What is pale stool?

Pale stool is stool (feces) that is unusually light in color instead of medium to dark brown. The appearance of pale stools can include a variety of light colors or tints, such as white, silver, gray, light yellow, or putty-colored.

Digestive Problems Spotlight

Normal brown stool coloring results from the breakdown of bilirubin, which is produced by the breakdown of old red blood cells. Bilirubin is normally processed by the liver and mixed with a substance called bile. Bile ducts carry bile from the liver and gallbladder to the small intestine, where it mixes with partially digested food. In the colon, bilirubin is broken down into stercobilin, which gives stool its brown color.

Unusually pale or light-colored stool is often caused by a serious condition that interferes with bilirubin metabolism, such as a blockage of the bile ducts or liver disease. Pale stools may also be accompanied by jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (sclerae) caused by a buildup of bilirubin in the body. In some cases, pale stools may be caused by certain over-the-counter medications or substances used in X-ray procedures, such as barium.

Because pale stools may be caused by a serious disease or condition, you should seek prompt medical care if you, or your child, have unusually pale or light-colored stools. Early diagnosis and treatment of the underlying cause of pale stool can reduce the risk of possible complications, such as liver failure.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911)

if you, or someone you are with, have serious or life-threatening symptoms that may or may not accompany pale stools, such as lethargy or unresponsiveness, confusion, difficulty breathing, sudden swelling, or an unexpected change in consciousness or alertness.

SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with pale stool?

Pale stool may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Pale stool caused by liver disease may be accompanied by fairly nonspecific symptoms, such as fatigue, nausea, and poor appetite.
Read more about pale stoolsymptoms

CAUSES

What causes pale stool?

Pale stool can be caused by a variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders and conditions, including dietary habits, medications, and underlying liver disease.

Dietary or medication causes of pale stool

In some cases, pale or unusually light-colored stool can be caused by certain medications and dietary choices including:

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 7, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Digestive System


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