What can cause pale or clay-colored stools?


Pale, white, or clay- or putty-like stools can be the result of a lack of bile or a blockage in the bile ducts. Light-colored or clay-like stools may also form after a barium test of the colon (such as a barium enema ) because barium can be excreted in the stool.

In the absence of such research, pale stools may be the result of something else going on in the digestive tract. Failure of the digestive system to properly metabolize fat can also cause stools to turn light in color (straw yellow to gray) and greasy. The medical term "acholic" is used to refer to light-colored stools that result from a lack of bile.

Ellen Lindner / Get Medication Information

Normal and abnormal stools

White or pale stools just once or occasionally are generally not a concern, but when the color is consistently too light, you should discuss this with your doctor.

Healthy stools come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. When it comes to how often you empty your bowels or what your stool looks like, each person is different and there is a spectrum of "normal" rules, not a specific set of rules.

However, there are times when what you see on the toilet is likely to exceed what would be considered normal and should be examined by a doctor. If you are concerned about the size, shape, or color of your stools, see your doctor.


The biliary system is the drainage system for the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas. Bile is created in the liver, accumulates in the gallbladder, and is secreted in the first section of the small intestine (duodenum) during the passage of food. …

Bile is what gives stool its brown color, so if no bile is produced or if the bile ducts are blocked and bile does not enter the small intestine, light-colored stools may occur.

Medical causes of pale or clay stools are generally associated with liver and bile problems, such as:

  • Alcoholic hepatitis : This liver disease occurs after drinking too much alcohol.
  • Biliary cirrhosis : This is a type of liver disease in which the bile ducts are affected.
  • Birth defect – Some people are born with bile problems.
  • Cysts : A cyst can block the bile duct.
  • Gallstones : These calcium deposits in the gallbladder can block the bile ducts.
  • Hepatitis A, B, or C – An infectious liver disease that can cause a lack of bile.
  • Infection : Certain types of infections can affect the biliary system.
  • Sclerosing cholangitis : This is a disease that can cause a lack of bile production or a blockage of the bile ducts.
  • Medication Side Effects : Overuse of certain medications can cause medicinal hepatitis. These drugs include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, hormonal contraceptives, and some antibiotics.
  • Constraints : The narrowing of the intestines can block the flow of bile.
  • Swelling – A swelling can block the flow of bile.

About the symptoms

Clay-colored stools caused by certain diseases may be accompanied by yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes ( jaundice ) or dark urine. If signs of jaundice appear, see your doctor immediately.

The presence of jaundice along with pale stools can mean that there is a blockage in the bile ducts or an infection in the liver. Both conditions can be serious and should be discussed with your doctor for prompt treatment.

Diagnosis of the main condition.

To cure pale stools, you must first diagnose the underlying cause of the problem. In addition to a complete medical history, the following tests can be used to make a diagnosis:

  • Liver function tests: Liver function tests can help determine if there is a disease affecting the liver that is causing pale stools.
  • Abdominal ultrasound: This non-invasive test uses sound waves to see what is inside the body and can help the doctor see internal structures such as the gallbladder.
  • Blood tests to detect infections: Various blood tests can be done and while they will not diagnose the problem, they can be used to help reduce possible conditions.
  • Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): In rare cases, this type of endoscopy can and can be used to view the pancreas and bile ducts.

Watch out

Treatment will depend on the underlying cause. If the cause is fat malabsorption, dietary changes and vitamin supplements may be prescribed. If the bile ducts are blocked, surgery may be required to open the ducts. If the stool is a sign of another medical condition, such as hepatitis, the underlying cause should be addressed.

Get the word of drug information

People who have not recently had a barium enema or who have swallowed barium should consult their doctor about pale stools. This is especially true if other symptoms occur along with it, especially jaundice or pain.

Your doctor can run various tests and see what may be causing your pale stools. If there are any bothersome symptoms, such as severe pain or jaundice, it is important to seek immediate medical attention.

It is understandable that talking to someone about your stool is inconvenient, but your healthcare provider wants to know the details so they can better help you. The sooner you speak, the better your treatment will be.

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