White or Pale Colored Stool: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

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Light or Clay Colored Poop

Passing white or pale colored stool is a sign that something is not right with your biliary system. The biliary system is composed of the organs and ducts that produce, store and transport bile. Issues with your gallbladder, bile ducts, pancreas, or liver can cause your poop to turn a clay or pale color. Stool can turn from its usual brown color to a whitish-gray or light gray if there is not enough bile in your digestive system.


Other medical conditions like viral infections, digestive problems, or a parasite infection can also cause pale colored poop. This is because they can affect your digestion and cause a lack of bile in stool (acholic stool).

If you have noticed that on occasion your poop is pale or white colored, there may be nothing to worry about. However if you start having frequent white bowel movements, then it is time to see your doctor.

What is White or Pale Colored Stool?

There is a lot you can tell about your health by the color of your stool and its consistency. White or pale colored stool means that something is affecting the flow of digestive bile.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic explain what it means when your poop is white. Bile produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder is necessary to break down fat from foods. Bile is a yellowish-green fluid and it turns waste matter in your digestive tract brown. White or clay-colored stool is a sign that there is a blockage in your biliary system and bile can’t get to the small intestine.1

Sometimes infants and toddlers can pass whitish poop if they are born with constricted bile ducts.

Symptoms Associated with White Stool

Because having clay-colored stool can mean that you have a digestive issue, you will usually have other symptoms. In fact, sometimes these symptoms can appear before you start passing white feces.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic report that white poop can be accompanied by the following:1

Is Light Colored Stool a Cause for Concern?

Yes. The normal color of stool should be light to dark brown, and white poop is not considered normal.

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Dr. William Blahd on WebMD says that a lack of bile in your intestines that turns bowel movements white can be a serious issue. Occasionally, some medications for diarrhea can make poop look whitish, but your stool should return to its normal brown color when you stop the medication.2

Why is My Poop White or Pale?

Let’s look in more detail at many of the reasons why you could be passing white or gray poop.

Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)

Inflammation of the pancreas can affect your biliary system and be one of the causes of pale stool.

According to a report published in the Postgraduate Medical Journal, pancreatitis can cause malabsorption. This can result in occasionally passing white or pale stool and having other symptoms of digestive upset.3 Pancreatitis can also result in:

Hepatitis

Hepatitis is a disease that affects the liver and any form of hepatitis can cause you to pass chalky stool.

There are various forms of hepatitis that are known to cause clay-colored poop. These are viral hepatitis, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and alcoholic hepatitis.

For example, Dr. Naga Swetha Samji on Medscape says that as viral hepatitis progresses and affects the liver, a person may start passing pale-colored stool along with dark urine. This may be accompanied by right-sided pain in the upper abdomen.4

To help care for the health of your liver, it’s important to avoid dangerous habits that can ruin your liver. You should also keep yourself well-hydrated to help flush toxins from your digestive system.

Gallbladder Disorders and Pale Stool

Your poop could be white because of an issue with your gallbladder and its function. Let’s look at some gallbladder disorders that could be to blame for pooping pale stool.

For many of the gallbladder-related causes of white bowel movements, please see my articles on how to treat a gallbladder attack. If you have your gallbladder removed, then my article about the best diet after gallbladder removal has information you will find useful.

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Gallstones

Gallstones are a common reason for white stool in adults when they block any of your biliary ducts.

Doctors from the National Health Service report that among the many symptoms of gallstones is passing white stool during a bowel movement. If a gallstone passes out of the gallbladder and gets lodged in a duct, it will reduce the flow of bile to your intestine and turn your poop a pale color.5

You can try to get rid of some gallstones by drinking apple juice and apple cider vinegar. This can help to flush gallstones from your gallbladder naturally. In severe cases of gallstones, doctors may recommend surgery to remove them.

Biliary duct obstruction

Another symptom of a gallbladder problem that can cause white poop in humans is an obstruction in your biliary duct.

As well as gallstones causing a biliary obstruction, a blocked bile duct can be caused by inflammation of the bile ducts, cysts in the bile duct, or enlarged lymph nodes.

The journal BMJ reports that jaundice and passing gray stool are common features of a biliary duct obstruction. However, because passing whitish stool is a symptom of many biliary issues, it can’t be used in itself to diagnose obstruction in the biliary ducts.6

Cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder)

Inflammation of your gallbladder can be caused by a number of issues and it can make your poop turn grayish white.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine report that cholecystitis can happen if digestive bile gets trapped in your gallbladder. Apart from a blockage causing this to happen, pregnancy, rapid weight loss, or diabetes can also put you at risk of cholecystitis.7

The symptoms of cholecystitis include passing light-colored stool and having intense, sharp pain in your upper right abdomen.

Biliary strictures

Narrowing of your biliary ducts can restrict the flow of digestive juices and be one of the causes of passing white stool.

Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic say that biliary strictures can occur if there is damage to the bile duct or you have pancreatitis. The bile duct stricture will usually cause pale or gray-colored stool as well as upper abdominal pain and itching.8

Conditions Unrelated to the Biliary System that Make Your Poop White

Not all causes of white poop are connected to liver disease, your gallbladder, or pancreas. In some cases, light-colored bowel movements are a complication of other conditions.

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Viral diarrhea or gastroenteritis

Clay-like stool can by a complication of viral diarrhea or gastroenteritis. Infections of your gut can cause very unpleasant digestive problems, like passing clay-colored diarrhea.

The Journal of Hygiene reports that rotavirus gastroenteritis can result in pale fatty stools. Other symptoms of gastroenteritis can include:8

To help relieve the symptoms of gastroenteritis (stomach flu), you can try making this anti-inflammatory ginger tea. Ginger can help to soothe your digestion and help recover quicker from digestive upset.

Mononucleosis

An infection caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV, or infectious mononucleosis) can be one of the reasons why you have started passing white feces.

The journal Diagnostic Pathology reported that an EBV infection can cause symptoms similar to gallbladder inflammation. This can cause you to pass white or light-colored stool along with darkened urine. The reason for clay-colored poop is that EBV can affect the liver.9

Other symptoms of “mono” can include:

Sickle cell anemia

One reason that your poop is gray is if you have a blood disorder called sickle cell anemia. This condition results in your red blood cells having a “sickle” or crescent shape.

Because of the shape of your blood cells, sickle cell anemia causes a low red blood cell count and other symptoms of anemia. However, researchers from the National Institutes of Health report that sickle cell anemia can put you at greater risk of developing gallstones.10

Celiac disease

Passing white chalky stool could mean that you have an abnormal immune reaction to gluten. Most people with celiac disease have severe digestive upset if they consume grains like wheat, barley, and rye.

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Professor of Gastroenterology and Hepatology Dr. Stephan U. Goebel says that celiac disease could be a reason for clay-colored diarrhea. Because celiac disease causes malabsorption in the gut, you could pass watery, light tan or gray-colored stool. Your stools may have a particularly offensive odor and have a frothy texture.11

Parasite infection

If you have started passing clay-colored stool and have bouts of clay-colored diarrhea, it could mean that you have a parasite infection of your intestines.

Parasites like tapeworms, roundworms, threadworms, or pinworms can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms.

However, the New South Wales Government reports that the parasite Giardia lamblia can cause giardiasis (an infection mainly of the small intestine). This type of parasitic intestinal infection can cause pale diarrhea, loose watery stool, stomach cramps, and bloating.12

Please read my article to find out how to get rid of an intestinal parasite infection naturally.

Medications that Can Cause White Bowel Movement

Passing white stool doesn’t always mean that you have an underlying medical condition. In some cases, medications can temporarily cause your poop to be almost white.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic report that taking large doses of anti-diarrhea medications can turn poop a light gray or white color, for example bismuth subsalicylate.13

For ways of getting rid of diarrhea naturally, please see my article on the best home remedies for diarrhea.

Can Cancer Cause White Colored Stool?

Some types of cancer can cause chalky stool if they affect any of the organs in your biliary system.

The journal BMJ reports that pancreatic cancer can cause pale stool and many of the signs associated with gallbladder symptoms. These include chronic itching, passing dark urine, and jaundice.14

Some tumors in the upper right abdomen can also press on bile ducts and cause an obstruction. These types of tumors can also turn poop whitish-gray.

White Stool in Children

Sometimes, white stool can appear in infants and toddlers. The journal Acta Paediatrica reported that cholestatic liver disease can cause pale stool in infants and require the proper treatment.15

Acholic stools in infants

Acholic stools describe a condition where there is no bile in stools and they appear pale or white. The website Pediatrics Consultant Live says that acholic stools can sometimes affect infants. This is usually an indication of a blockage in the bile system or an issue with bile production.16

Other Causes of White Colored Poop

Here are some of the rarer reasons why poop can appear almost white:

G6PD deficiency

This is a genetic disorder where the body lacks an important enzyme. This can cause pale stool in infants and needs to be managed throughout life to prevent pooping white stool.17

Choledochal cysts

Cysts on the bile ducts can restrict the flow of bile and cause white poop in adults. Doctors say that choledochal cysts are quite rare. But if they occur, they can cause symptoms of gallbladder problems.18

How to Prevent Pale or White Stool

The best way of preventing acholic stools is to keep your digestive system healthy. The major cause of passing white poop is due to conditions connected with your biliary and digestive system.

For example, Dr. Venkat Mohan on WebMD warns that certain foods can worsen signs of gallbladder disease. It’s important to cut down on foods containing saturated fats, fried foods, fatty meat, or processed foods.19

Rather, you should try to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that is low in cholesterol and high in fiber.

How to Treat Light or Clay Colored Stool

Treating white poop depends on the underlying cause. If you start passing light-colored stools regularly, your doctor may order certain tests to check liver function and your digestion.

If you suffer from malabsorption, then changing your diet or taking certain vitamin supplements can help to treat clay-colored stool.

If bile ducts are blocked or you have bile strictures, then your doctor may arrange for surgery to cure light-colored or white stool. Surgery will help to restore the proper flow of bile to your small intestine.

When to See a Doctor

Because passing white stool is often a symptom of a serious medical condition, you should see your doctor. Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that passing white or pale stool requires prompt evaluation by a medical professional.1

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