Stool Color Changes

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Stool color changes facts

  • Stool (poop, feces) is the end product of digestion.
  • Unusual stool color may simply be a variation of normal normal stool; however, changes in stool color also may be due to
    • diet (beets, diets rich in green vegetables, licorice) or
    • medications, for example, iron pills or bismuth (Pepto Bismol).
  • Changes in stool color may be due to illness or disease such as
  • Black tarry stools or blood in the stool should never be ignored and can be a medical emergency if the cause is bleeding from the stomach, small intestine or colon.
  • The health-care professional may want to observe the color of the stool to help with the diagnosis. Sometimes a rectal examination is performed and that stool can be evaluated and tested. Sometimes, the patient needs to bring a stool sample from home to be inspected.
  • The treatment for stool color changes is directed at the underlying illness.

Definition of stool color changes

Stool, feces, or poop is the waste product of digestion. Food mixes with bile from the liver and digestive enzymes from the pancreas allowing protein, carbohydrates, and fats in the diet to be broken down to form a slurry. This liquid mixture passes through the small intestine where nutrients are absorbed into the blood stream and the leftover liquid waste is delivered to the colon. In the colon, water is absorbed and results in stool formation. Normal stool contains bacteria, digested food, cellulose from undigested plant material, and bile. The quality, quantity, and color of stool is an indicator of gastrointestinal health and changes may be significant.

What is the color of normal stool?

Stool (feces) color is most commonly brown. When stool color changes, often, an individual becomes concerned. The presence of the bilirubin (a breakdown product of blood) in bile is generally responsible for stool color. Bilirubin concentration can vary the color of bile color from light yellow to almost black in color. Changes in bilirubin can cause stool to turn green, gray, or clay-like in color. Intestinal bleeding may turn stool black, tarry, red, maroon, or smelly stool. Medication and food may also affect stool color.

Most stool-to-stool changes in color have little meaning. However, some changes, particularly if the changes are consistent over time and not present in only one stool, can be important.

What are the causes of stool color changes?

Stool color changes are not symptoms of disease in most cases. Changes in stool color may be due to:

  • Diarrhea may produce green stools caused by a number of reasons.
  • Abdominal pain may produce clay-colored stools.
  • Back pain may signal a tumor blocking the bile ducts.
  • Upper or lower abdominal pain (sometimes caused by bleeding in the GI tract).
  • Nausea and vomiting associated with stool color changes may be from heavy associated bleeding.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/18/2015

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Rectal Bleeding (Blood in Stool, Hematochezia)

Causes of Blood in Stool

Blood in the stool can be bright red, maroon in color, black and tarry, or occult (not visible to the naked eye). Causes of blood in stool range from harmless, annoying conditions of the gastrointestinal tract such as hemorrhoids to serious conditions such as cancer.