Stools - pale or clay-colored

Definition

Stools that are pale, or clay- or putty-colored may result from 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 or if the flow of bile out of the liver is blocked.

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

Causes

Possible causes for clay-colored stools may include:

  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Biliary cirrhosis
  • Cancer or benign tumors
  • Cysts of the bile ducts
  • Gallstones
  • Medications
  • Sclerosing cholangitis
  • Strictures (narrowings) of the bile ducts
  • 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 vary from 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?
  • Does the discoloration affect every stool?
  • What medicines do you take?
  • What other symptoms do you have?

Tests that may be done include:

  • Blood work, including tests to check liver function and for viruses
  • Imaging studies such as an abdominal ultrasound or CT scan
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

Review Date: 8/8/2008
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional 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. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
adam.com