Stool Color Changes
Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
- Definition of stool color changes
- What are the symptoms of stool color changes?
- Green stools
- Yellow, greasy, and foul smelling stool
- Black tarry stools
- Light-colored white or clay-colored stools
- Bright red stools
- Maroon stools
- Mucous in the stool
- Stool that floats
- Changes in the size and shape of stool
- When should I contact my doctor about stool color or texture changes?
- Stool color chart
- Patient Comments: Stool Color Changes - Experience
- Find a local Gastroenterologist in your town
Definition of stool color changes
It is reasonable to have an obsession with one's bowel movements. The quality, quantity and color of stool may be an indicator of gastrointestinal system's health and should the stool change color, it may provide a clue as to what might be wrong.
Stool, feces, or poop is the waste product of digestion. Food mixes with bile from the liver and digestive enzymes from the pancreas allowing protein, carbohydrates, and fats in the diet to be broken down to form a slurry. This liquid mixture passes through the small intestine where nutrients are absorbed into the blood stream and the liquid waste is delivered to the colon. In the colon, water is absorbed and stool is formed. Normal stool contains bacteria, digested food, cellulose from undigested plant material, and bile.
Normal stool color can range from light brown to dark brown to green. Often the color of stool is affected by what has been eaten, and may not signify any potential illness or disease. However, it is possible that the color of the stool can provide important clues to an underlying disease.
What are the symptoms of stool color changes?
A diagnosis cannot be made by stool color. The patient and the health care professional need to consider other symptoms, past medical history, dietary changes, and medications to help decide what has caused the stool to change color. Physical examination will be important to help decide the significance of the stool color.
Stool may be tested to look for blood, fat or infection. Blood tests may be necessary depending upon the clinical situation.
If stool passes through the intestine too quickly, there might not be enough time for bile to be digested and broken down to provide the normal brownish stool color. Bile is a greenish brown fluid that is manufactured in the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Bile helps digest fats in food. It takes time for the bile to degrade and turn brown in the intestine and if the transit time is short, the stool remains green colored. This is why diarrhea is often greenish in color.
Green stools may be a normal variant. It can also be caused by a diet rich in green vegetables, especially spinach. Iron supplements also may be a cause, though it often turns stool black.
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