Stool Color Changes (cont.)
Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Bhupinder Anand, MD
In this Article
Black tarry stools
Black stools are a worrisome symptom because it may be due to a large amount of bleeding into the GI tract, most often from the upper GI tract including the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. Red blood cells are broken down by digestive enzymes in the intestine and turn the stool black. These stools tend to be tarry (sticky), and foul smelling. This can be a medical emergency; black tarry stools should not be ignored.
Blood from nosebleeds or from dental procedures and injuries can be swallowed and may be the cause of black stool, but the amount of bleeding usually is not substantial enough to do this.
Light-colored white or clay-colored stools
White-or clay colored stool are often seen with diseases of the liver or bile ducts. It also may be caused by pancreatic cancer that blocks the bile ducts. Lack of bile gives stool its brown color and leaves it appearing pale.
Maroon colored stools are often due to bleeding in the GI tract. The source of bleeding for red stools is the upper GI tract (esophagus, stomach, duodenum), while the colon is the source for bright red blood. Maroon stools, which is caused by partial digestion of the blood in the intestine often arises from the small intestine (jejunum, ileum) and proximal colon, but the color also depends in part on how rapidly the blood travels through the intestines. The faster the stool moves through the GI tract, the brighter red the color. This can be an emergency situation.
Mucous in the stool
Mucous in the stool may be normal, and it may cover segments of formed feces. However, it also can occur in people with inflammatory bowel disease or cancer. Mucous that is also associated with blood and/or abdominal pain should not be ignored and requires medical attention. People irritable bowel syndrome also can have mucous in the stool.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/16/2015
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