symptom icon

Light-colored poop

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 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 poop its normal brown color. Any drainage problem involving any of these organs will cause your poop to become light or pale-colored. Therefore, it is important to see your doctor if this persists.

What causes pale poop?

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 block bile flow 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 the narrowing of the bile ducts after the gallbladder is removed.

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

What will the doctor do?

Your doctor will discuss any symptoms you may have alongside the pale stools and medications you are on. They may examine your tummy. They will likely do a urine sample to look for dark urine, blood tests to check your liver and pancreas, and 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. They will consider your symptoms and possibly order CT or MRI scans and other relevant tests.

Is light-colored poop in children a concern?

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

Children that have a milk-only diet often have pale-colored stools. Babies breastfed exclusively will have pale cream or mustard yellow stool until they are started on solids or formula.

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

How is it treated?

The treatment depends very much 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 withdrawal from certain medications and alcohol. It is important to maintain a healthy balanced diet. 

Was this helpful?

Was this helpful?

This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
App Store
Google Play
Piff tick
Version 2.25.0
© 2024 Healthwords Ltd. All Rights Reserved