is a large amount of mucus, or if symptoms continue, check in with your doctor.
Your doctor may do a physical exam and order stool sample tests, blood tests, or imaging to determine whether an underlying condition is the cause of your symptoms.