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Stool Color Changes

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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.

What is the color of normal stool?

Stool (feces) color is most commonly brown. When stool color changes, often, an individual becomes concerned. The presence of the bilirubin in bile is generally responsible for stool color. Bilirubin concentration can vary bile color from light yellow to almost black in color. Changes in bilirubin can cause stool to turn green, gray, or clay-like in color. Intestinal bleeding may turn stool black, tarry, red, maroon, or smelly stool. Medication and food may also affect stool color.

Most stool-to-stool changes in color have little meaning; however, some changes, particularly if the changes are consistent from stool-to-stool and not present in only one stool, can be important. 

What are the symptoms of stool color changes?

Symptoms of stool color changes do not cause symptoms in most cases.

  • Symptoms that may occur with changes of stool color are a result of the underlying cause of the change in stool color. For example:
  • Diarrhea may produce green stools caused by a number of reasons.
  • Abdominal pain may produce clay-colored stools.
  • Back pain may signal a tumor blocking the bile ducts.
  • Upper or lower abdominal pain (sometimes caused by bleeding in the GI tract.
  • Nausea and vomiting associated with stool color changes may be from heavy associated bleeding.

Green stools

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.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/30/2013

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Stool Color Changes - Color and Experience Question: What color, texture, or smell; is or was your stool when it changed? Please share your experience.
Stool Color Changes - Symptoms Question: What symptoms did you experience with changes in stool color, texture, or consistency?
Stool Color Changes - Contacting a Doctor Question: What prompted you to contact a doctor about changes in stool changes?
Stool Color Changes - Causes and Diagnosis Question: What was the cause of your stool to change (in color, texture, odor, etc.); and how was the diagnosis of the cause made?
Stool Color Changes - Chart of Colors and Causes Question: What was the cause of your stool color to change?
Source: MedicineNet.com
http://www.medicinenet.com/stool_color_changes/article.htm

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