Stools that are pale, clay, or putty-colored may be due to problems in the biliary system (the drainage system of the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas).
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, due to the buildup of bile chemicals in the body.
Possible causes for clay-colored stools include:
- Alcoholic hepatitis
- Biliary cirrhosis
- Cancer or noncancerous (benign) tumors of the liver, biliary system, or pancreas
- Cysts of the bile ducts
- Narrowings (strictures) of the bile ducts
- Sclerosing cholangitis
- Structural problems in the biliary system that are present from birth (congenital)
- Viral hepatitis
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 doctor will perform a physical exam and 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:
Berk P, Korenblat K. Approach to the patient with jaundice or abnormal liver test results. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 149.
Lidofsky SD. Jaundice. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Sleisenger MH, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 20.
Review Date 8/11/2014
Updated by: Jenifer K. Lehrer, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Frankford-Torresdale Hospital, Aria Health System, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.