The Causes of Yellow Diarrhea

Yellow diarrhea is the popular term used for excess fat in the stool. There are a number of situations that cause this symptom. Continue reading to find out more about them.
The Causes of Yellow Diarrhea
Leonardo Biolatto

Written and verified by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Last update: 27 May, 2022

The characteristic color of yellow diarrhea can be frightening, especially when it’s a symptom in children.

Many situations may be behind it. It’s just stress sometimes. In fact, it goes back to normal once the person overcomes a particularly stressful moment. However, it could be a symptom of a more systemic condition, such as pancreatic problems.

The mechanism by which the feces become yellow is the abundant presence of fat, which doesn’t belong in them be in such amount. This is the result of a rapid intestinal transit that didn’t absorb enough lipids from the diet.

The body loads the bowel movements with this fat as it couldn’t absorb it and it results in yellow diarrhea. The color comes from small droplets of fat in suspension, this is clear when you see it under a microscope.

The causes of yellow diarrhea

The causes are many and varied. This is why a physician must evaluate the situation and define its etiological origin. For example, they may indicate stopping treatment if it’s due to a certain medication. Likewise, they’ll request the pertinent complementary studies if they suspect a biliary condition.

Transient yellow diarrhea lasts up to 48 hours and is not a cause for concern. It won’t recur once it stops. However, it requires medical intervention if it lasts longer.

Let’s look at the most common causes below.

Irritable colon

Irritable bowel disease causes yellow diarrhea during periods of accelerated intestinal transit. It’s a chronic, rather annoying condition, linked to stress and anxiety.

People with this condition oscillate between periods of constipation and diarrhea. As a general rule, there’s also abdominal distention and gas production, with pain in the abdomen.

It’s logical for the physician to inquire further about bowel habits to characterize a possible irritable colon if certain criteria are met and the person consults for this particular symptom. However, there’s no specific treatment for the disease. They’ll prescribe a combination of drugs and lifestyle changes instead.

A woman with a stomach ache.
Irritable colon, in addition to yellow stools, may also manifest with severe abdominal pain.

Read about Infectious Diarrhea: Everything You Should Know

Liver problems

The small intestine needs bile inside to complete digestion, especially of fats. Bile substances emulsify lipids and allow them to enter the body for nutrition.

Thus, the intestine enters a malabsorption phase when a disease affects the liver and gallbladder, decreasing the production of bile acids. Lipids are among the most affected nutrients, expelled with the waste without having been digested.

Hepatitis, gall bladder stones, and cholecystitis can also be the cause of yellow diarrhea. In addition to this, there are other symptoms, such as darkening of the urine and a change in the color of the skin and mucous membranes, turning to a particular yellow.


Stressed people alter their intestinal motility and experience diarrhea due to the acceleration of peristalsis. In this case, it’ll be in a watery form, without too much content at first. However, long-term anxiety and accelerated digestive tract will cause fat droplets in the stool.

This is a transitory situation, but common in people affected by great loads of stress. In fact, the symptom may linger for weeks. Treatment cannot be based on diet and medication alone; it requires psychological intervention, as well.

A sick man.
Excessive exposure to stress may have an impact on the occurrence of episodes of diarrhea.

Lack of pancreatic juice

The pancreas manufactures all sorts of substances that go into the digestive tract to aid in the process of nutrient absorption. As it happens with the liver, a disease that alters the organ will impair the absorption of fats and so these will come out with the waste.

The warning sign of yellow diarrhea due to pancreatic diseases is the possible presence of fibrosis or cancer in the head of the organ. Weight loss and a lab confirmation of blood glucose dysregulation along with yellow diarrhea require immediate action.

Find out more about Clostridium Difficile-Associated Diarrhea

Yellow diarrhea requires medical intervention

It may seem like a minor symptom and is definitely transient. However, several situations warrant medical attention. This is because the fat in the stool reveals an internal process that may be serious.

Finally, one can improve it with a small change in lifestyle. However, doctors can detect a more serious condition early by conducting the appropriate complementary methods.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Larraín Barros, Francisco, et al. “El esteatocrito ácido: un método sencillo para evaluar el grado de esteatorrea en pacientes con fibrosis quística.” Gastroenterol. latinoam 12.3 (2001): 174-179.
  • Olveira Fuster, Gabriel. Manual de nutrición clínica y dietética. Ediciones Díaz de Santos, 2016.
  • Pedreño, I. Beceiro, and G. Borrego Rodríguez. “Varón de 57 años con diarrea crónica. Una causa rara de esteatorrea.” Medicine-Programa de Formación Médica Continuada Acreditado 13.1 (2020): 63e1-63e4.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.