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Why Is My Stool Yellow?

Stool and your health

Key points

  1. It’s often normal for stool to change color.
  2. In some cases, yellow stool may be a result of liver disorders, diet changes, or stress.
  3. If yellow stool persists for several days, or if it is accompanied by other symptoms, you should contact your doctor.

Your stool is about 75 percent water. According to a presentation at the Tenth International Symposium on Recent Advances in Environmental Health Research, the remaining ingredients include:

  • bilirubin
  • fat
  • protein
  • undigested food
  • mineral salts
  • bacteria
  • mucus from the digestive system

What gives stool its color?

Question

Bilirubin and bile give poop its normal brown color. Bilirubin is a byproduct of your red blood cells. It’s produced in the liver and then moves to the gallbladder, where it mixes with bile. From there, most of the bilirubin passes into your intestines where it’s broken down by bacteria and discarded in your feces or urine.

What causes yellow stool?

Causes

It’s normal for your stool to change color. After all, you likely have a varied diet and changes in your diet impact your stool. But yellow stool, sometimes called pale stool, can also indicate a number of health problems.

Liver and gallbladder disorders

Cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis reduce or eliminate bile salts that help the body digest food and absorb nutrients. Gallstones or sludge in the gallbladder reduce the amount of bile that reaches your intestines. Not only may this cause pain, but it can also turn your stool yellow.

Disorders that affect the pancreas

Chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, a blockage in the pancreatic duct, or cystic fibrosis can also turn your stool yellow. These conditions prevent your pancreas from providing enough of the enzymes your intestines need to digest food. Undigested fat can give the stool a yellow, greasy appearance causing it to float or appear frothy.

Celiac disease

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. If you have celiac disease and eat gluten, your body’s immune system responds by attacking and damaging the tissues of your small intestine. When this happens, your intestines aren’t able to absorb the nutrients your body needs. Celiac disease commonly runs in families.

According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, more than 300 symptoms are associated with celiac disease. This can make it difficult to diagnose the disease. Among the most common symptoms are:

  • diarrhea and/or constipation
  • nausea
  • bloating
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • skin rash
  • loss of bone density
  • depression

Although there is no cure for celiac disease, it can be treated effectively by eliminating gluten from your diet.

Check out: Gluten allergies food list: What to avoid and what to eat »

Gilbert’s syndrome

Gilbert’s syndrome is a genetic liver disorder characterized by periods when bilirubin levels are too high. The U.S. National Library of Medicine reports that Gilbert’s syndrome affects 3 to 7 percent of Americans. Symptoms of the disorder, primarily mild jaundice, are so mild that many people don’t know they have it. Gilbert’s syndrome is usually left untreated.

Giardiasis

Giardiasis is an infection of the intestinal tract by a microscopic parasite called giardia. You get giardiasis by ingesting giardia cysts. These are typically ingested with your food or water.

Symptoms of giardiasis may include:

  • foul-smelling diarrhea that is often yellow
  • stomach cramps
  • nausea
  • headache
  • low-grade fever
  • weight loss

Giardiasis is diagnosed by testing a stool sample. Although some people don’t require treatment, most are given antibiotics. Giardiasis often lasts several weeks. Giardiasis may become chronic, though this is rare.

Giardiasis is a common disorder worldwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, giardiasis is the most widespread intestinal parasitic infection in the United States.

Stress

Part of your body’s response to stress and anxiety may be to speed up the digestive process. This limits the volume of nutrients your body can absorb and may cause diarrhea and yellow stool.

Diet

Your stool can be yellow because of your diet. Some causes of this are eating foods high in food coloring, carrots, or sweet potatoes. It may also be from certain gluten products or a diet high in fats.

Yellow stool in infants

You asked, we answered

  • When changing my baby’s diaper, sometimes his stool is yellow. Is this normal? If not, how should I treat it?
  • Yes, yellow stool can indicate a shorter transit time of food through the intestinal tract. Different colors (darker) can indicate that transit time is slowing. It is not uncommon for stool to change colors. If you notice blood or diarrhea, you should notify your doctor immediately, as these may herald a serious health issue.

    - Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP

Yellow stool in older adults

seniors

If you are older and have yellow stool, it may be a sign of another health condition. These can include:

  • diarrhea
  • GERD
  • cholestasis
  • pancreatic, liver, or gallbladder disease
  • abdominal tumor

Complications of yellow stool

Complications

Some of the complications of untreated yellow stool include low red blood counts, dehydration, poor nutrition, growth trouble in children, and the potential of spreading cancers or infections.

Some symptoms are warning signs of a digestive track problem:

  • diarrhea
  • nausea and vomiting
  • indigestion and gas
  • severely bad-smelling stool
  • swelling and bloating in the abdomen
  • cramping in the abdomen

Other complications that may occur with yellow stool are: jaundice, fever and fatigue, skin itching, and bone or joint pain.

When to see your doctor

when to see a doctor

If your stool turns yellow, it’s most often due to changes in your diet. If it persists for several days, or if it is accompanied by other symptoms, you may want to contact your doctor.

You should see your doctor if your yellow stool is accompanied by any of the following:

  • passing out
  • lack of awareness
  • confusion or mental changes
  • fever
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • trouble breathing
  • pus-filled stool
  • lack of urine

Keep reading: What your newborn’s poop tells you about their health »

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