Stool Color Changes (cont.)
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.
In this Article
- Definition of stool color changes
- What is the color of normal stool?
- What are the causes of stool color changes?
- Green stools
- Yellow, greasy, and foul smelling stool
- Black tarry stools
- Bright red stools
- Light-colored white or clay-colored stools
- Maroon stools
- Mucous in the stool
- Stool that floats
- Changes in the size and shape of stool
- How is the cause of stool color changes evaluated?
- When should I contact my doctor about stool color or texture changes?
- Stool color chart
- Find a local Gastroenterologist in your town
Bright red stools
The most common cause of bright red stool is bleeding from hemorrhoids, but other bleeding causes are much more significant. For that reason, blood in the stool should never be ignored. Other causes include infection, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis), diverticular bleeding, tumors, and arteriovenous malformations (AVM). Brisk bleeding from the upper GI tract may cause stools to be red instead of black because there has not been enough time for the red blood cells to be digested. Red food coloring and beets can also give a reddish hue to the stool.
Light-colored white or clay-colored stools
White or clay colored stool are often seen with liver or biliary tract diseases. Lack of bile which gives stool its brown color leaves it appearing pale.
Maroon colored stools are often due to bleeding in the GI tract. Classically, the source of bleeding for black tarry stools is the upper GI tract (esophagus, stomach, duodenum), while the colon is the source for bright red blood. Maroon stools may arise from the small intestine (jejunum, ileum) and proximal colon, but these are not hard and fast rules. How bright the red color is depends not only upon the location of bleeding, but also how quickly the blood moves through the intestine. The faster the stool moves through the GI tract, the brighter red the color. This can be an emergency situation.
Next: Mucous in the stool
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