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.
by Levon Ter-Markosyan, D.M.D.
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.