Causes and Treatment of Pale or White Stool

If you see that your stool is white, you worry, and probably with good reason. In today’s article, we’ll tell you why this could happen and how to treat it, because it requires immediate attention.
Causes and Treatment of Pale or White Stool

Last update: 25 February, 2021

Your stool can provide information about the condition of your intestines and digestive system. A change in color could be a warning sign of an infection or a disease. For example, the white stool is a clear sign that there’s a health problem-

Normally, stool varies from different shades of brown to even green or black. However, the white stool isn’t normal. What to do in case these are white or pale though?

Pale or white stool

When your stool is white or pale in color, it indicates you have a problem with your biliary system (the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder). The brown color of your stool comes from the bile salts your liver secretes.

If your stool is white, it means you have a liver infection that’s slowing your production of bile or you have a bile duct obstruction. Thus, your digestive system may also be unable to properly absorb fats.

Also, if your stool is light (yellow or gray) and oily, you have a condition known as “acholia.”

It’s common to experience some sort of problem during your lifetime. As time goes on, the changes can range from simple and temporary to frightening and life-threatening.

Causes of white stool

A white stool can be the consequence of several things, from the consumption of certain drugs, bad lifestyle habits, or diseases.

1. Medication

A person holding a lot of pills in their hand.

The consumption of certain medications can make your stool white. Antibiotics, in particular, are guilty of this, such as those used to treat infections, such as tuberculosis, or intestinal problems, such as diarrhea.

In addition, anti-inflammatory medications and oral contraceptive pills can also cause white stool. Also, anabolic steroids can cause medication-induced hepatitis and trigger white stool production.

In these cases, the symptoms will usually disappear within a few weeks after you stop taking the medication.

2. Hepatitis

Hepatitis is when your liver becomes inflamed and is usually caused by hepatitis viruses A, B, or C. Unfortunately, hepatitis C is the most dangerous, as it can be mortal.

One of the symptoms of hepatitis is a pale or white-colored stool, caused by a liver malfunction.

3. Alcoholic hepatitis

A person saying no to alcohol.

This disease is caused by excessive alcohol consumption. It manifests with liver inflammation. Its severity depends on how much alcohol you drink and how long you’ve been drinking it.

Symptoms include ascites, fatigue, swelling, hepatic encephalopathy, and jaundice. Hepatitis is one of the causes of white stool, and alcoholic or viral hepatitis can lead to cirrhosis.

4. Biliary cirrhosis

Biliary cirrhosis is a chronic and irreversible liver disease in the terminal phases. This occurs when your liver cells are destroyed, which causes irritation and inflammation of the bile ducts of the liver.

As a consequence, the flow of bile stops, causing damage to the liver cells. Cirrhosis is the scarring that occurs as a result. One of the many effects of cirrhosis is white-colored stool.

5. Cancer

Cancer cells.

Some types of cancer can prompt pale or white stool, accompanied by fatigue. Pancreatic cancer, biliary tumors, and other cancers that block the bile ducts will cause your stool to turn a light yellow or clay color due to the lack of enzymes from the pancreas.

This can also result in fatigue because your food isn’t digested fully and nutrients aren’t absorbed, resulting in possible malnutrition.

6. Gallstones

These are solidified waste in the gallbladder that eventually obstructs the flow of bile. The stones are made up of hardened cholesterol or bilirubin.

When gallstones are very large, they can block the bile ducts, which liberate bile to the intestines. This causes your stool to become pale.

In addition, surgery may be required to remove them if they don’t go away with medication treatment.

7. Primary sclerosing cholangitis

Diagnosis and treatment of white stool.

Primary sclerosing cholangitis is a disease that inflames the bile ducts or causes scar tissue to form in them. This condition causes a decrease in bile flow, resulting in a lack of color.

However, this disease requires medication or surgery.

Diagnosis and treatment of white stool

The appearance of white stool is a serious condition that must be discussed quickly with your doctor, who can provide the correct treatment once the cause has been identified.

The following tests are required to obtain an accurate diagnosis:

  • Blood tests, to determine if there’s some sort of anomaly
  • A CT scan, to generate imagery of the inside of the body
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), a special type of MRI that captures detailed images of the biliary system
  • Also, an abdominal ultrasound to generate imagery of the organs and verify that everything is fine
  • Liver function tests
  • Finally, surgery, in extreme cases; to identify defects in the biliary tract

The stools should return to their normal color after treatment. However, if your problem can’t be cured, the stool won’t go back to its normal color and might require further treatment.

Causes of white stool in children and treatments

White stool in children.

It’s always important to be aware of the bowel movements of your children because they can help you identify health problems. White stool or diarrhea is common in children, sometimes due to milk or other products that they don’t digest well.

You should always be aware of the cause of white stool when you have children and be familiar with the most appropriate treatments. Take your child to the doctor as soon as possible if you detect this symptom.

Causes of white stool in children

Any of these factors can cause this symptom:

  • Hepatitis
  • Also, the consumption of cold food
  • In addition, the quality, quantity, and make-up of what they eat
  • Poor absorption of food due to a parasite that might be damaging the intestines

Treatment for white or pale stool in children

The first thing you should do if your child has this problem is to take them to the doctor. They’ll likely test a stool culture.

In these circumstances, the most important thing to do is to have them drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. The child requires a lot of water and mineral salts. Sometimes, germs cause white stool, and antibiotic treatment may be necessary.

Finally, never administer anti-diarrheal medications that contain loperamide to your child without a prescription. The same recommendation goes for any other medication a medical professional didn’t prescribe.

It might interest you...
What the Shape and Color of Your Stool Say About Your Health
Step To Health
Read it in Step To Health
What the Shape and Color of Your Stool Say About Your Health

You need to pay attention to any changes in the shape or color of your stool, as even a small change could be a sign of a problem.

  • Beckingham IJ, Ryder SD. ABC of diseases of liver, pancreas, and biliary system. Investigation of liver and biliary disease. BMJ. 2001;322(7277):33–36. doi:10.1136/bmj.322.7277.33
  • Thomas ME, Luton P, Mortimer JY. Virus diarrhoea associated with pale fatty faeces. J Hyg (Lond). 1981;87(2):313–319. doi:10.1017/s0022172400069539
  • Stern TA, Pallais JC, Scharf JM, Schlozman SC. Found in feces: differential diagnosis, workup, and treatment. Prim Care Companion CNS Disord. 2012;14(3):PCC.12f01341. doi:10.4088/PCC.12f01341