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Light-coloured poo

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 3 minutes read

Having regular pale stools is not usually normal. It can indicate that there could be problems with the gallbladder, liver or pancreas. Bile salts are stored in the gallbladder and are produced and released by the liver and pancreas - they give poo its normal brown colour. Any problem in the drainage system involving any one of these organs will cause your poo to become light or pale coloured. It is therefore important to see your doctor if this persists.

What causes pale poo?

Pale stools can be caused by the various organs that make up the biliary system; the gallbladder, the liver and the pancreas. 

Inflammation of the liver is called hepatitis and this can be a cause of pale stools. Hepatitis can be caused by medication (ibuprofen, steroids), viruses, autoimmune conditions (where the body attacks itself) or alcohol. 

Irritation of the bile ducts in the liver (also known as primary biliary cirrhosis) can also block the flow of bile and cause these symptoms. Scarring of this same system (sclerosing cholangitis) can also be implicated.

Gallstones and cysts can block the flow of bile, as can narrowing of the bile ducts after the gallbladder is removed. 

Tumours anywhere in the biliary system, cancerous or non-cancerous, can interfere with the flow of bile and affect the colour of your stools. 

What will the doctor do?

Your doctor will discuss any symptoms you may have alongside the pale stools and any medications you are on. They may examine your tummy. They will likely do a urine sample to look for dark urine, some blood tests to check your liver and pancreas, and possibly an ultrasound scan to view your abdomen. If further imaging is required, your doctor will need to refer you to a liver or gastrointestinal specialist to look at this in more detail, and they will consider your symptoms and possible order CT or MRI scans, along with any other relevant tests.

Is light-coloured poo in children a concern?

Like in adults, pale coloured stool in children can also be a sign of something more serious like blocked bile ducts and problems with the liver system. It can also be due to side effects of medication like the ones used for reflux.

Children that have a milk-only diet often have pale coloured stools. Babies who are exclusively breast-fed will have pale cream or mustard yellow stool until they are started on solids or take formula.

It is important that you discuss a change in your child's stool colour with your doctor so they can review it with urgency. If your baby's poo is consistently white, especially in newborns, you should see a doctor immediately.

How is it treated?

The treatment very much depends on the underlying cause. Problems of the biliary system will likely require medication and sometimes even surgery to open up any blocked ducts. Some forms of hepatitis can be prevented, through vaccines or by withdrawing from certain medications and alcohol. It is important to maintain a healthy balanced diet. 

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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