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Stools - pale or clay-colored

Stools that are pale, clay, or putty-colored may be due to problems in the biliary system. The biliary system is 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. This may be due to the buildup of bile chemicals in the body.

Causes

Possible causes for clay-colored stools include:

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 provider will perform a physical exam. They will 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

Anstee QM, Jones DEJ. Liver and biliary tract disease. In: Walker BR, Colledge NR, Ralston SH, Penman ID, eds. Davidson's Principles and Practice of Medicine. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2014:chap 23.

Berk PD, Korenblat KM. Approach to the patient with jaundice or abnormal liver tests. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 147.

Lidofsky SD. Jaundice. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 21.

Review Date 7/22/2016

Updated by: Subodh K. Lal, MD, gastroenterologist at Gastrointestinal Specialists of Georgia, Austell, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.