Stools that are pale, or clay or putty-colored may result from problems in the biliary system (the drainage system of the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas).
Jaundiced (yellow) skin often accompanies clay-colored stools.
The liver excretes bile salts into the stool, giving it a normal brown color. Obstruction to the flow of bile out of the liver (you may see the word “cholestasis”), or liver infections like viral hepatitis, may produce clay-colored stools.
Possible causes for clay-colored stool result from problems in the biliary system, and may include:
- Cancer or benign tumors
- Strictures (narrowings)
- Congenital anatomic problems (present at birth)
- Sclerosing cholangitis
- Biliary cirrhosis
- Protein or infectious infiltration
- Alcoholic hepatitis
- Viral hepatitis (A,B, or C)
The underlying cause should be investigated.
Follow prescribed therapy.
Call your health care provider if
If clay-colored or pale stools, dark (bloody-looking) urine, or jaundice (yellowish discoloration of the skin and eyeballs) appears, contact your health care provider.
What to expect at your health care provider’s office
The medical history will be obtained and a physical examination performed.
Medical history questions documenting pale or clay-colored stools in detail may include:
- Time pattern o When did this first occur? o Is every stool this way?
- Medications o What medications are being taken? o Have you changed medication in any way?
- Associated symptoms o Is there any abdominal pain? o Is there any jaundice? o Has there been darkening of the urine? o Is there diarrhea? o Is there any fever, chills, or night sweats?
The physical examination will include emphasis on the abdominal region. The findings may indicate a need for surgery.
Your doctor may perform:
- A full history, noting any medications or habits, such as heavy drinking or intravenous drug use
- Blood work, including liver function tests and tests for viruses
- Imaging studies, such as an abdominal ultrasound
- Endoscopy studies with a long, flexible scope passed through the mouth to the small intestine (ERCP, endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography)
After seeing your health care provider:
If a diagnosis was made by your health care provider related to pale or clay-colored stools, you may want to note that diagnosis in your personal medical record.
Diseases and Conditions Center
All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.