Pale, Clay, Gray or White Bowel Movement and White Diarrhea

Normal bowel movement color can be any shade of brown, or some other colors, but not white.

The bowel movement has its color due to the bile which is originally green, but changes into the brown during the passage through the bowel. 

Causes of White Bowel Movement

When less than normal or no bile is excreted from the liver into the bowel (cholestasis), excreted stool will be pale, clay, gray, or white. Someone can describe it as a light color, but this is not bright yellow bowel movement, and also not mucus in the bowel movement that is jelly-like and translucent. Main causes of white bowel movement are:

  • Obstruction of the biliary duct (due to gallstones, inflammation, fibrosis, cancer, pressure from outside (pancreatic cancer or cyst, abdominal tumor like fibroma) may cause cramping pains in the right upper abdomen.
  • Obstruction of the outflow of the bile from the liver due to a liver disease (viral hepatitis, fatty liver, alcohol liver disease, cirrhosis, hemochromatosis or, rarely, tuberculosis, spread of cancer into the liver (liver metastases) may cause fullness or pain in the upper right abdomen, jaundice, nausea, or vomiting.

White Diarrhea

Above reasons (obstruction of the bile flow), or lack of pancreatic enzyme lipase that digests fats prevents fat absorption in the small intestine. Unabsorbed fats will reach the colon and irritate it, causing diarrhea. Loose, white, sticky, greasy, foamy, floating, smelly stool appearing several hours after a fatty meal is called steatorrhea. Main causes of white diarrhea are:

Other Causes of White Stool

White stool may appear after:

  • Barium enema
  • Antacids

White Specs in the Stool

White specs in the stool may represent:

  • Undigested food, like rice or seeds
  • Unabsorbed drugs
  • Parasite eggs
  • Clumps of fungi (Candida albicans) in heavy disease like AIDS, or in immunosuppression from chemotherapy or radiation therapy…

Diagnosis

Stool fat test may reveal fats in the stool.

Blood tests:

  • White blood cells are elevated in pancreatitis, bowel inflammation
  • Pancreatic enzymes (lipase) in the blood may be elevated in pancreatic disease
  • Liver enzymes in the blood may be elevated  in liver, biliary duct disease

Ultrasound of the abdomen may reveal gallstones in gallbladder, or rarely in biliary duct, swollen pancreas (in pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer or cyst), or abdominal tumor.

Treatment

Original disease has to be treated.

In white diarrhea a low-fat diet has to be introduced.

Related Articles:

About Jan Modric (249 Articles)
Health writer
  • Jan Modric

    tracey,

    Clay (grey, colorless) stool speaks for a liver disorder or bile duct obstruction, which can both obstruct bile flow into the intestine (stool without bile is clay colored). Pain below the rib cage could be from gas built in the colon (gas resulting from fat malabsorption due to lack of bile). Hunger is probably just from nutrients not being absorbed due to diarrhea (?), or for example, intestinal parasites. A gastroenterologist would likely order some stool tests (for fats, parasites) and blood tests (for liver enzymes, etc).

  • ace1959

    This morning I had a bowel movement and it was totally white not just on the outside but it looked white all the way through. I have searched the web and the results for this indicate a liver problem.

    Currently Im taking percocet 10mg four times a day and diclofenac sod ec 75 mg twice a day and flexeril 10 mg three times a day for my 7 buldged herniated disc in my neck and back to reduce the pain levels since May of this year. My pain levels are very bad 9 out of 10 without the meds and down to a 5 with the meds.

    Im getting medical treatment approved by workers comp as the inury was caused during work hours. If I need medical treatment for this new aliment (totaly white stool) do you think it is caused by the medication.

    I cant take much more its been pure hell !!!

    Ace1959

  • Jan Modric

    ace1959,

    bright white (like paper) or colorless (gray) stool? Is the stool sticky, frothy, floating and smells badly? Any diarrhea or other symptom?

  • kicker

    Having weird symptoms, and now one is that my period is over a week late (I am 44). What is behind to the side, of the left lower rib cage area? I always touch my lower rib when it happens. Like pressure, pushing it out.. Use to be like a flutter feeling, now on and off, pressure.. Is that part of the colon?eriotgin

  • ace1959

    normal size but really pale white. I did chew two digel tab last night. Maybe this is the cause.

  • Jan Modric

    kicker,

    yes it is a colon behind the lower part of the rib cage, and if it is distended from gas it may give a bloating, pushing feeling. Food poisoning, intesinal parasites, fructose malabsorption, lactose intolerance, celiac disease are few possible causes. I would need to know more symptoms and more of your medical history to be more exact.

  • Jan Modric

    ace1959,

    yes that may be a cause.

  • kicker

    Hi Jan.. thanks. Well prior to two months ago, very health 44 year old female. Then end of july had constipation, that lasted awhile, took laxatives, suppostoires and even did a enama during this time, nothign worked. After time, then it started. Meantime, started to get the weird tingly feeling on left side of rib cage, then a burning stomach pain, followed by different stools, colors/shapes.. Started to see doctor, done 3 different blood works and one ultrasound .. all good. And now, to add to my symptoms, my period is 2 weeks late. I am always on time..always. This all cannot be pre-menopause, can it? I don’t think so, aches pains in stomach and different bowel changes. I hope to get a colonoscopy , but here in Winnipeg take about a year. Can you think of other tests I can as my doctor? He did check liver in teh blood work, and anemia.. etc.. long list of stuff, all god though. Thanks Jan, .. I would go to the states, to get the colonoscopy faster, will see when I get my date. P.s. my dad has colon cancer too, ..and I did have a colonosocpy 2 years ago, no results from doctor which I assume then I was ok.

  • Jan Modric

    kicker,

    was a stool test for parasites done? Also your gynecologist can examine you. Endometriosis could cause both gynecological and bowel problems, but this is just an example. An experienced gastroenterologist can tell, if colonic polyps can grow from not-detectable to constipation-causing size in two years.

  • kicks

    Still looking for answers, seems to take doctors forever. I still have the burning in my stomach.. that seem to kind of come up through my throat. I get hunger pangs, even though I have eaten.. still cannot gain weight.. Yellowish/brown stools. Also, the skin on the rest of my body seems easily irritated.. like on face for example, it almost feels like its slightly burning. What is going on with me?. scared.. My doctor has just done blood work after blood work.. also had a ultra sound on the stomach.. all normal. I do not feel normal at all. Thanks

  • Jan Modric

    kicks,

    have you had a tests for Helicobacter pylori (blood test, breath test), intestinal parasites (stool test), upper endoscopy to check for gastritis?

  • kicker

    My endonoscopy showed everything ok.. I was upset though, and I explained that i had the burning around my ribs area.. and wasn’t table to eat much these days.. so after the procedure he did give me a precription called Domperidone.. Looked that up on th computer, sounds like scary medication to me.. not sure if I want to be on that.. says it stops womans periods, makes them lactate. My colonoscopyy is in 3 weeks, so maybe that is the issue with my burning stomach.. Thanks Jan

  • Jan Modric

    kicker,

    was a stool test for parasites done? Also what happened with your period? I believe you should speak with your gynecologist. You can ask your doctor, why exactly domperidone was prescribed. If it was to speed up your peristalsis, you can tell him you don’t want to take it. I can’t judge from here, should you take it or not, though.

  • kicks

    I have asked about stool tests, and they don’t seem to do that here.. except those fecal tests for colon cancer. I live in CAnada. Last month, period was late by 2 weeks, and it did come after all.. had stomach cramps during it. I am suppose to have it next week, will see if its late. I have a pelvic ultrasound schedule.. do not know date, but its in the works. I am at my wits ends.. thanks for listening.

  • Jan Modric

    kicks,

    it’s very likely your problems arise from the gastrointestinal tract. One possibility are intestinal parasites and I encourage you to discuss about this with the doctor, and where to get a stool test for parasites done. Burning skin might be due to intestinal parasites or due to lack of certain vitamin or mineral due to impaired absorption in the small intestine. Then, there could be an inflammation of the small intestinal wall due to celiac or Crohn’s disease – an endoscopy would be needed to confirm/exclude these.

  • tammy

    hello my 5 month old has had clay, gray poop for today’s is this somthing to be concerned about thanks you

  • Jan Modric

    tammy,

    clay, gray stool means there is no bile in it, which may be due to a liver or bile duct disorder. I recommend you to take the baby to the doctor, even if the stool becomes brown -colored in meantime.

  • Ashley

    I am a frustrated mother. I have a 17 month old daughter. she has no symptoms lethargy, weakness, or tenderness in the abdomen. She has however, for 6 days intermittently vomited, at radnom times through the day.. though, a pattern is developing of atleast once a night. As well, she began to have profuse bouts of diarrhea today, which began as off-white to yellow. The last episode a few hours ago, was colorless/ gray. I am concerned of dehydration, undernourishment, and possiblities of gall bladder or liver function or obstruction. Yet, my husband took my daughter to the doctor’s office twice, to which they replied “It is likely something viral and should clear up in a few days.” When I tell them it’s nearing a week, they tell me to wait a few more days. Have you heard of anythiny similar to this in an infant her age, with no fever either by the way? What is your opinion on the length of time this is lasting? To me, this is far too long for a couple day viral gastroenteritis.

  • Jan Modric

    Ashley,

    what concerns me, is the colorless/gray stool – this is due to lack of bile in stool, possibly, as you’ve assumed, due to a liver or bile duct problem. In this case (no bile delivery in the small intestine) she would not be able to digest fats, which would therefore travel to colon, irritate it and cause diarrhea. I can’t exclude viral gastroenteritis, but a prolonged course, lack of fever, and especially colorless/gray stool can speak for a liver/bile duct disorder – it’s important to mention the stool color to the doctor. A temporary solution could be to give her less fats, but take it to the doctor again.

  • Ashley

    Thank you for getting back with me so soon. Well, I think we are finally moving along. She is getting a blood work up. I appreciate your input. Hopefully, we will recieve indicative information on what the culprit is today or tomorrow. Again, thanks.

  • damouk

    @Jan Modric. I wonder if you can help me, you seem to know a lot about this…

    About 6 months ago, my girlfriend and I had a bug, where we alternated between going to the toilet (ie Bowel Movements) frequently, or really uncomfortable constipation. Since then, my partner has been fine, but I have developed worse and worse symptoms that has my Dr stumped. I have a constant urge to go to the toilet (especially in the mornings, it often gradually eases throughout the day, but not always), and when I do go, my movement is yellow in colour, and usually what can only be described as mushy/fluffy in texture, or sometimes is soft and thin. It usually contains undigested food.

    I have a constant pain in my lower abdomen, usually all the way across, but mostly on the Left side of my body, this pain is in the crease just below my belly button.

    I’ve been to the Dr and have tried a course of Antibiotics for Bacterial Overgrowth, I felt better for a day or two, but my symptoms reappeared with a vengeance after that.

    I’m at my wits end with this now, my Dr has referred me to a Gastroentirologist, but I’m in the UK, it could take months to get seen. (I’m a 33 year old Male with a healthy balanced diet, in good health generally and have never really had any similar problems prior to this).

    Please please help!?

  • damouk

    I probably ought to add that I’ve been tested for Helicobacter, came back negative. With the initial bug 6 months ago, I gave a stool sample, which came back fine, but haven’t been asked to give one since! Is it worth my demanding a stool sample? If so, what tests should they be running?

  • Jan Modric

    damouk,

    so neither you, nor your girlfriend got any exact diagnosis at the time? For how long symptoms in your girlfriend persisted? More than a week? Have you identified the cause, like some suspicious food?

    Loose stools, persisting for 6 month can be caused by:
    – intestinal parasites. Diagnosis is by a stool test for parasites. These tests can be false negative, so, if negative, it can be repeated few times few times apart
    – infection triggered irritable bowel syndrome. This diagnosis can be suspected when all other causes are excluded. A low-FODMAP diet for few days might help in this case.
    – tropical sprue is an inflammation of the small intestine, probably acquired by certain bacteria during traveling to tropical countries. Diagnosis is with a biopsy of the small intestinal mucosa, treatment is with antibiotics.
    – Clostridium difficile (bacterium) overgrowth. A barnyard smell is typical. Diagnosis is with a stool test for Cl-diff toxin.
    – Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Diagnosis is with a breath test for SIBO.

    Other infections are less likely. Other causes of chronic diarrhea: celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, fructose malabsorption, lactose intolerance.

  • damouk

    @Jan Modric. Wow, thanks for the response. Really useful information.

    My girlfriend and I never got any explanation for the initial illness and aren’t aware of a cause, her symptoms cleared after about 4 weeks – she was given Buscopan by her Dr (we’re not ones for going to the Dr unless we’re really unwell, so it was probably a few weeks into the problems before we went, once we realised it wasn’t a minor bug).

    I’ve been on 2 courses of Amoxicillin Clavulate (Augmentin), which for a few days made me feel better, but then symptoms returned. Is this the wrong type of Antibiotics or maybe bacterial resistance? I was also prescribed Metronidazole, but these made me feel really ill.

    I’ve also noticed other symptoms including constant tiredness and frequent loss of concentration/forgetfulness (hopefully not related to me getting older!!)

    Unfortunately, getting medical care in the UK is a long-winded process, and theres no urgency, apart from on the part of the patient!

    I really appreciate your help & advice.

  • Jan Modric

    damouk,

    bacterial gastrointestinal infections are usually caused by food or water poisoning and typically last 2-5 days. If they last longer, antibiotics taken should have an obvious effect in two days. Some antibiotics may have some effect on parasites, but for parasites special antiparasitic medications are used. Metronidazol, on the other hand, is effective against many bacteria and parasites. Metronidazol may have quite unpleasant side effects, like nausea…Viral infections rarely last for several weeks, and usually no effective drugs are available. I think Augmentin would not be effective against parasites, at least not against all types. I’m not aware of any over-the-counter antiparasitic drugs that would be safe and effective. Garlic may have some effect, but it is a question if it can treat parasites completely. Parasitic infection may heal on its own, so Buscopan helping your girlfriend could be a coincidence…But she was healed after Buscopan, and you were not after Augmentin…

    Unless you have traveled to some tropical country 6-12 months ago and contracted tropical sprue (from bacterial infection), other bacteria or viruses that would be causing symptoms lasting for six months are not likely. If it is an infection, it’s probably from parasites. A stool test for parasites, repeated few times if necessary, could reveal the cause, and prescribed antiparasitic medication should help.

    It could be also possible that antibiotics you’ve used partly killed some bacteria and some other types (including normal intestinal bacteria) have overgrown. A breath test for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and a stool test for Clostridium difficile toxin are available.

  • Jeff

    Well… I heard that white BM could mean cancer… So I was trying to look it up and I am not sure whether or not I should be worried. The BM that I had was not diarrhea but solid. I had a stomach cramps when I was sleeping and it came out light gray with white stripes in it. There seem to be no mucus as well. I do not have much time to read all of the information, so can someone tell me if I should be worried or not?

  • Jan Modric

    Jeff,

    the only cancer that could realistically result in the white stool would be a cancer of the bile duct, but this is rare. Grey stool (no bile) with white stripes (unabsorbed fat) speaks for a disorder of the bile duct or gallbladder or liver. I strongly recommend you to visit a gastroenterologist, who might propose you a stool test for fats.

  • crowhopper16

    Jan,

    I’m a 20 year old girl in good shape and health. Except for the past couple weeks I’ve been having pale slightly yellowish soft stools. When they first started, they dispersed between normal bowel movements. But lately, all of my stools have been this pale yellow color (like clay) and either soft or loose. Sometimes throughout the day (later in the day usually) I can feel/hear my intestines churning and is usually accompanied by gas (but not usually offensive in odor). I can’t think of any food to relate this to. I’ve heard diet soda and artificial sweeteners can cause loose stools but I’ve been consuming these for long before these issues started arising. I feel like my body takes a long time to digest food, from eating to excretion. I know this seems long but I believe it’s about 4-5 days after eating a meal before I excrete it. I do notice undigested pieces in my stools sometimes. I haven’t been losing weight or anything though. Any ideas or advice? This is starting to become quite an annoying problem because I often have to stop during my run to find a bathroom because all of the sudden I’ve -really- got to go. Thanks for your time and any advice you might have.

  • Jan Modric

    crowhopper16,

    to clarify: is the stool without any color (so grey) at any time, or is it only of lighter color (yellow instead of brown)? How did soft stools appear the first time- suddenly or slowly? Diet soda sweetened with sorbitol can trigger diarrhea in fructose malabsorption. Lactose intolerance and celiac disease are another two food intolerances that cause loose stools. A low-fructose, lactose-free and gluten-free diet trials lasting for few days each can result in symptoms relief in these cases. Intestinal parasites and Crohn’s disease would be also possible. Bacterial food poisoning is less likely since it usually heals on its own within a week.

  • crowhopper16

    Jan,

    Thanks for the speedy reply. The stool is a lighter yellow color. I’ve never had it without color (grey). I believe the stools gradually became softer. I really can’t remember for sure though. I’ve always had a fiber rich diet so anytime I had soft stools I attributed it to that. What would you recommend I do? Take time off of eating certain types of foods? Should I see a doctor? I’m slightly concerned about the amount of time it takes my body to digest food as well. I constantly feel like my intestines are bloated (if that’s possible to feel). Thank you so much for your time and quick reply. It really means a lot.

  • Jan Modric

    crowhopper16,

    yellow stool in general means that food is traveling through the bowel faster, so bile has not enough time to change color from the originally green and then yellow into the usual brown color. Bloated intestine may result in more or less obvious abdominal distension and excessive gas. One possible cause could be intestinal parasites; diagnosis can be confirmed by a stool test.

    Diet trials (lasting for 3-4 days) to exclude food intolerances:
    – a low-fructose diet trial
    – lactose-free diet trial
    – gluten-free diet trial (should last at least a week)

  • crowhopper16

    Jan,

    Thank you so much for all your knowledge. I’ll try the various diet trials and if I still have issues I’ll contact my doctor. Thank you for everything.

  • Hannah

    Hi,
    I fell ill 2 nights ago with what I thought was gastro (frequent visits to the bathroom and thinking I was going to vomit – but never did). Then in the morning I had severe body aches, like my bones were glass, it was painful. I slept for 16-18hrs all up. I also had a white stool (not bright white just colourless). Today the bone pain has gone away but I am still very tired and have paler stools with white bits in them. I have had absolutely no appetite for 2 days. I’ve read the comments about no bile but I cant think how this could relate to me as I am a healthy 25 yr old, I do not drink and I have no stomach pain. Could it just be a passing virus? Thanks for your help.

  • Jan Modric

    Hannah,

    stool becomes colorless when bile can’t flow from the liver into the intestine – this may occur in a liver or bile duct disorder. White bits can be from fat which is poorly absorbed in the intestinew due to lack of bile. I recommend you to visit a gastroenterologist.

  • weird stool 33

    Jan,

    I have had abnormal stool for about 4-5 days now. It’s a light color whitish/grey. I’ve read around that this means that there is no bile in the stool, which can be caused by an obstruction of some sort? Gallstones or something? I’ve done 2 gall bladder cleanses about a year ago or so, and didn’t pass hardly any stones so I doubt that’s it. I’m breastfeeding my 3.5 month old now, which is my primary concern. I just want to make sure that it’s not going to affect her in any way. The day before it started I ate pretty unhealthy foods (Paula Dean’s restaurant no less!) which was really fatty and buttery… but my sister-in-law ate the same thing and had no issues. She and I have been traveling together and eating virtually the same foods and she is not having the problem, which again is giving me more concern. She is also breastfeeding so not sure if you would need to know that? Since it’s only been a few days I’m not really worried, but it’s never happened before so I’m just a little concerned.

    Oh and I should also add that just before I need to go to the bathroom I get a pretty sudden pain in my stomach, meaning that I need to go RIGHT away. But it’s not loose at all, solid stool that is greyish/whitish/light green. One of the times it was “feathery”… gross, I know! But I just figured I would let you know everything. What do you think?

  • weird stool 33

    Oh and I should add that I’m a healthy 25 yr old with no known health issues!

  • Jan Modric

    weird stool 33,

    stool is grey when there is no bile in it and white when there is an excessive amount of fat in it (these two often occur together since bile in the intestine is needed for fats to be absorbed). A high-fat meal could cause stronger contraction of the gallbladder than usually and push a gallstone from it into the bile duct. A gallbladder cleanse does not clean your gallbladder, especially if there are big gallstones in it. Gallstones can be pretty reliably confirmed by an abdominal ultrasound performed by a gastroenterologist – I strongly recommend you to visit one.

  • Candace

    Hello,
    I’m 12 years old and I have pale stool. I feel hungry after eating but my urine colour is normal. I feel nausea sometimes and sometimes I vomit. I don’t understand what’s happening, please can you offer some advice.

  • Jan Modric

    Candace,

    please, speak with your parents about your problems – they will decide if you need to see a doctor, what is quite likely. You could have an infection or other disorder of the stomach or bowel.

  • Jessie

    I’ve had a lot of gas for a while now, and recently, when I go to the loo, I sometimes just excrete what sort of looks like… bubbles, or foam? I know it sounds weird, and at first I thought it was just the gas coming into contact with the water… but no I’m not so sure. It’s not like normal feces, it’s not solid at all and it’s usually flecked with normal bits. Is this normal? I’m really worried.

  • Dr. Chris

    Hi Jessie

    No this is not normal. You may be seeing mucus in your stool along with undigested food. Disorders with digestion and absorption and inflammatory bowel disease may account for all these symptoms. You need to consult with your doctor immediately.

  • Treena D

    Hi,
    My six year old daughter has had diarrhea today which she said was brown but she woke a little while ago and I found her in the bathroom changing her pjs. Her underwear and pj bottoms were dampish in the bum area and had a the tiniest of clear jelly like substance on them. No smell at all. She said the last couple of BM she had were clear. Not white just clear. What could cause that?

  • Dr. Chris

    Hi Treena D

    This may be steatorrhea (fatty stool) which is oily/greasy in consistency. This is could be related to a problem with bile secretion which plays a role in stool color a well as affecting the breakdown of fats in the gut. If these fast are not broken down, it cannot be absorbed and is therefore passed out in the stool. Other possibilities include disorders with the pancreas and pancreatic enzymes. Take note of yellowing of the skin, eyes, etc (jaundice) which is indicative of problems with bile production and secretion. You should take your daughter to a doctor as soon as possible.