Pale or White Stool: Causes and Treatment

September 29, 2018
If your stool is white, there's probably a problem. In today’s article we’ll tell you why this could happen, because it requires immediate attention.

Your stool can vary from different shades of brown to even green or black. However, white stool is not normal and requires immediate attention.

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.

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, or gallbladder). The brown color of your stool comes from the bile salts that your liver secretes.

If stool is white, it means you have an infection of the liver that’s slowing your production of bile, or you have an obstruction of the bile ducts. Your digestive system may also be unable to absorb fats correctly. On the other hand, if your stool is light (yellow or gray) and oily, this condition is known as “acolitis.”

It’s common to experience some sort of problem during your lifetime. There are changes that can range from simple and temporary to alarming and life-threatening.

You might notice changes in the color of your stool, as well as the consistency or smell.

Read also: Magnesium oil: 10 health benefits

Causes of the appearance of white stool

If you realize that you have white stool, it could come from any of the following:

1. Medications


The consumption of certain medications can alter the color of your stool.

Antibiotics in particular are guilty of this, such as those used to treat infections like tuberculosis or intestinal problems like diarrhea. Anti-inflammatory medications and oral contraceptive pills can also cause white stool. Anabolic steroids can cause medication-induced hepatitis and trigger white stool production.

These 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 a virus, resulting in hepatitis A, B, or C. Unfortunately, Hepatitis C is the most dangerous if you do not treat it, because it is fatal.

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

3. Alcoholic hepatitis

Alcoholic hepatitis
This disease is due to excessive consumption of alcohol. It triggers the inflammation of the liver. The amount of time it takes to manifest depends on how much alcohol you drink.

Symptoms include fatigue, swelling, hepatic encephalopathy, and jaundice.

Alcoholic or viral hepatitis can result in cirrhosis of the liver.

4. Biliary cirrhosis

Biliary cirrhosis is a chronic and irreversible liver disease in the terminal phases. This occurs when your liver cells are destroyed.

It causes irritation and inflammation of the bile ducts of the liver. 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 that your stool turns white.

5. Cancer

Some types of cancer can cause 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 are not absorbed, resulting in malnutrition.

6. Gallstones

Gallstones are solidified waste in the gallbladder that eventually obstruct 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 causes your stool to become pale.

If they don’t disappear with medication, surgery may be required to remove them.

7. Primary sclerosing cholangitis

Primary sclerosing cholangitis is a disease in which the bile ducts are inflamed or scar tissue is formed in them.

This condition causes a decrease in bile flow, resulting in a lack of color.

However, this disease is treated by medication or surgery.

Diagnosis and treatment of white stool

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.

You need the following tests to obtain an accurate diagnosis:

  • Blood tests, to determine if there is 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,
  • An abdominal ultrasound will be ordered to generate imagery of your organs and verify that everything is in place,
  • Liver function tests,
  • Surgery to identify defects in the biliary tract.

Once your treat the cause of white stool, it should return to the normal color. However, if your problem cannot be cured the change may be permanent.

White stool in children – Causes and treatment

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 don’t suit them.

You should always be aware of the cause of white stool and what the most appropriate treatment might be.

 See also: 6 symptoms of intestinal worms

Causes of white stool in children

  • The quality, quantity, and make-up of what they eat,
  • Consumption of cold foods,
  • Poor absorption of food due to a parasite that damages the intestines,
  • Hepatitis, because the liver does not function properly for the necessary bile production.

Treatment for white or pale stool in children

The first thing you should do is go to the doctor. They will test a stool culture.

The most important thing to do is to have them drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. They require a lot of water and mineral salts.

Sometimes, there are germs that cause white stool, and antibiotic treatment may be necessary.

Never administer anti-diarrheal medications containing loperamide to your child without a prescription.

  • 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