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Stool Color Changes (cont.)

What are the symptoms associated with stool color changes?

The symptoms associated with changes in the color of stool generally correspond to the underlying cause. In many instances, there may not be any symptoms associated with changes in stool color.

Bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract (esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine) leading to red, maroon, or black tarry stools may at times be without any symptoms at all. Other times, these changes may have accompanying symptoms of:

  1. abdominal pain due to the underlying cause of the bleeding, for example, an ulcer;
  2. nausea, vomiting of blood, diarrhea, and cramping due to the presence of blood in the stomach and/or intestines; and
  3. weakness, lightheadedness, and dizziness, due to the loss of blood from the body.

Persistently gray or clay-colored stools suggest some type of obstruction to the flow of bile. Obstruction caused by gallstones usually is associated with pain on the right side of the abdomen. However, cancer of the bile duct or cancer of the head of pancreas, which also can cause obstruction to the flow of bile by pressing on the bile duct, may not be associated with abdominal pain unless the tumor is large. The obstruction to the flow of bile causes backup of bile into the blood resulting in yellowness of skin and eyes (jaundice).

Yellow stool as a result of undigested fat also may occur with no symptoms. If present, the most common symptom associated with yellow stool will be abdominal pain as a result of chronic pancreatitis, tumor of the pancreas, or obstruction of the pancreatic duct. Undigested fat can also produce flatulence (gas) and loose, foul smelling stools.

Stool color chart and what does it mean

Stool Color Changes Color Chart
ColorPotential causeWhat to do
MaroonGastrointestinal (GI) bleedingThis is an emergency. Go to an emergency department.
Red - bright red bloodHemorrhoids, anal fissureOnly two of the potential causes. Do not ignore. Make an appointment with a doctor.
Red - dark red/maroon, sometimes with clots or mucusInflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis), infection, diverticular bleed, tumor, rapid upper GI bleedConsult doctor.
GreenMay be normal. A diet high in green vegetables is associated with diarrhea.Consult doctor.
BrownNormal color.Consult doctor.
YellowDiseases of the pancreas, malabsorption, celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, Giardia infectionConsult doctor.
Clay, pale yellow, or whiteLiver or biliary disease, lack of bile in the stoolConsult doctor.
BlackGI bleedingThis is an emergency. Go to an emergency department.
BlackIron, bismuthCannot presume this to be the reason for stool color. Consult health-care professional.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/23/2016
Medical Editor:

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