There are various abnormal bowel movement colors that can occur with different conditions and foods. Green, black and even reddish stool may occur in some cases but orange is not a color typically associated with bowel movement or diarrhea. However, it can occur in some rare instances. It is important to understand what may be causing this change in stool color to determine whether it is a serious medical condition or not.
Orange discoloration anywhere in the body is not common. For example, there may be a yellowish discoloration of the skin as in jaundice but most of the time we would not expect an orange hue to the skin. It can however occur like with tanning sprays and colorants (“fake tans”). In fact some of the causes of orange stool may also contribute to a yellow to orange hue of the skin.
Normally stool is a brown color and varies from a tan hue to dark brown in color. This color is due to an accumulation of undigested food, wastes and other substances that are retained in the gut to be expelled with a bowel movement. One of the major contributors of the characteristic brown color of stool is a substance known as stercobilin which is derived from bilirubin (a strong yellow colored pigment produced by the liver).
Bile is stored in the gallbladder and released when food is being digested, especially with the presence of fatty foods, as bile emulsifies fats to help with digestion. If there is any problem with production of bile or its movement from the gallbladder to the small intestine then stool is pale in color or even whitish. Similarly, excess bile and specifically bilirubin can contribute to a darker color to the stool.
Orange Bowel Movement
There are certain cases where orange stool may not be due to a disease. Instead it occurs with the consumption of certain foods, beverages, supplements or medication that stains the stool an orange color. This is not considered as normal but at the same time it is not due to any disease. Discontinuing the offending substance will allows stool to return to its normal color within a few days.
The following substances in foods, beverages, drugs and supplements can taint the stool an orange color.
- Beta carotene – vitamin A supplements
- Beta carotene in foods (if ingested in large amounts): apricots, carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, turnip greens, winter squash, collard greens, cilantro, fresh thyme, apricots, mango, pumpkin
- Antacids containing aluminium hydroxide
- Artificial colors in foods and beverages as well as confectionaries.
- Medications in certain combinations.
In these cases the stool is usually of normal consistency but orange in color. However, there are instances where the orange bowel movement is a diarrheal stool.
Orange diarrhea may arise for the same reasons as orange stool but an irritation or infection of the gut results in simultaneous diarrhea. The orange discoloration of the bowel movement and the diarrhea may be linked, or the orange stool and diarrhea can be due to independent causes.
- Increased gut motility (yellow bowel movement that may be described as orange): IBS, food poisoning or other cause of loose bowel movements
- Butter-fish (escolar) – sticky, orange, fatty, loose stools may last for up to one week after butter-fish ingestion.
- Other foods such as fish oil, nuts, junk food, if ingested in excess.
In addition any foods that is consumed in excess can cause short term diarrhea. If the causative foods has a strong orange color or was tained with an orange dye then the diarrhea may appear orange in color. Orange diarrhea that is accompanied by symptoms like severe abdominal pain, projectile vomiting, dizziness and other serious symptoms needs to be investigated immediately.
Orange Blood in Stool
Blood is red in color but when it enters the upper digestive tract and passes through the gut it can cause stool to become black and tarry. This type of stool is known as melana. Similarly if the bleeding occurs lower in the bowel then the stool may appear red in color. With the latter, this can sometimes be seen as an orange color when the blood mixes with other substances or strong pigments in food to alter the red color to an orange hue.
For example, bilirubin has a strong yellow color and is formed from red blood cell breakdown within the body. This bilirubin is passed out with bile which is usually a yellow green color. In fact this bilirubin is broken down in the gut to given stool its characteristic brown color. High levels of bilirubin in the stool which is not broken down by the bowel bacteria can result in yellow stool and with the simultaneous presence of blood, the stool may appear orange.
What to do about orange stool?
Orange stool that is soft but firm, like what normal stool should be, may not be a cause for immediate concern. Avoid foods, beverages and supplements that may be causing the discoloration for a day or two. These are substances that have an obviously strong orange color. If the stool color returns to normal thereafter then it may have been a temporary staining of the stool. However, prescription medication should never be stopped without medical supervision.
Diarrhea on the other hand is a more serious condition. Most of the time diarrhea is acute like with a viral infection and passes within a few days. Treatment may not be necessary and the focus is on rehydrating adequately. Solid foods do not have to be stopped unless there is vomiting. However, very severe diarrhea needs to be investigated, especially if there are signs of rectal bleeding. Always consult with a doctor for diarrhea that is not easing within a day or two, irrespective of whether it is orange or any other color.