Medically Researched Causes of Clay or Pale Colored Stool & Treatments

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Causes of Clay or Pale Colored Stool & Treatments

Clay or pale colored stool can be a cause for alarm as it can indicate a medical issue. Clay stool is usually a sign that there is a problem with your gallbladder, liver, pancreas, or bile ducts (biliary system). Whitish, clay or gray stool usually happens when digestive bile can’t get to your small intestine to help with the digestion of food, as bile gives poop its brown color. Acholic stool is another name for pale, clay or whitish colored stool due to a lack of bile.

Clay, light gray or pale colored stools can also be a result of a parasite infection, viral infection, or issue with your digestion

In some cases, white, pale or clay stool can be associated with other symptoms such as yellowing of the skin and eyes, pain in your right upper abdomen, or nausea.

What is Clay or Pale Colored Stool?

Clay-colored stool usually indicates a lack of bile in your small intestine. Bile produced by your liver and stored in your gallbladder is responsible for the typical brown color of your stool. A lack of bile in your digestive process will result in stool that is gray, pale or clay-colored.

Dr. Benjamin Wedro on MedicineNet says that a compound in bile called bilirubin turns stool brown during digestion. Light to dark brown poop is a sign of a healthy digestive system. However, a number of conditions can affect how your digestion works.1

Symptoms Associated with Clay Stool

Passing whitish, gray or clay poop is generally associated with issues in your biliary system. The biliary system is composed of the organs and ducts that produce, store and transport bile. Therefore, along with clay or pale feces, you will usually have other symptoms.

According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, you may have the following symptoms along with white chalky stool:2

Should You Be Worried About Clay or Pale Poop?

Stool that looks like clay is not a normal occurrence and needs to have a proper diagnosis.

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Although some medications can turn your feces white, clay-colored bowel movements can be a serious medical issue. Dr. William Blahd on WebMD says that poop that looks very light or pale could be a sign of a problem with your liver, gallbladder, or bile ducts.3

Reasons Why You Have Clay or Pale Stool: Gallbladder Conditions

The gallbladder is an organ in your body that stores bile and secretes bile into your small intestine to help digestion. Let’s look at some of the issues with your gallbladder that can turn stool the color of clay.

Gallstones

Gallstones that block your bile ducts can be a reason for passing clay-colored stool. This is also one of the most common reasons for a gallbladder attack.

According to doctors from the National Health Service, gallstones can cause clay poop if they block a bile duct. The obstruction in your bile flow causes stool to become white-clay color due to lack of bile in your digestive system. This may be accompanied by excruciating abdominal pain under your right ribs, jaundice, and dark, tea-colored urine.4

To help find how to treat gallstones, please read my article on how to get rid of gallstones. If you continually have gallbladder pain, doctors may recommend removal of your gallbladder.

The color of stool after gallbladder removal could be lighter than usual as your digestive system adjust to not having a gallbladder.

Inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis)

Gallstones or another problem with your gallbladder can cause cholecystitis that can also cause stool to turn a light gray color.

Dr. Ali A. Siddiqui from the gastroenterology department at Thomas Jefferson University reports that acute cholecystitis can cause constant upper abdominal pain that lasts more than 12 hours. In some cases, patients may show signs of a fever and mild jaundice. Because cholecystitis can be caused by problems associated with gallstones, a person’s stool may turn white.5

Bile duct obstruction

You may start pooping light-colored stool if a gallstone, cysts, or enlarged lymph nodes cause an obstruction in your bile duct.

According to a study about the effect of biliary diseases on the intestinal system, biliary obstructions can change the color of urine and stool. In many patients, a biliary duct blockage results in dark urine and pale, clay or whitish colored stool due to lack of bile (acholic stools).6

Biliary strictures

Biliary strictures refer to a condition where the biliary duct becomes narrowed and impair the flow of bile. Biliary strictures often result in very light-colored stool that has a gray appearance.

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According to research carried out by the Cleveland Clinic, biliary strictures can be the result of an injury, gallbladder removal, pancreatitis, or cancer. When the flow of bile becomes severely restricted, a person will start having pale bowel movements. This may be accompanied by jaundice, itching, and pain in the upper right abdomen.7

Other Causes of Pooping Clay, Gray or Light Colored Stool

There are some other issues related to your biliary system that can cause clay-colored stool.

Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, and it can mean that your poop occasionally looks like clay.

Dr. Jerry R. Balentine on MedicineNet reports that acute or chronic pancreatitis can cause pale-yellow poop along with abdominal pain. You may find that your stomach pain is worse after eating. Other changes to your stool that pancreatitis causes are greasy stool that stinks or clay-colored stool due to a lack of bile in the digestive system.8

Hepatitis

Hepatitis is a group of liver diseases that can mean you start pooping clay stools and show signs of jaundice.

According to Dr. Naga Swetha Samji, a gastroenterologist from the Bellin Clinic, various types of hepatitis interfere with the liver function. Liver dysfunction can affect bile production and cause gray poop due to a lack of bile juices in the intestines. As the disease progresses, right upper quadrant pain will become more frequent.9

Dr. Samji reports that other symptoms of hepatitis are urinating dark-colored urine, itching on your body, hives, nausea, and vomiting.

Although there are many causes of hepatitis, you can help avoid symptoms of liver disease by taking care of your liver. For example, it’s essential to drink plenty of fluids to help remove toxins from your body and prevent complications of dehydration.

Choledochal cysts (congenital bile duct issues)

Choledochal cysts can be a rare cause of white, pale or clay colored stools.

The journal Medicine says that choledochal cysts are usually present from birth. Choledochal cysts can be a reason for pale-colored stools in infants and children. Usually, surgery is required to remove the cysts to treat the symptoms of biliary dysfunction.10

Reasons for Clay or Pale Poop Unrelated to the Biliary System

Your biliary system is composed of your gallbladder, liver, biliary ducts, or pancreas. But not all reasons for having pale bowel movements are connected to your biliary system.

Gastroenteritis (stomach flu)

Inflammation of the intestinal tract is called gastroenteritis and it can cause greasy, clay-colored stools and vomiting.

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Infections of your gastrointestinal tract can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites. Dr. Arthur Diskin on Medscape says that the first signs of gastroenteritis are usually sudden vomiting, diarrhea after eating, and headaches. Depending on the severity of the inflammation, gastroenteritis can also cause white bulky poop that floats in water.11

The Journal of Hygiene also reports that pale stool after a stomach virus is quite common. Doctors discovered that norovirus infections and rotavirus gastroenteritis are common reasons for pale fatty stool and viral diarrhea.12

Gastroenteritis is also one of the causes of cramping stomach pain with diarrhea.

If you start having watery diarrhea because of stomach flu, it’s essential to drink fluids containing electrolytes to prevent dehydration. If you’ve had a stomach flu due to a food poisoning, usually the symptoms of food poisoning can last 1-2 weeks.

Parasite infection

Clay-colored diarrhea and stomach cramps could be a sign of an intestinal parasite infection.

Parasite infections can occur from consuming contaminated food or water or by unhygienic practices. Tapeworm infections, pinworms, or threadworms can live in your intestines and cause unpleasant digestive symptoms.

One type of parasite infection that can cause you to poop clay-like stools is a Giardia lamblia infection. This parasite lives in the small intestine and can interfere with bile flow. The New South Wales Government says that the symptoms of giardiasis include pale-colored diarrhea, bloating, lower abdominal cramping, and passing liquid-like diarrhea.13

Please read my article on how to treat parasitic infections naturally for the best advice on how to get rid of these nasty parasites. There are many herbs that can help to destroy intestinal parasites.

Mononucleosis

Mononucleosis (or, mono for short) is a viral infection that can cause you to have white chalky stool along with a fever.

According to the journal Diagnostic Pathology, mononucleosis is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). Mono is generally a reason for fatigue, sore throat, swollen glands in the neck, and a petechial rash (small red, brown, or purple spots on the skin). However, if the mono infection affects the pancreas or liver, the result can be light-colored feces.14

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Celiac disease

Celiac disease is a lifelong autoimmune disorder that causes a reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. One of its symptoms is pale, white stool that smells bad. Even consuming a small amount of food that contains gluten can cause gas, diarrhea or constipation.

Dr. Jennifer Robinson on WebMD explains that gluten causes a reaction that damages the wall of the small intestine. This means that the body can’t absorb nutrients properly and stool has a high proportion of fat. Celiac disease also causes fecal matter to look pale and give off a foul smell.15

Sickle cell anemia

If your poop is frequently white and you are tired all the time, it could mean that you have a complication of sickle cell anemia. This type of anemia is usually present at birth and can cause pale skin, shortness of breath, and dizziness.

Having a low hemoglobin count is characteristic of sickle cell anemia because of the shape of the red blood cells. This results in a lack of oxygen supply to vital organs in the body. Sickle cell anemia can affect your gallbladder and increase your risk of gallstones, which can block your biliary ducts and cause white-colored stools.16

G6PD deficiency

Another rare cause of pooping clay-colored stools is a lack of the enzyme glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD).

A medical report from 2015 stated that G6PD deficiency affects how red blood cells work. This can affect levels of bilirubin in bile and be a reason why stools appear clay-colored.17

Medications that Cause White or Clay Stool

Sometimes, white or pale stool can be a side effect of some medications. Of course, this reason for passing clay-colored feces is only temporary and your stool will return to normal color when you stop taking the medication.

Dr. William Blahd on WebMD says that certain anti-diarrhea drugs can cause light or pale-colored stool. Diarrhea medications that contains bismuth subsalicylate are usually to blame for clay stool.18

If you suffer from diarrhea, you can try consuming ginger as a medicine to soothe your digestion and treat diarrhea naturally.

Can Cancer Cause Clay Bowel Movement?

Cancer could cause whitish poop if the tumor affects your pancreas or causes a biliary duct obstruction.

Researchers from the American Cancer Society report that pancreatic cancer commonly spreads to the liver. This can affect bile production and cause light-colored stools that have a greasy texture. Because the stool can contain high levels of gas, the gray poop may float in the toilet water.19

When Children Poop Clay Stool

Sometimes, children have pale stool due to gastroenteritis, food poisoning, or taking anti-diarrhea medication. However, acholic stools in infants can often indicate a problem with liver function or bile duct blockage.

For example, pediatric consultants report that bile duct obstructions or conditions affecting bile flow can cause clay-colored stool in infants.20 Also, cholestatic liver disease can be another reason for babies pooping white-colored feces.21

How to Prevent Clay, Pale, or White Stool

Keeping your biliary system healthy is the best way to prevent health conditions that turn your stool white or clay-colored.

Some eating tips for a healthier digestive system include the following:

Dr. Venkat Mohan, a specialist in gastroenterology, recommends avoiding certain foods if you have gallbladder problems. You should try to stay clear of fatty foods, fried food, or processed foods.22

Treatments for Clay Poop

The treatment for clay-colored bowel movements depends on the underlying cause.

Your doctor will diagnose the condition that is turning your poop chalky by testing liver function, quality of stool, and how your digestion is working. For example, your doctor may ask you about signs of pain under your right ribs and order blood tests.

If you have malabsorption issues, then taking vitamin supplements or changing your diet can prevent very light-colored stool.

If your doctor suspects that the acholic stools are caused by a biliary issue, then medication or surgery can help to cure clay stools.

When to See a Doctor

You should never ignore clay-colored feces as they are often a sign of a lack of bile in stool. According to Dr. William Blahd on WebMD, clay-colored poop can be a symptom of a serious issue with your liver or gallbladder.3

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