Stools that are pale or look like clay or putty may be the result of a lack of bile or by a blockage in the bile ducts. The inability of the digestive system to absorb fats properly may also result in stools that are light in color (yellow to gray) and appear greasy. The medical term "acholic" is used to refer to light-colored stools.
Causes Of Pale Stools
The biliary system is the drainage system of the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas. Bile is created in the liver, stored in the gallbladder, and is released into the first section of the small intestine (the duodenum) while food is passing through. Bile is what gives stool its brown color, so if bile is not being produced or if the bile ducts are blocked, the result could be stool that is light.
Common causes of stool that is pale or clay colored include:
- Alcoholic hepatitis
- Biliary cirrhosis
- Birth defect
- Hepatitis A,B, or C
- Sclerosing cholangitis
- Side effects from medication
Symptoms Associated With Pale Stool
Clay colored stool may be accompanied by a yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes (jaundice) or darkened urine. If symptoms of jaundice occur, a physician should be consulted immediately. While jaundice is not actually a serious condition, the presence of jaundice along with pale stools could mean that there is an obstruction in a bile duct or that there is an infection in the liver. Both of these conditions could be serious, and should be discussed with a physician.
Diagnosing The Underlying Condition
In order to treat pale stools, the underlying cause must first be diagnosed. In addition to a complete medical history, some of the tests that might be used to make a diagnosis are:
- Abdominal ultrasound
- Blood work to test for an infection
- Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)
- Liver function tests
- Surgery to find defects in the biliary tract
Treating Pale Stool
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause. If the cause is the malabsorption of fats, a change in diet and vitamin supplements may be prescribed. In the case of blocked bile ducts, surgery may be required to open the ducts. If the acholic stools are a symptom of another condition, such as hepatitis, the underlying cause should be treated.
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