Normal stool is mostly brownish in color with different shades and texture depending upon the diet. However pale or clay colored stool is not a normal phenomenon. Clay colored stool indicates disorders of the biliary system, which includes the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas. The bile salts reach the stool through the liver which actually gives it a brownish color. In case the liver isn’t able to form enough bile or if the bile is not getting dispensed from the liver then the color and consistency of the stool shall change. However an abnormally colored stool once in a while is not a serious concern but if occurs often then it might be an indicator of a serious ailment.
If the pale colored stool is a result of hepatitis then the symptoms don’t occur till the liver damage has been done. Common symptoms are: darker than normal colored urine, pain in the abdomen, appetite loss and weight loss. Jaundice, fatigue and flu like symptoms can also occur. In jaundice the whites of eyes and skin turn yellow due to accumulation of the fluid and also causes clay-colored stool. Other symptoms are nausea and vomiting and tenderness of the abdomen.
Conditions that can cause Clay-Colored stools:
Medications, just like food can cause changes in our body. Some of them like antibiotics, steroids, ibuprofen, naproxen and birth control pills can also lead to drug related hepatitis wherein there is swelling or inflammation in the liver due to the medications. Discoloration of the stool due to medications takes a few weeks to go away once the medications are discontinued.
- Viral and Alcohol Hepatitis:
In this condition the liver gets swollen and inflamed due to the viruses such as the hepatitis A, B, or C. Hepatitis C also causes severe liver disease. Similarly Alcohol impacts the liver as one starts drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. It can also cause liver failure.
- Biliary Cirrhosis:
Biliary cirrhosis refers to the suppuration of the bile ducts in the liver. The inflammation restricts the flow of the bile towards the intestines. The precise reason for biliary cirrhosis is unknown. There is also no proper cure for biliary cirrhosis, and it is a fatal condition. A research by National Institutes of Health, revealed that almost one fourth of the people with biliary cirrhosis have liver failure after 10 years of having the disease.
Gallstones refer to the deposits in the gallbladder that harden with time blocking the bile flow. However some medicines can dissolve the gallstones. In some cases surgery might also be needed to remove your gallstones such as in the case of larger gallstones that fail to go away even after medications.
- Sclerosing Cholangitis:
This is a kind of inflammation of the bile ducts, affecting the tubes that carry the bile throughout the body. The precise reason of this disorder is unknown; however the genetic factors could potentially be responsible. The damage can be repaired temporarily through medications or surgery.
- Defects in the Biliary System:
Some structural defects in the biliary system can also prevent the flow of bile causing clay colored stool. The defects can be repaired surgically.
- Tumors and cysts:
Two types of tumors, i.e. Benign and/ or malignant tumor in the biliary system can obstruct the bile flow inflame the liver causing a clay colored stool. The tumor can be removed surgically but if it’s cancerous then one might need radiation or chemotherapy. Similarly cysts can also restrict the flow of bile. The cysts may either be treated surgically or through regular medication.
Clay colored stool – Picture
The basis of the diagnosis is the frequency of the clay-colored stools. The overall health, medical history and present medications are also taken into consideration. Several tests can also be performed to diagnose the reason behind pale or clay-colored stools such as blood test, CT scans, magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, which will show the detailed images of the biliary system. Abdominal ultrasound can also be recommended.
When to See a Doctor
If the clay colored stool occurs occasionally, then there is not much to worry about. But if it occurs often, then you should visit a doctor as it could be a sign of an underlying serious medical condition.
Filed in: Digestive-related