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Stools - pale or clay-colored

  • Definition
    • Stools that are pale, clay, or putty-colored may be due to 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 that reduces bile production, or if the flow of bile out of the liver is blocked.

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

  • Causes
    • Possible causes for clay-colored stools include:

      • Alcoholic hepatitis
      • Biliary cirrhosis
      • Cancer or noncancerous (benign) tumors of the liver, biliary system, or pancreas
      • Cysts of the bile ducts
      • Gallstones
      • Medications
      • Narrowings (strictures) of the bile ducts
      • Sclerosing cholangitis
      • 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 are not 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?
      • Is every stool discolored?
      • What medicines do you take?
      • What other symptoms do you have?

      Tests that may be done include:

  • References
    • Berk P, Korenblat K. Approach to the patient with jaundice or abnormal liver test results. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 149.

      Lidofsky SD. Jaundice. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Sleisenger MH, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 20.