Pale Stool: Causes

By Shaffer, Michael
By Spader, Catherine RN

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:

  • Antacids that contain aluminum hydroxide

  • Barium, which is used in some X-ray procedures to help visualize the gastrointestinal tract

  • Certain antibiotics and antifungal drugs

Hepatic (liver) causes of pale stool

Normally, the body continuously replaces older red blood cells with new ones. A yellow pigment called bilirubin is left behind from this process. Bilirubin is processed by the liver and expelled from the body in a substance called bile, which also contains substances to help digestion. Bile flows through the bile duct into the small intestine to aid in digestion and eventually mixes with stool for elimination. Pale stool is often caused by an underlying disease, disorder or condition that causes a problem with this process. Liver and biliary causes of pale stool include:

  • Bile duct narrowing or obstruction (due to cysts, gallstones, pancreatitis or other causes)

  • Biliary atresia (blockage in the ducts carrying bile from the liver to the gallbladder)

  • Cancer including that of the liver and pancreas

  • Cirrhosis (liver scarring due to a variety of liver diseases)

  • Congenital abnormalities of the bile duct system or of metabolism

  • Drug-induced cholestasis (slowing of bile flow due to medications)

  • Hepatitis (liver inflammation, which can be caused by alcoholism, medications or infection)

  • Sclerosing cholangitis (scarring and permanent damage of the bile ducts)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of pale stool

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your symptoms including:

  • When did the pale stool first appear?

  • What other symptoms do you have?

  • What over-the-counter and prescription medications and supplements do you take?

What are the potential complications of pale stool?

Pale stools can be caused by serious or life-threatening conditions, such as liver disease, which can lead to complications including:

In newborns, complications can include:

  • Cerebral palsy

  • Hearing loss

  • Teeth and vision problems

You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by seeking regular medical care and following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you or your child.


  1. Facts about Jaundice and Kernicterus. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  2. Jaundice. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
  3. Liver Disease. Lab Tests Online.
  4. Normal Function of the Colon and Anorectal Area. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD).
  5. The Progression of Liver Disease. American Liver Foundation.
  6. Stools – Unusual Color. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

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.

... Read more about pale stoolintroduction


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

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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