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Pale Stools - Possible Causes and Treatment

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Pale stools indicate a problem with the drainage of the biliary system. Read the article to learn more about pale stools.

Written by

Dr. P. Saranya

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Jagdish Singh

Published At November 30, 2022
Reviewed AtJanuary 29, 2024

Introduction:

Stools are a normal process of eliminating body waste. Stools consist of indigestible fat, food residue, bacteria, and a large percentage of water. The healthy stool is brown. Stool color is influenced by the diet and the amount of bile. If the stools are pale, white, or clay-colored, it indicates an underlying medical problem. Having a pale stool occasionally is not a cause of concern, but if it occurs frequently, it indicates some serious problem. Bile is a fluid produced by the liver to break down fats and eliminate waste from the body. Bile gives a brown color to the stool. If there is a lack of bile or blockage of the bile duct, it results in pale stool.

What Are the Causes of Pale Stool?

There are many causes of pale stool.

Some of the possible causes include the following:

  • Viral Hepatitis: Viral hepatitis is the swelling of the liver caused by viruses like hepatitis A, B, or C. Viral hepatitis can cause pale stool.

  • Drug-Induced Hepatitis: Certain non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Ibuprofen and Naproxen), birth control pills, certain antibiotics, and some anabolic steroids can cause drug-induced hepatitis. These medications can damage the liver when taken in overdosage than prescribed or when these over-the-counter medications are taken for a long time. Drug-induced hepatitis can cause pale stools, which disappear once the medications are discontinued.

  • Alcoholic Hepatitis: Alcoholic hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver due to excessive drinking of alcohol which can result in pale stool.

  • Biliary Cirrhosis: Biliary cirrhosis is the inflammation of the liver's bile ducts. It results in fatty pale stools.

  • Gallstones: Gallstones are hardened deposits that block bile flow in the gallbladder. Gallstones can cause pale stools.

  • Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis is the inflammation of the bile ducts, the tubes that carry the bile.

  • Structural Defects: Some people are born with structural defects in the biliary system, which block the normal bile flow resulting in the pale stool.

  • Cysts: Cysts in the bile ducts can block bile flow, causing pale stool.

  • Tumors: Benign or malignant tumors affecting the bile flow can cause pale stools.

  • Narrowing of the Bile Ducts: Gallbladder surgery can sometimes cause narrowing of the bile ducts affecting the bile flow.

  • Giardiasis: Giardiasis is an infection caused by the parasite giardia lamblia. Giardiasis can cause pale stool.

  • Pancreatitis: Pancreatitis is the swelling and inflammation of the pancreas, which results in pale, fatty stool.

What Are the Causes of Pale Stools in Children?

The pale stool in children is caused due to the following reasons:

  • Blockage of the bile ducts.

  • Pasty poop.

  • Bile in the stool.

  • Skinny poop.

  • Liver diseases.

  • Biliary atresia.

  • Antacids.

  • Barium enema.

  • A diet containing only milk.

What Are the Causes of White Poop?

A deficiency in bile, the digestive juice generated by the liver, may cause white stools. Liver or gallbladder problems, such as bile duct blockage or liver disorders, are potential reasons. Pale or white feces can also result from illnesses and certain drugs that alter bile production. Dietary factors, such as consuming a lot of dairy, can also contribute to lighter-colored feces, but these are typically not causes for concern.

What Causes Pale Stool in Pregnancy?

White or clay, pale stool during pregnancy is due to the liver disease called intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy. The cause of cholestasis in pregnancy is not exactly known, but pregnancy hormones can affect the functioning of the liver.

How to Diagnose Pale Stool?

The doctor will ask when the pale stool started, detailed medical history, medications you are taking, and any other associated symptoms.

The following tests are done to find out the cause of pale stools:

  • Blood Tests: To find out any infection and jaundice.

  • Abdominal Ultrasound: This imaging test uses sound waves to create images of the organs inside the stomach.

  • Computed Tomography (CT) Scan: This test uses X-rays to create detailed cross-sectional images of the liver and bile ducts.

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): This imaging test uses magnetic fields and radio waves to see clear images of the liver and bile ducts.

  • Magnetic Resonance Cholangiopancreatography (MRCP): It is a special type of magnetic resonance imaging that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to show clear images of the biliary system and pancreatic system.

  • Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): In this procedure, a long, thin, flexible tube is inserted through the mouth into the esophagus, stomach, and intestine to view the gallbladder and bile ducts. This procedure is also used to remove gallstones.

What Are the Treatment Options for Pale Stools?

Treatment is focused on managing the underlying cause.

  • In the case of drug-induced hepatitis, discontinuing the drugs makes the stool back to normal.

  • In liver disease, avoiding alcohol and dietary changes may help.

  • If the pale stools are caused by blockage of bile ducts, surgery is performed to remove the blockage and keep the bile ducts open.

  • Antiviral drugs are prescribed for hepatitis, and a liver transplant is done in case of liver cirrhosis.

  • Cysts or benign tumors of the bile duct are removed using surgery.

  • If the tumor is cancerous, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are also given.

How to Prevent Pale Stools?

Preventing pale stools means preventing the causes of pale stool. Viral hepatitis is prevented by vaccination, and alcoholic hepatitis can be prevented by stopping alcohol intake.

What Are the Complications of Pale Stool?

The most common complication of pale stool is jaundice which is the yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. Jaundice is due to the buildup of bile in the body. Failure to treat the cause of pale stool can lead to many complications of the underlying disease, like liver failure.

What Are the Other Color Changes in the Stool?

Some of the color changes in the stool and their causes include:

  • Green Stool: This happens when the food moves through the intestine quickly, as in diarrhea. Dietary causes include green leafy vegetables and green food coloring.

  • Yellow Stool: Due to excess fat in the stool due to malabsorption.

  • Black Stool: Bleeding in the stomach.

  • Bright Red Stool: Bleeding in the large intestine or rectum.

  • Orange Stool: Consuming more orange-colored foods containing the pigment beta carotene.

Conclusion:

Bowel movements are an indicator of a person's health. Frequent pale stools are a concern, and if the underlying cause is treated, the pale stool will return to its normal brown color. In some cases, like tumors and severe liver disease, if the cause cannot be treated, the pale stool will remain as such.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

What Does It Indicate If the Poop Is Pale?

Pale or light-colored poop indicates various underlying health conditions indicating a lack of bile production or blockage of the bile duct. They include liver diseases, pancreatic disorders, or gallstones.

2.

When Should A Person Be Worried About Pale Stools?

One should be worried about pale stools if it persists for more than two days and is not related to dietary changes or medications or if it is associated with other symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, yellowing of skin and eyes (jaundice), or unexplained weight loss.

3.

What Disease Results in Pale Stool?

Liver diseases such as fatty liver, cirrhosis, hepatitis, gall stones, pancreatitis, celiac diseases, and biliary atresia cause pale stool.

4.

Does Liver Failure Cause Pale Stool?

Pale stool may indicate liver failure, but it does not always mean liver failure. Liver failure may interfere with the production and flow of bile, leading to pale stools.

5.

What Color Is Regarded as Pale Stool?

Pale stool, also called clay-colored stool, can range in color from light grey to beige to pale yellow, which is lighter than the standard color of the stool.

6.

Will Fatty Liver Cause Pale Stools?

It is possible for fatty liver disease to cause pale stools, as there may be a reduction in bile production, which breaks down fats in the small intestine and gives stool its normal brown color.

7.

What Color Is a Stool With Liver Damage?

Liver damage affects stool color, but it depends on the type and severity of the liver disease. In general, liver disease causes stool to become pale or clay-colored due to a decrease in the amount of bile pigment. However, in some cases, liver damage also causes stool to become darker than normal.

8.

What Is Regarded as the First Stage of Liver Failure?

The first stage of liver failure is liver dysfunction or compensated liver disease without symptoms. Early signs include weight loss, loss of appetite, fatigue, and abdominal discomfort. If left untreated, it may progress to more advanced stages of liver failure.

9.

What Color Poop Is Considered a Problem?

Different color poop indicates various diseases. For example, pale-colored poop indicates problems in the liver, bile ducts, and gall bladder. Black or tarry stools indicate bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract. Bright red colored stool indicates bleeding in the lower gastrointestinal tract. Green-colored poop indicates infections.

10.

Which Is Considered the Healthiest Color of Stool?

The healthiest color of stool is a shade of brown ranging from light to dark brown, due to bile pigments. This color indicates that the stool is properly processed and excreted by the body.

11.

Can Constipation Result in Pale Stool?

Constipation itself does not cause pale stools. However, constipation due to underlying conditions affecting the liver or bile duct may contribute to pale stools.

12.

Can the Liver Go Back to Normal?

The liver can regenerate and heal itself, and in some cases, it can return to normal functions. However, it depends on the underlying cause and severity of liver damage. Therefore, early detection and treatment are vital to maximizing the chance of liver recovery.

13.

How to Make the Liver Healthy Again?

The steps to make the liver healthy again include limiting or avoiding alcohol intake, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, avoiding toxin exposure, getting vaccinated, managing underlying health conditions, and getting regular check-ups.

14.

What Foods Are Good for Liver Repair?

Fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants such as berries, citrus, beets, leafy greens, cauliflower, lean proteins such as chicken, fish, and tofu, and whole grains such as whole wheat, quinoa, brown rice, nuts and seeds, coffee, and green tea can help in liver repair.

15.

How to Detox the Liver Naturally?

Several ways to support liver functions and help detoxification include staying hydrated, eating a healthy diet, limiting alcohol and caffeine intake, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, avoiding harmful medication supplements, and managing stress.
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Dr. Jagdish Singh
Dr. Jagdish Singh

Medical Gastroenterology

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