White Stool

The color of the stool is an indicator that something is not going right in your body. A white stool is an alarming sign and if you notice it, make sure you contact your doctor right away.

There are a lot of white stool causes and that your doctor should determine the root cause so that proper treatment will be given to the patient.

What does it mean when your stool is white

What causes white stool? It is usually caused by lack of bile, which could indicate a serious underlying health problem.

What is a bile? It is a digestive fluid produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. The bile determines the normal brownish color of the stool. If the liver fails to produce bile, the color of the stool will be light, pale, or white.

Variation in stool color

The color of the stool varies depending on a number of factors. Brown to green colored stool are considered normal. Rare colored stool is an indicator that something is not right.

Refer to the stool color chart below to find out more about stool color and their clinical implications.

Green colored stoolIt suggests that the foods you eat quickly move through the large intestines. The bile will not have ample time to break down the food.It could be caused by intake of green-colored foods such as green leafy vegetables, ice pops, flavoured drinks, or a side effect of taking iron supplement.
White/light/pale colored stoolThe stool lacks bile, which could be secondary to bile duct obstruction.Some medications cause light colored stool such as large doses of anti-diarrheal medications.
Greasy, foul-smelling, yellow stoolThere is an excessive fat in the stool.It can be caused by malabsorption disorder such as in patients with Celiac disease. It could be associated with the intake of protein gluten, which is commonly found in cereals and breads.
Bright red stoolIt could indicate a possible bleeding in the lower intestinal tract.It is caused by haemorrhoids or just because of taking red colored drinks like red gelatin, cranberries, beets, or tomatoes.
Black colored stoolIt could suggests a bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract.There is a possibility of stomach bleeding. It could also be a result of taking iron supplements and black licorice.

White Stool in Adults

It is unusual for adults to have white stool. If you have been passing white or pale stool, then you need to see your doctor immediately. The typical causes of white stool in adults include the following:

  • Digestive disorders – Any problems in the digestive system can significantly affect the color of the stool. Examples are dysentery, fecal incontinence, Whipple disease, and esophageal achalasia.
  • Side effects of medication – Medications that contain aluminum hydroxide can make the color of the stool white. An example is barium sulphate used for x-ray. Other drugs that cause white stool are isoniazid (Tuberculosis drug), kaolin, and bismuth salicylate.
  • Liver disease – A white stool is one of the clinical manifestations of chronic liver disease. It could increase the possibility of having liver cancer. Any changes in the stool should be addressed the soonest time possible.
  • Gallstones – Gallstones are formed when there is an excessive cholesterol or bilirubin in the gallbladder. As a result, the gallbladder fails to thoroughly empty the bile. If the stones become large, they can block the bile duct and affect the flow of bile to the small intestines. This is the reason why a patient has a white stool along with other symptoms like nausea and vomiting, pain, and fever.
  • Inflammatory disease – There are various reasons why a person could suffer from inflammatory disease. One of the reasons is sensitivity to gluten. Inflammatory disease can alter the color of the stool. Patients with inflammatory disease usually have pale to light colored stool.
  • Obstruction of the bile duct – What is a bile? It is a fluid used to digest fats. It is released by the liver, stored in the gallbladder temporarily, and passed through the bile ducts. It is the bile that is responsible in giving the stool its normal color. If the bile duct is obstructed, the bile will build up in the liver, which gives stool a pale or white color.
  • Cancer – A white stool can be an indicator of a liver or pancreatic cancer. Tumor can obstruct the bile duct leading to the formation of pale or white colored stool. Other signs and symptoms of liver and pancreatic cancer are abdominal pain, weight loss, poor appetite, irritability, jaundice (yellowish discoloration of the skin), diarrhea, back pain, and restlessness.

White stool in children

Having a white stool in children is something to be concerned about. There is a variety of reasons why children have a white stool. Usually, if the child has a diarrhea the color of the stool turns to slight yellow or white.

Another possible reason is if the child is on all-milk diet. Some medications can turn the stool into red such as antibiotics, anti-fungal drugs, and antacids. If you notice that your child has a white stool, you should inform your health care provider right away.

The doctor will rule out if the child has liver-related infection and congenital abnormalities that could affect the functions of the vital organs of the body.

How to treat white stools?

The treatment approach for white stool primarily depends on the factor that causes it. If it is caused by malabsorption of fat, the best remedy is diet modification. The patient is also put on a fat-soluble vitamin.

If it is caused by a liver-related disease, then the treatment approach is focused on treating the liver and improving general health.

When to see your doctor?

Unless there is a known specific cause for having white stool like a recent X-ray exam using barium contrast or a prolonged use of large dose of antacid, it is best to seek medical assistance at once because white stool is not a normal phenomenon but may be linked to a serious medical condition.

It is always advisable to see a doctor when a change in stool color occurs, especially when accompanied by other symptoms like fever or weight loss so that proper diagnosis and treatment may be given.

In serious events such as very high fever, changes in mental conditions, seizures, vomiting, or severe abdominal pain, it is best to seek out for immediate medical assistance and call 911.

Dehydration is a life-threatening condition and should be treated immediately. Decreased urination, light-headedness, increased thirst, and fatigue are the symptoms of dehydration.

Published by Dr. Jackie Te RN, MD under Diseases and Conditions.
Article was last reviewed on January 12th, 2022.

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