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
- Stool color, texture, and form changes facts
- Definition of stool color changes
- What is the color of normal stool?
- What are the causes of stool color, texture, and form changes?
- What are symptoms 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
- Drugs that change stool color
- Mucous in the stool
- Stool that floats
- Changes in the size and shape of stool
- How is the cause of stool color changes diagnosed?
- When should I contact my doctor about stool color or texture changes?
- Stool color chart
- Find a local Gastroenterologist in your town
How is the cause of stool color changes diagnosed?
In most cases, a diagnosis, if any, cannot be made by stool color alone.
The patient and the doctor 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. Depending on the change in color, it may be necessary to evaluate the pancreas, liver or GI tract.
When should I contact my doctor about stool color or texture changes?
Aside from black, red, or maroon stools that may signify bleeding and require urgent assessment and treatment, most color changes are not an emergency. The significance is determined based on other symptoms that might be present.
Women who are pregnant often note changes in their bowel pattern. Stool can turn black because of iron and vitamin supplements. Iron can also turn stool greenish. As the uterus enlarges and increases pressure within the pelvis, constipation may occur and hemorrhoids can develop and cause blood in the stool.
If there is no underlying problem, stool color changes are often due to changes in the diet and will resolve in a couple of days. If this is not the case and changes persist, it is appropriate to contact your doctor and seek medical attention.
Contact your doctor if you have stool color changes and have associated symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, fever or abdominal pain.
It is important to remember that every person is different and changes in bowel habit be it color, size, frequency, or consistency (hard or soft) may be normal for one person or a sign of a potential problem for another.
Stool color chart
|Black||GI bleeding||This is an emergency|
|Black||Iron, bismuth||Cannot presume this to be the reason for the stool color|
|Maroon||GI bleeding||This is an emergency|
|Red||Hemorrhoids||Only one of the potential causes. Do not ignore|
|Red||Inflammatory bowel disease||Consult doctor|
|Red||Infection, diverticular bleed||Consult doctor|
|Red||Tumor, rapid upper GI bleed||Consult doctor|
|Green||May be normal||Consult doctor|
|Green||Diet high in green vegetables||Consult doctor|
|Green||Associated with diarrhea||Consult doctor|
|Brown||Normal color||Consult doctor|
|Yellow||Diseases of the pancreas||Malabsorption|
|Yellow||Celiac disease, cystic fibrosis||Consult doctor|
|Yellow||Giardia infection||Consult doctor|
|Clay, pale yellow or white||Liver or biliary disease||Lack of bile in the stool|
Longo DL. et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. McGraw-Hill Professional. 18th edition. 2011.
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