What causes yellow stool?

Stool is normally brown due to the digestion of bile salts, which are made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. When the amount of bile salts is significantly reduced or they are absent, the stool can be pale yellow or grey. Liver disease can interfere with bile salt production, and anything that blocks the bile ducts can prevent bile salts from reaching the intestines.

Fats can also cause the stool to be yellow. Excess fat in the stool can be due to decreased fat digestion, which can occur with conditions involving the pancreas or decreased absorption in the intestines, which can occur with some intestinal conditions.

Bile salt-related causes of yellow stool

Yellow stool may be caused by conditions that decrease the amount of bile salts reaching the intestines including:

  • Biliary atresia (a condition present at birth involving abnormal bile duct development)
  • Biliary cirrhosis (inflammation of bile ducts in the liver)
  • Biliary stricture (bile duct narrowing)
  • Cirrhosis (liver scarring due to chronic damage)
  • Cancer or tumors of the liver, the bile ducts, the gallbladder, or the pancreas
  • Gallstones
  • Hepatitis (liver infection or inflammation)
  • Sclerosing cholangitis (bile duct inflammation and scarring)

Pancreatic causes of yellow stool

Yellow stool can be caused by conditions that reduce pancreatic lipase production or that block its transport to the intestines including:

  • Congenital pancreatic lipase deficiency (an abnormality of pancreatic lipase production present at birth)
  • Cystic fibrosis (a genetic disorder that interferes with lung and pancreatic function)
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)

Intestinal causes of yellow stool

Yellow stool can also be caused by conditions that interfere with the ability of the intestines to absorb fat:

  • Celiac disease (a severe sensitivity to gluten from wheat and other grains that causes intestinal damage)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Parasite infections such as Giardia infection

Serious or life-threatening causes of yellow stool

In some cases, yellow stool may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

Questions for diagnosing the cause of yellow stool

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

  • How long have you been having yellow stool?
  • How would you describe your stool?
  • Have you noticed any blood, mucus or pus in your stool?
  • Have you had yellow stool before?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of yellow stool?

Because yellow stool can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance due to long-term diarrhea
  • Failure to thrive in infants and children
  • Growth problems in children
  • Poor nutrition due to nausea, diarrhea, or a decreased desire to eat
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection


  1. Stools - pale or clay-colored. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003129.htm.
  2. Diarrhea. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/diarrhea/.

What is yellow stool?

Although the color of stool can be affected by different foods and medications, it is typically brownish due to digestion of bile salts, digestive agents made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder.

... Read more about yellow stoolintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with yellow stool?

Yellow stool may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.

Digestive tract symptoms that may occur along with yellow stool

Yellow stool may accompany other digestive tract symptoms including:

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 11, 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

Did You Know?

View Source

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common disorders diagnosed by doctors. In fact, it's estimated that as many as 20 percent of adults have symptoms of IBS.