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Stools - pale or clay-colored


Definition:

Stools that are pale, clay, or putty-colored may be due to problems in the biliary system (the drainage system of the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas).

Considerations:

The liver releases bile salts into the stool, giving it a normal brown color. You may have clay-colored stools if you have a liver infection that reduces bile production, or if the flow of bile out of the liver is blocked.

Yellow skin (jaundice) often occurs with clay-colored stools, due to the buildup of bile chemicals in the body.

Causes:

Possible causes for clay-colored stools include:

  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Biliary cirrhosis
  • Cancer or noncancerous (benign) tumors of the liver, biliary system, or pancreas
  • Cysts of the bile ducts
  • Gallstones
  • Medications
  • Narrowings (strictures) of the bile ducts
  • Sclerosing cholangitis
  • Structural problems in the biliary system that are present from birth (congenital)
  • Viral hepatitis

There may be other causes not listed here.

When to Contact a Medical Professional:

Call your health care provider if your stools are not the normal brown color.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit:

The doctor will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms. Questions may include:

  • When did the symptom first occur?
  • Is every stool discolored?
  • What medicines do you take?
  • What other symptoms do you have?

Tests that may be done include:

References:

Berk P, Korenblat K. Approach to the patient with jaundice or abnormal liver test results. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 149.

Lidofsky SD. Jaundice. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Sleisenger MH, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 20.


Review Date: 8/11/2014
Reviewed By: Jenifer K. Lehrer, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Frankford-Torresdale Hospital, Aria Health System, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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