Light-Colored Stools: Causes and Treatment Options

Light-colored stools
Medically reviewed by Dr. Ola Tarabzuni

Overview

White-colored stools, also called clay or pale-colored stools, can indicate the dysfunctionality of the hepatobiliary system, the liver, and the pancreas. If you are experiencing light-colored stool, it may indicate something serious. To better understand what’s happening inside your body, the following article may help.

Is light-colored stool a sign of danger?

A pale stool can indicate liver dysfunctionality that may be as deadly as liver cirrhosis. Regarding medical diagnosis, the light-colored stool indicates that your specific organs, i.e., the liver, gallbladder, or pancreas, are not working optimally.

It is not wrong to assume that poop reflects your body’s organ health and functionality. Take note that different poop colors represent various disorders and also distinct reasons. So, always seek immediate medical attention whenever you observe more than one episode of pale-colored stool.

If you have consistent episodes of light-colored stools, get medical advice.

Causes of light-colored stool 

Pale stool indicates different medical conditions, nutrient malabsorption, and poor digestion. In some cases, certain medications are responsible for the white-colored stool. It is essential to highlight that lacking bile, bilirubin, and pancreatic juice might cause pale stool color.

Some conditions can cause peanut butter-colored poop, gray stool, pasty stool, or light brown flaky poop as follows:

  • Gallstones
  • Viral hepatitis
  • Biliary cirrhosis
  • Some medicines
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Sclerosing cholangitis
  • Cysts of the bile ducts
  • Narrowing of the bile ducts
  • Structural problems or congenital problems in the biliary system 
  • Cancer or benign tumors of the liver, biliary system, or pancreas

Medical complications associated with pale stool

The clay-colored stool might be simply a sign of food you ate if it occurs occasionally. Still, if it goes prolonged or becomes a daily practice, it might signal medical issues in the liver, gallbladder, pancreas, or some common bile duct obstruction. Here are some medical complications that turn normal stool into a pale-colored stool:

Liver Problems

If your poop color constantly gives an unusual pale or white appearance, it might indicate that your liver or bile duct health is not as good as you think. Liver diseases may be of different types, carrying distinct complications and levels of severity. Some of the conditions include:

The human body contains two forms of bilirubin. One of these types of bilirubin is passed to urine or feces. However, if the bilirubin isn’t passed into the waste due to any liver condition or disease, the poop appearance turns white clay or pale.

For diagnosis, looking at other common symptoms associated with pale-colored stool is essential.

You may have an underlying condition causing light-colored stools. Get professional help

Hepatitis and pale-colored poop 

Clay-colored poop might be an indication of hepatitis, a liver problem. It can be alcoholic hepatitis or viral hepatitis, depending upon the cause. If liver inflammation is due to excessive alcohol intake, alcoholic hepatitis and pale stool indicate its presence. 

On the other hand, if liver inflammation is due to some virus, it is known as viral hepatitis. In both cases, clay or gray-colored stool can be a symptom. 

Gallstones and pale-colored poop

Pale or white poop might be due to disease or disorder of the gallbladder, a bile-storing site. In this case, gallstones are formed that are solidified deposits in the gallbladder. The deposition of such hardened material in the gallbladder may affect or block the bile flow.

In addition to pale stool, gallbladder stone symptoms include:

  • Intense stomach pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever and chill
  • Jaundice

Doctors may recommend medications that can help dissolve gallstones. Without treatment, gallstones can cause problems with other organs, such as the pancreas and liver.

Surgery is the ultimate option to remove your gallstones if prescribed medications do not dissolve the stone. Seeking medical treatment in time helps resolve symptoms completely.

Biliary cholangitis

Biliary cirrhosis is a chronic disease that results in bile duct inflammation or irritation, but the exact cause of the condition is unknown.

As cirrhosis might not be reversed, prescribed medications can manage symptoms and complications, including cholestyramine (treating itching), and ursodiol aids in removing bile from the bloodstream. Some supplements are prescribed with calcium to maintain bone health and fat-soluble vitamins A, K, E, and D to overcome nutrient deficiency due to fatty stool.

The clay-colored stool is most common during biliary cirrhosis, as the bile duct is destroyed, and bile flow might affect that, ultimately turning healthy poop into a light-colored stool.

Light-colored stools can only be diagnosed by a doctor. Seek medical advice

Biliary stricture

You may have been born with structural defects in your biliary system that prevent bile flow, and light-colored stool can be its symptom. Biliary structure arises from the narrowing of the bile duct post-gallbladder surgery. Suppose you notice pale poop regularly; taking notes and consulting a doctor is essential. To diagnose structural defects, your doctor may recommend tests or imaging, including scans, X-rays, or blood tests.

Pancreatic problems 

Pancreatic issues such as pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer can cause pancreatic juice secretion by the digestive system. Its juice is a combination of digestion-friendly enzymes that play a role in the digestion and metabolism of macronutrients, including fats, carbohydrates, and protein.

In case of any issue with the pancreas, a lack of pancreatic juice occurs, and the metabolism of fats is affected, ultimately turning your stool into clay or pale-colored poop.

Read More: White Specks In Your Poop: Causes, Treatment and Complications

Diet associated with pale stool

Regarding pale bowel movements, food is not a cause for concern, but a milk diet may cause pale stool in infants. Conversely, food colors may be the reason for light-colored stools. Modifying dietary intake and consuming less fatty food may compel the poop to return to its usual color.

Medications associated with pale stool

Medications that can cause pale stool include large doses of bismuth subsalicylate and anti-diarrheal drugs. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, naproxen (EC-Naprosyn), birth control pills, antibiotics, and anabolic steroids are most likely to cause drug-induced hepatitis.

Drug-induced hepatitis and the related discolored stools can be reversed a few days or weeks after switching medications.

Save yourself from any risks or complications by getting an on-time diagnosis.

Pale stool complications in children

Pale-colored stool may be a typical symptom in infants and children. Compared to adults, pale stools in children may not necessarily indicate any underlying medical condition as long as it’s pale, not white.

Infants on breastfeeding often have a light yellow-brown stool appearance. During their weaning, infants’ stools turn brown as soon as they are introduced to solids.

Children with white or very light brown might have serious problems with liver disorders such as cholestasis or other conditions like liver, gallbladder, or pancreas medical issues. Waiting for the next bowel movement is usually safe for older children with no other symptoms.

In case of the appearance of pale-color stool in an infant with visible signs of any other disease, talk to a pediatrician and get a diagnosis.

Read More: Common Causes of Blood Clots in Stools

Pale stool complication in pregnancy

Pregnancy poop color is brown similar to healthy adult poop. The white chalky stools or pale-colored stools during pregnancy might indicate a liver disorder known as cholestasis of pregnancy. In addition, pancreatic and gallbladder diseases might also be responsible for white-colored stool.

Here are some common signs in addition to clay-colored stools:

  • Dark urine, even in the hydrated state 
  • Jaundice
  • Nausea
  • Tiredness beyond routine pregnancy
  • Light-colored stool after a stomach bug.

If you are pregnant and have light-colored stools and any of the above symptoms, don’t hesitate to consult a doctor to have a safe pregnancy.

A qualified doctor saves you extra time and helps diagnose your condition accurately.

Different color poops and their complications

Stool color  Medical causes Dietary causes
Black Stool Bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract, such as the stomach. Iron supplements, bismuth subsalicylate, foods like black licorice, and other iron-rich foods.
Bright red Bleeding in the large intestine or rectum, usually from hemorrhoids. Food color, beetroot, cranberries, tomato juice, soup, gelatin red color, or drink blends.
Green Quick bowel movement in the intestine during diarrhea. Resulting in incomplete bile breakdown. Foods including Green leafy vegetables, food green coloring, flavored drinks blends, and iron supplements.
Light-colored, white, or clay-colored A lack of bile in feces. It may indicate a bile duct blockage. Medications include large doses of bismuth subsalicylate and other anti-diarrheal drugs.
Yellow, oiled Fat malabsorption, fatty stool, for example, celiac disease. Bread and Cereals.Weight loss medications.

To get a diagnosis of the actual cause of pale-colored stool conditions, it is crucial to observe your poop color every single day. In addition, recall and relate your diet with poop color. If the diet is the reason for the unusual stool color, there is no need to panic.

On the other hand, if you have not eaten any food item that can transform your poop into unusual poop, then it might be a sign of worry.

Diagnosis is based on two stages. In stage one, you observe unusual health symptoms. In the second stage, your doctor helps you to diagnose an actual medical problem by reviewing and analyzing relevant symptoms of diseases. 

Note that your medical aid will only be successful if you answer each question your doctor asks in detail. It is recommended that you miss no part during the assessment and let your physician know all about the symptoms you are experiencing. 

In the case of clay-colored stool, the doctor may recommend some tests, including:

  • Blood tests
  • Liver function tests (LFTs)
  • X-ray scans 
  • CT scans of the liver and bile duct 
  • Biliary system imaging study
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

Based on the test results, the diagnosis can be made, and your treatment will be determined accordingly.

Does your poop color turn pale? Consult our expert doctors

White-colored stool treatments

Treatment for changes in stool color is dependent on the cause. Examples include:

  •  Red, maroon, or black-looking stool can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, your doctor will offer treatment with medications or surgery.
  • Sometimes, the patient may only be asked to stop taking medications that can trigger bleeding, including aspirin or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen.
  • In other cases, medications are injected into the bleeding sites during endoscopic procedures to stop the bleeding. Severe cases may require further interventions such as passing catheters through the arteries and injecting the smaller arteries feeding the bleeding site with chemicals or beads to reduce the bleeding. If all measures fail, surgery may be required to remove part of the intestine.
  • Gastroenterologists evaluate gray stools or clay-colored. If the color change is caused by a stone’s obstruction of the bile or pancreatic duct, the procedure ERCP can be carried out. Treatment depends on the cause. 

Prevention

To prevent the symptoms, it is crucial to prevent the disorders. Following are some preventions for pancreatic disorders or liver problems:

When to consult a doctor

Ignoring the early symptoms often ends with regret. So, neglecting light-colored stool that may be a symptom of the liver, pancreas, or biliary system disorders may worsen the condition. If you notice white or clay-colored stool at no one time but have several episodes, it’s the right time to seek medical help. 

Expert advice by doctors’ online medical team not only deals with the questions revolving around why my poop is light brown but also helps resolve associated issues.

We are available 24/7; feel free to book an appointment and live a healthy lifestyle again.

Is there any treatment for pale or clay-colored stool?

The pale or clay-colored stool is a symptom that can be treated by identifying and treating the cause. If any medical complication like the liver, pancreas, or biliary system problem is the reason, the pale poop symptom might end by treating the disorder.

What does it mean when your POOP is pale?

Pale poop is an indication of the presence of a biliary drainage defect or liver or pancreatic issue.

Does light color stool cause death?

Yes, if the reason is some chronic disorder like liver cancer or liver cirrhosis that remains undiagnosed and untreated.

Does light-colored stool indicate liver cancer?

It might indicate liver cancer, cirrhosis, and other related problems.
In order to diagnose the actual cause, doctors may recommend several tests, including a C.T scan, and imaging of organs, liver, and biliary symptoms.

 

FAQs about light-colored stool

Can liver problems cause light-colored stool?

Yes, a liver infection can reduce bile production or cause blockage to the flow of bile, which can cause clay-colored stools.

Should I go to the ER for pale stool?

If you have a persistent change in the color of your stool or have noticed that you have brown poop or grey poop or black, tarry stools or red, bloody stools may indicate intestinal bleeding, and evaluation is required. If that is the case, one should notify their doctor or visit an emergency room.
Gray poop or clay-colored stool, light brown stool, and yellow stool also may signify diseases of the pancreas, gallbladder, or liver or bile duct blockage. Stool color can represent a health condition. Therefore, it is crucial to consult with a doctor.

Is light beige poop normal?

No, pale or clay-colored stools may be due to biliary system problems, including the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas. If your poop looks like sand, there may be a problem in nutrient absorption from the small intestine.

Can fatty liver cause pale stools?

Fatty liver disease is mainly characterized by a build-up of fat in the liver. It is either alcoholic or non-alcoholic related. According to Professor William Alazawi, Consultant Hepatologist states that pale stools may indicate that non-alcoholic liver disease has progressed to a late stage.

Can IBS cause pale stool?

IBS can lead to changes in stool consistency that may affect the color. This can lead to episodes of diarrhea or constipation.

What stage of liver disease?

Pale stools could indicate liver damage, as clay, beige, or sand-colored stools may indicate late-stage liver disease. 

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