It's hard to describe the feeling of looking into the abyss of the toilet bowl and seeing a black poop staring back you. It's definitely disconcerting, but it also instantly turns you into the most panicked detective ever. We don't usually eat black food, so trying to figure out where this anomalous number two came from can be a frustrating and confusing exercise. However, please know that you are very much not alone in this quest.
"Patients ask me about black stools all the time," says Felice Schnoll-Sussman, MD, a gastroenterologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medicine, in an email to R29. "It accounts for many office visits and phone calls."
But, as worrying as it may be to see that weirdly-colored poop, it's not necessarily a sign that you need medical attention. That's because there are a bunch of simple, non-dangerous factors that can cause it, Dr. Schnoll-Sussman says. Most often it can be traced back to taking iron supplements or Pepto-Bismol, or even just eating black licorice or too many blueberries. In these cases, your black stool will probably be a one-time deal and there's no need to freak out.
However, black stools can rarely be a sign of more serious issues, including internal bleeding from the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine, Dr. Schnoll-Sussman says. They can also indicate peptic ulcers, which are sores that grow inside your stomach or small intestines and are caused by stomach acid.
If internal bleeding is the culprit, though, Dr. Schnoll-Sussman says you'll have other concerning symptoms as well, such as abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting (especially if you're throwing up coagulated blood, which looks like coffee grounds). You might also feel faint or have shortness of breath and chest pain. "These are all signs [of a bleeding] lesion that may be causing significant blood loss," Dr. Schnoll-Sussman explains. And that definitely means you need to see a doctor ASAP.
So, if you have any of those other worrying symptoms, you can't trace your weird poop back to something you ate, or your poops aren't going back to normal, give your doctor a call. Otherwise, try to cool it with the licorice.