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White Stool, Pale Stools: Bowel Movement Color: What Does it Mean?

White stool at any time is not normal and should be promptly evaluated by a doctor. There may be medications that may cause pale, light colored stool. Other than certain medications, white or pale colored stool may indicate a serious underlying problem in the liver or biliary tract.

Bile is a digestive fluid produced by the liver and is stored in the gallbladder. During the digestive process, bile salts are released from the liver into the small intestine, giving stool a normal brown color. If the liver doesn’t produce bile or if bile is obstructed from leaving the liver, the stool will be white or pale colored. You may also produce white stool if you have a liver infection. If there is decreased bile output, the stool may not be white, but much lighter in color. Some people who expel pale stools may also experience jaundice.

Pale stool may also be shiny, greasy, float, and have a foul smell, as a result of undigested fat in the stool.

Medications, such as large doses of bismuth subslicylate (Kaopectate, Pepto-Bismol), other anti-diarrheal drugs and antacids that contain aluminum hydroxide can cause light colored stools. Stool may also temporarily become pale after a barium enema test.

Medical conditions that may cause light-colored or white stool include:

  • Liver infections such as hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis
  • Cancer or benign tumors
  • Cysts
  • Gallstones
  • Medications
  • Sclerosing cholangitis
  • Strictures (narrowings)
  • Structural problems in the biliary system that are present from birth (congenital)
  • Problems in the biliary system (the drainage system of the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas)
  • Giardia parasitic infection

Anytime you experience white or pale colored stools, call your doctor for an evaluation.